Back to blog
The White Space We Must Touch
Share your work with family and friends!

Padraig O’Tuama says that alliteration is beautiful because it lets the sound of syllables know that they need never be alone. They can have a companion kindred spirit sound. They can have a mutual recognition that needs no further vocalization.

From their perch of comradery, they can then best appreciate the diversity of sounds and sights around them. So many letters otherwise formed, contrasting, foreign, odd-seeming articulated phonemes: fricatives, closed back vowels, ejective consonants, and on…

The virtue that fills me with sounds I can’t name belongs to no one. It was never mine to begin with, it was gifted in some way by circumstances, education, cultivation, mentorship, comradery, and especially perhaps those availed to receive those gifts, even if they only realize the gift, and the nature of it much later.

A book, take almost any book, is filled with a virtual infinity of sounds, personalized in every individual pronunciation if it is so ever graced to be read aloud. And a virtual infinity of virtual symbols combined in so many different combinations that were it a code, it would be difficult to decipher.

But of course, it is a code. And it is difficult to decipher. One individual is sending a virtual megaphone of encoded messages to an unseen audience in the blind. That blindness creates the need, and the need the capacity, to touch in ways so nuanced that not all of them can be caught.

But some of them are, even in just the decoding. Those who have taught reading will tell you though that decoding text is not reading. Reading is far more complex and requires a gradual, sometimes accelerated internal interaction with authors whose face cannot be read, whose words when put in the form of a question, will not receive an answer, when touched on the page, will never reach the author’s skin.

Ruth Ozeki, my favorite current author includes the POV of the book itself in many asides within her most recent novel. Books know that their creation starts with voices: historically the oral tradition, but even more to the present instant, they start with conversations. We learn to talk before we read; in fact, it could well be argued that reading/writing are just an inevitably clunky and indirect way of talking.

But of course, it is more, also, because we have the privilege of reading between the lines. Taking that naked space between all the little symbols, and filling it with our imaginings of what we think the author is saying; filling it with our imaginings of what we would like the author to say, and filling it with our own dreams of what we would most like to express in this very moment that the book, this soundless voice, has massaged deep within us, and now is almost, but not quite, squeezing out of us. The book leads us to water. We must take that final step of drinking the water deeply enough to be slaked and embody its full taste. And then, with our own alchemy, the message now deeply infused within us, we offer it back with our own permutations, observations, flavors, accents, opinions.

How do we express this miracle? Sometimes we just let it simmer within us, and let us change us, knowing in confidence that we will be expressing this somewhere, sometime, not knowing when, or how. Other times we need to make a note, highlight a passage, give ourselves some handle to loyalty, that yes, we will return to touching, and now touched expression that reaches out from the beyond called “The Great Other,” that we we don’t identify as our self, or immediate alliterative type of companion. And yet, there is this almost universal recognition that stabs deep into our core. And that leads to other times, we need to tell someone about what we have read. We share a memorized quote. Or simply render that gift of appreciative judgement in a confidential statement: “This is a good book. You should read it.”

Perhaps, rather than actually telling others to read a book, we are suggesting nothing at all, but rather, reminding ourselves so obliquely this: “Ah, so treasured is this message from beyond, that I must read it again!” We often short circuit this longing in looking for another book. So often, so tragically, we are trying to replicate experiences.

In some circles of spiritual teaching the word “familiarization” has great import. There is resistance to new learning that asks us to give up treasured identities. Much of this teaching is in books I hope to read again. In this lifetime or another. The books love this kind of determination.


this is a brilliant piece of writing…thank you!

Leave your comment...