Reading is Like Eating

flowers musing cs lewis

I am always chewing words and rolling them around in my mouth. All the time, I am reading. Until a few minutes ago it has bothered me for about 16 years that I don’t remember a tenth of what I read. A tenth of a tenth, if I’m being completely honest.

But then I had this thought: I don’t remember many individual meals I’ve eaten, either. And yet I keep eating. All the time, I am eating. The food nourishes me until the next meal. I don’t have to remember all these meals. I eat them and enjoy the taste and texture of them in my mouth — even the broccoli — and then I walk on the earth and put my hands to world and work and play while the food’s nutrients distribute throughout my body, until the next meal.

This morning I read about Tim and his morning routine. Tim runs in the morning, and a delightful task he’s added to his morning routine the past couple years is to find a flower to photograph every time he runs. “It’s amazing how many different blossoms there are, and when you look for a new one every day, you see the change of seasons, the immense beauty of nature, and the beauty of things that you might otherwise pass by.”

Years ago Tim read a C.S. Lewis parable about a man who, after death, is walking along a road and realizes that the flowers simply appear like colored blobs to him. He is met by a spirit guide who explains that this is because he’d never really looked at them when he was alive. “I don’t want to make that mistake,” Tim said. Reading poems and philosophy can infuse the ordinary work of the day and the world we live in with meaning and are an important part of his everyday life.

Everybody eats. And if you can read, you read. And the words you eat nourish you while they’re in your mind and then you probably forget them until you have to eat again. You don’t have to remember every meal, you don’t even have to remember any meal, you just taste and enjoy and delight and consider what’s in your mouth and eyes right here at this moment, and you work and play and then you do it again, and if you don’t have a flower to photograph then you pay attention to something else near your body, and your paying attention infuses the ordinary world with meaning, and you give thanks until your next meal.