We lost one of our favorite and best customers recently to cancer. In this fast paced internet world he stood out as an old fashioned bibliophile. I hope I am wrong, but they seem to be getting fewer and fewer. He bought good, spiritual, thought provoking books and he clearly loved books and reading.
His family came in and told us of his passing and gave us some boxes of books as they did also to the library and hospice thrift stores. He was one of those people that I felt I didn't really know well, but had such a high regard for, that it made me have a week of questioning that sometimes happens after a death or loss.
Was he scared; am I doing enough with my life; will I outlive friends or lose friends; why is life unfair, etc? One of the things I thought about was how much he loved his books, all of which were pristine and well cared-for. I ended up spending the better part of the day in my personal library going through my books and just looking at and appreciating them.
His name was Joel Porter, and his passing will be a great loss to his family, the people of the community he touched, and by the Bookery family.
We often don't know the names of some of our customers, but we know their reading habits and identify them as such. As we have talked about Joel's passing over these past few weeks, he was Joel to some of us and to some he was, "you know, that really nice guy who bought so many poetry and spirituality books."
His obituary said that he was into golfing and the San Francisco Giants. But for us, we would like to have him remembered as one of our favorite customers, as a great lover of books, and an all around classy guy. He will be missed!
Years ago, when I worked at Rivendell Books in 1995, Joel Porter was a regular customer who often special ordered wonderful hard-to-find poetry books. Looking back now, I thank Joel for my introduction to the world of poetry. Little did I know then, that many years later I would go on to get a Master's Degree in literature. Every other week or so, he would entrust a beautiful slim little volume from his own collection to me, Gary Snyder or Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Sharon Olds, sometimes noting which poems were his favorites. I'd bring them back and next time he came in he would ask me questions, wanting to know which I liked, how I felt about the words I'd read. I wish now I would have conversed more intelligently with him about what I was discovering there in those lovely pages, opening wide conversations about the spirit and abundance of poetry, but I remember saying mostly, "I really liked it."
Still, I would never forget those worlds he introduced to me. In particular I remember books he lent me by Naomi Shihab Nye: Red Suitcase
, Yellow Glove
, Hugging the Jukebox
. Some of these are hard to find now. They are poetry full of real things, images and ideas that meant something, meant everything to me. Finding resilience and purpose in our existences, a yellow glove, a peach, a pulley, a flower. Reaching out for understanding with strangers and friends alike. He took back his books with a gentle smile; I like to think he knew he'd made a difference. He gave me a Japanese bookmark once with a Buddhist inscription. He was kind to me because he knew I loved to read.
Years later, working at the Bookery, I would see Joel from time to time, always with an interesting title in his hands. Always studying, searching, understanding. It made me happy to know that he was still a voracious reader and collector of beautiful books. I am so glad I knew him on this earth, which now feels his absence keenly.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
― Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
Joel Porter at the Hindu Temple in Kauai