Do you stare at what people are reading on the subway, or at the beach, and make judgments about them?
And so the other night, when the rabbi came by to give a class in memory of my husband’s father, I panicked as he stared at my packed bookcase.
From across the room, I watched and, funnily enough, prayed that the shelf at eye level held books that wouldn’t reveal too much about me.
I’m guilty of assuming things about people based on what they’re reading. I conjure up different ideas depending on if they’re reading the Wall Street Journal or The Post, James Patterson or Alice Munro.
I imagine I know something about them.
But do I?
Is it possible that we come to conclusions that are wrong, entirely made up?
I’ve been thinking about this recently because a friend of mine Googled my blog post Dating After 50.
Shortly after, her new boyfriend asked to use her computer and that search appeared in her history. She worried he’d misunderstand and think she was still interested in dating other men.
Apparently, Google history is the new medicine cabinet.
I’ve worried what people might think if they saw my Google history. It’s frightening!
I do a lot of research online for blog posts and even for my fiction writing. There are searches for the most unusual of human behaviors and illnesses. Someone could definitely get the wrong idea.
So as the rabbi scanned my shelf, I felt exposed, as if he were reading my diary— all my interests, attempts at self-improvement and my personal journey, lined up on the shelves.
I kept calm by reminding myself the books were on a bookcase in my den, a public spot that my children, and their friends, could see.
And, I thought: I scan other people’s shelves. Isn’t that the point?
But this was different; this was an orthodox rabbi, a conservative man. And there was nothing of value to him there— no Chumash, no Sedur, no Midrash. (Those books, unfortunately, were at stomach level.)
When the rabbi left, I walked over to the bookcase, looking at the spot where I imagined his eyes had landed. I was hoping he’d seen some classic fiction, The Grapes of Wrath, or something from when I was in education, The Art of Teaching Writing, or even something acknowledging my spiritual journey like Eat, PRAY, Love. (Pray being the operative word.)
He saw Naked by David Sedaris.
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.
And I kid you not—
Women, Sex, and Addiction by Charlotte Kasl.
Let me explain!!
Addiction has been an interest of mine.
As of June 1, 2015, it was reported that 40 million Americans age 12 and over met the criteria for addiction. And an estimated additional 80 million people in this country were risky substance users.
And because addiction seemed to permeate much of life, my life—friends and extended family members were affected—I was interested.
I wrote about addiction in Monkey See, Monkey Do.
And for a while, I wanted to go back to school, get a degree in psychology and specialize in Addiction.
“Oops,” I said, to my husband.
I showed him Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden. “This one’s good,” I said, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Maybe it’s age.
Maybe (finally) it’s confidence.
Or (ironically) it’s faith.
But I was ready to let go of worrying about the assumptions the rabbi might make.
Still, I was glad we recently moved this upstairs.