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A Surprising and Helpful “Find”

As the first stage of the Corona virus  reopenings began in my state, libraries were not included among the businesses released from captivity, so I naturally gravitated to a similar place that was: a used bookstore.

I perused the shelves in search of nothing in particular, just relishing the opportunity to be among books again and ever vigilant for that unexpected “find” among the thousands of volumes offered for my consideration. I seldom find such books by consciously looking for a specific title; it usually happens serendipitously. Such was my experience on that particular day at Mr. K’s used bookstore.

The mandated mask the store insisted that customers wear fogged my glasses and forced me to labor at breathing, but I tolerated the inconvenience as a mere distraction for the pleasure I gained as I pulled volume after volume from the shelves and then replaced them. They were all interesting books but nothing that struck my fancy at the moment. I would know the “find” if and when I saw it, although I couldn’t have described it to anyone before its discovery.

And then I saw it! A black, slightly faded set of five volumes. I immediately recognized its title from having seen it quoted and cited in numerous other works I had read over the years: Handfuls on Purpose.

I took hold of one thick volume and held it reverently in my hands. I flipped slowly through its pages, getting a sense of its method of organization and realizing its purpose and prospects. I began to envision how I might find uses for it in not only personal application but also my teaching and writing activities. But I reluctantly returned the volume to its place on the shelf with its companion volumes.

That’s when I saw the price on the label beneath the set: $30. I suffered sudden sticker shock. In a bookstore that specializes in books typically priced at $4-10, that price seemed a bit steep to me. Besides, I had only a single Andrew Jackson in my wallet.

I gazed longingly at the set for several more seconds before walking away empty-handed to find my wife, who was, predictably, in the children’s section looking for her own “find” for her second-grade classroom library. She found two. I was a simultaneously happy for her albeit a bit jealous.

When we got home, I searched the internet to learn the “going” price for the set that had arrested my attention. Seventy-five dollars! So the bookstore’s price was, indeed, reasonable.

“Go back and get it,” my wife said to my amazement. Her normal response is, “No, you don’t need any more books! Your shelves are overflowing already. They look a mess! You don’t have room for any more books!” Not this time.

After no little inner conflict and her repeated urgings to return for the set, I decided to seize that rare opportunity before she changed her mind. “I’ll go back tomorrow,” I declared. “If it’s still there, I’ll know I should get it!”

I did. It was. Right where I’d left it. And I forked over $30 and left the store self-satisfied with my “find.” And I’ve been reading selections from it every day since.

Perhaps a little backstory about the set would be helpful for readers who might be unfamiliar with the work.

The source of the title comes from the biblical book of Ruth. According to that historical account, Ruth, a poor, widowed daughter-in-law of a poor, widowed Israelite woman, was sent to glean (i.e., pick up grain dropped or overlooked by the harvesters) in the field of a man named Boaz. Boaz, a wealthy and eligible bachelor, was struck by Ruth’s beauty and diligence in providing for herself and her mother-in-law. He ordered his employees to intentionally leave more-than-normal amounts of grain unharvested so that Ruth could have more than she otherwise would have found. He told them, “Let fall . . . some of the handfuls of purpose for her. . . .” (Ruth 2:16). Hence, the title of the series, Handfuls on Purpose.

The plan of the series by that title, then, was to give readers “handfuls” of biblical wisdom, arranged, exposited, and illustrated in outline form. From those seed ideas, the author hoped that the readers would glean additional material to inspire their own further study and to build a more complete lesson (if a teacher) or article or book (if a writer). In the short time that I’ve been reading selections from Volume 1, I’ve found numerous such “handfuls” of writing ideas, organizational themes, and illustrative material.

The key to capitalizing on such a “find” is awareness, a conscious looking for them and recognition of them when they reveal themselves. It’s making a habit of being in the right place at the right time and keeping one’s eyes open. It’s exercising one’s observational skills and making applications.

The early Puritans, such as Jonathan Edwards, and early American writers, such as Henry David Thoreau, cultivated this skill of observation and, as a result, could compose beautiful and instructive written works from simple, common things. For Edwards, it was a spider; for Thoreau, it was an ant colony.

Sometimes, as was the case for me during my visit to the used bookstore, you will be surprised by that special, serendipitous find. Watch for them!

What discoveries have you made recently? How are they helping you with your writing? With your life?

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