A Shift in Perspective



The pile of books at my bedside grew taller each week. A new book might appear almost daily, increasing the height of the pile by a couple of inches. My lifelong love of reading is not restrained by space or reason.

Book lovers know the thrill of staying up late to finish a story, and the “book hangover” of feeling yourself still in the story hours after turning the last page. Many people who love to read have converted to reading solely through digital or audio sources. I also use those devices, but nothing satisfies like the feel and smell of a book, printed on paper, bound, and covered in a dust jacket.

The Pile contained cookbooks, novels, nonfiction, a detective series, work-related publications, and more. I scored these books online, at the thrift store, in tiny libraries and as trades with other book lovers. The Pile grew to the height of a chair seat, which is where the trouble began.

A migration of books began over to the adjacent chair, and a delicate balance evolved. Leaning on the back of the chair, the Pile continued to grow up to the window ledge. The day came when I attempted to raise the window shade, ever so slightly bumping into the Pile. The resulting crash was stupendous. Books flung open, upside down and sideways, inserting themselves into other books where they did not belong. Dust covers were ripped carelessly from the books they were supposed to protect, leaving the cookbooks defenseless and vulnerable.

Oh dear! My book obsession had run amuck, and the day of reckoning had arrived — the day when the things I was emotionally attached to became too much to handle, took a tumble and lay in a chaotic heap. The slow work of recovery began; examination, sorting and decision-making. It became apparent that some introspection was called for.

While sorting through the contents of the former Pile, now simply the Mess, I was reminded of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the term used to describe balance in the human body or other living organisms. It is the self-regulating ability of an organism to maintain internal stability to compensate for environmental changes.

Wow. That was something to chew on.

For humans, some examples of homeostasis are the regulation of temperature, blood pressure, or hydration. If our bodies are not able to maintain a healthy balance of our life-sustaining systems, we will not survive.

It occurred to me that the incident of the Pile might signify another example of homeostasis. The creation, and eventual destruction, of the Pile was a result not of poor structural engineering on my part, but of an imbalance in my ability to self-regulate. I was the one out of balance, not my beloved books. Perhaps I needed to take a moment, count to 10, step back, give it a rest, or call a friend the next time I was tempted to begin another Pile.

Further reflection led me to think about our moment in history right now. Many of us are feeling assaulted by societal changes, environmental changes and health challenges. People are angry and upset, and we often feel unbalanced. Taken to the extreme, we see that murder rates are up across the country. Our piles of unbalanced concerns, worries, obsessions and irritations seem to grow by the day.

There are many issues that need attention and action for people to maintain their health individually and as a society. However, it may be time for us collectively to practice some self-regulation, and count to 10 before we respond in a manner that adds to the unbalance of our pile.

Vicki Biggs is a longtime social worker. She lives in Home.