One of the endearing qualities of my grown-up children is their way of calling me - on my mobile phone from their mobile phone - usually late at night, with a question: "Dad, I'm driving down the Ayalon freeway and I have to get to Rabin Square. Which exit should I take?" To answer such a question, I have to put myself, in my mind, into their driver's seat, at their driving speed, and guide them. Sometimes, I even manage. It gives me a distinct feeling that I'm needed and able.
Another version of this experience happens when those family members who still dwell under my roof call me up when I'm out and ask, "Do we have this book?" It is my great pleasure to visualize my library and guide them: "Stand in front of the library, look on the second segment from the right, the third, or possibly fourth shelf from the bottom, and it should be the tenth or eleventh book from the left. It was there when I saw it last."
The fact that my books are arranged in two rows, one behind the other, is immaterial. Every book owner has two libraries: One physical and tangible, the other virtual, in his mind's eye and memory. At least that is what I'd like to believe.
And when the book owner moves house, he feels like an immigrant in a new and undiscovered country. Now I feel like my children, driving down the Ayalon freeway: To find a book, I have to call someone and ask for guidance.
When packing and unpacking the books, the children and their helpful spouses treated me with the utmost respect. They asked again and again in which crate to put which books, and when the crates reached the new flat, they opened the crates carefully, asking on which shelf to put which books and in which order.
Here I have a confession to make. I feel that I treated my loyal and willing helpers like a commander who deserts his army in the middle of the battlefield, just as things are getting really tough. For the first few hours, I sat there, surrounded by shelves, books, crates and people in disarray. I was pointing here and there and saying "put this there," and "no, the other one higher, on the second shelf." But after a relatively short time, I could not stand it anymore. I abandoned my relatives, giving them some general instructions in a strangled voice - "the dictionaries above the table, the big books up there, the theater books in the second row." Then I said that I needed some rest, a breath of fresh air, and something to drink. And left.
Now all the books are on the shelves. Well, when I say all, I get carried away. About a third of the library got dispersed in the moving process, all of the book placed in good homes (I think and hope). I have always refused to answer the question "how many books do you have," because I did not know the precise number and I was afraid to count. Now I still do not know how many books I have. I only know that I have less.
But the most important thing is that my library now is terra incognita to me, like those vast areas of Africa that were white spots on the map before they were discovered and explored by courageous travelers. I know the boundaries of the country, but the roads are unknown to me. To find a book, I have to call Jonathan and Shirley in Ramat Gan, Anna in Haifa, Adam and Anne in Enschede, The Netherlands, or Assaf in Talel, and ask them, "Do you remember where you put the Random House Dictionary, a big white volume?"
I feel like a colonialist who took over a piece of land and densely populated it. In the coming days, weeks and months I'll be wandering on the shelves with my eyes, trying to memorize my books' new places. I'll find volumes I did not know I owned, and will not find those I need urgently. And then I'll create a new virtual library in my mind, which will reflect my hold over my real library. And I promise that this is the last time I'll bother you with these matters, at least for the time being.
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