Adventure, Books, essay

Leaving a Little of Myself Behind in Fiji

Our time in Fiji is coming to a close. We’ve lived here for four years, and it’s been a wild ride–at turns challenging, eye opening and enjoyable. I have grown in new ways; perhaps, most importantly, in my understanding of what matters–moment to moment and in the grand scheme of things.

As we prepare for our return to the U.S., we’re taking inventory, figuring out what to bring with us and what we no longer need or want.

We culled our home library as part of this process, and we donated a box of books to the Suva City Carnegie Library. The library sits downtown in a historic building that was built in 1909, thanks to a grant from Andrew Carnegie, the legendary American iron and steel magnate. The building has a lovely light yellow exterior and serves as an elegant landmark in the heart of Fiji’s capital.

When choosing which books to donate, I picked what was a good read but doesn’t have long-term resonance for me, what held meaning for me in a previous period of my life but no longer does, and what conveyed a message that I continue to value while the book itself no longer has sentimental value for me.

For example, I added Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” to the donation box because I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not something I need to hold onto for sentiment. It’s a great yarn about adventure gone wrong on Mount Everest, and it serves as a cautionary tale about ego. I was glad to add it to my library, and now I’m glad to hand it off so that it can be enjoyed by others.

Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” also went into the box. I enjoyed reading this novel 10 years ago for Franzen’s literary writing style, and I admired the ambition of the book as a novel exploring how to live in modern society when it comes to making choices about love and family. The most memorable scene is when one of the characters literally moves his hand through his own excrement in a toilet bowl to retrieve his wedding ring. There is no more compelling scene than that to illustrate dealing with your shit, literally and figuratively. It’s a powerful image, and the message has stayed with me about the value of love and the courage to confront your demons so that you can move forward in life. Some of the demons might stay (after all, you do have to poop every day–ha, ha), but acknowledging that they exist helps make you whole as you integrate the dark parts of yourself into your being. I donated this book so that it can help someone going through his or her own growing pains in life.

Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” was also in the donation box. I haven’t seen the film that’s based on this novel, but I highly recommend reading this book regardless of whether you’ve seen the film. It’s a literary adventure story with a twist, and the key takeaway for me is that perspective is essential in life: How you choose to see a situation will affect how you behave, and how you “see” and behave is how you live your life. I carry this message with me, and I donated this book to the Suva Library so that others can have the chance to read this moving and enlightening story.

As you can probably tell, I love to read. Books have been my companion since I can remember. I used to hang out at libraries when I was a kid, and I continued to do so when I lived in New York City. They still represent sanctuary for me: a sacred space where you can travel anywhere in the world, and even beyond, through the universe. You can go wide, and you can go deep by reading. You can embark on new journeys and refamiliarize with old ones. Books helped raise me, and they continue to be a light in my life.

The three books I mention here are just a few of the ones that are now at Suva Library. By leaving some of my books in Fiji, I hope they can be a part of other people’s lives, too. It’s heartening to know that I have left a little of myself in Fiji by passing on the stories, ideas, wisdom and knowledge in these books. I hope they bring pleasure and meaning to those who choose to read them.