Oh my God I think I ate a llama. Oh my God I think I ate a llama.
Once upon a time, this was how my friend taught me to sing the background vocals for "The Circle of Life," the Elton John and Tim Rice opus that highlights the masterful score of the enormously popular movie-cum-musical "The Lion King." I assume that all of you have seen the story in some form because, if you haven't, you basically skipped childhood. "The Circle of Life" represents a major theme of the movie: that life is harsh on the African plains and, when a lion dies, he will inevitably come back to his son in the form of a cloud to give advice.
In a more universal context, the song has a far-reaching message: with every death must come new life, and the world endures because of the capacity to find gain in loss. Alas, all good things must come to an end, but every Mufasa, I mean cloud, has a silver lining. It is with this in mind that I present to you a story.
In last Thursday's Chronicle I happened upon an article extolling the virtues of a soon-to-be-closed bookseller in downtown Durham, The Book Exchange. In my first three years at Duke, I did not have a car, and was thus hamstrung when wanting to go into downtown Durham on a whim. I inevitably had two choices: Borrow someone's car and owe him or her a favor, or walk and get shot. Neither was very appealing. This year, however, I am in possession of an automobile and thus able to venture into the proverbial lion's den whenever the feeling strikes.
Last Friday, after reading the illuminating article, the feeling struck. I hopped in my car, convinced a couple of friends to join me, and rode down to the venerable bookshoppe. Upon approaching the main entrance, I immediately appreciated its decrepit state. The display windows on either side were devoid of their former glory, filled only with scattered volumes strewn haphazardly on the floor. The store advertised a "bag sale:" all the books that could fit in a regular-sized paper grocery bag for $10. A modest number of people combed the half-empty shelves, searching for hidden treasures among the depleted stock.
Evidence of the store's liquidation was ubiquitous and somewhat unsettling. Boxes of books heaped in a corner on the second floor prompted one passerby to remark that browsing was "like walking through a graveyard." Visitors filling their bags looked like starving hobos with exceedingly developed vocabularies and a taste for Voltaire. Aside from the fun of wandering around talking with my friends, I began to wonder what could possibly make this trip worthwhile.
Then my perspective changed.
For whatever reason, I became conscious of the circle of life. Instead of wondering who would buy the crappy books left on the shelves and lamenting the destitute state of this once proud literary emporium, I began to seek out the good in its passing. I abandoned my fruitless pursuit of a cache of first-edition James Bond novels and began to notice the rare gifts from the past that emerged from the store's solemn quietus.
Among the piles of abandoned tomes I discovered gem after unexpected gem. Their topics spanned the whole of human existence. In one moment I stumbled upon "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils" and in the next, "Why Wait Till Marriage? The Reasons For Pre-Marital Chastity, Frank and Specific For Today's Youth." Of course, in this case, "today" meant 1968. One book from 1971 proclaimed "Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun," while another asked, "Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?" Thanks, fourth grade history... way to ruin the surprise.
In between finding out "The Rich Are Different" and wondering "Why Johnny Can't Read," I realized that I had found a great deal of happiness in this seemingly depressed world. In addition to the unquestioned tour-de-force "Am I Alive? A Surviving Flight Attendant's Struggle and Inspiring Triumph Over Tragedy," I discovered inspiration for a column, enjoyed a truly memorable afternoon and even wound up with a bag full of books to take home. Who cares if the prize of that bag was entitled "Delaware: Small Wonder"? I mean, it is. Just ask Joe Biden.
While writing this column, I was unexpectedly reminded that "The Lion King" borrowed heavily from the classic, near-perfect tragedy, "Hamlet." Fittingly, at one point in the play, the title character beautifully references the circle of life by proclaiming, "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow." Wow. Couldn't have said it better myself. That Shakespeare guy must have been one smart cookie.
Wait a second... Shakespeare? I think I have some of his stuff in my bag...
Brett Aresco is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday.
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