I love seeing people carry with them the things they love. A kid with a basketball, roaming the neighborhood or dribbling down the lakefront trail. A girl on the train with a guitar packed into a soft case and strapped across her back. A studio art student, with a plastic tube slung over one arm, almost carelessly, like what’s inside doesn’t matter at all. Instruments. Cameras and lenses and tripods. Yoga mats and soccer balls. This week I saw a man biking to the beach with a little dog stuffed into a baby bjorn on his belly. It was adorable. Like what they do is so important they can’t leave it behind for a minute, or they’ll miss their chance to paint or practice or play. These people stand out against the usual commuters with their slick briefcases and designer bags and canvas NPR/Trader Joe’s/I’m better than you totes. They stand out even amongst the backpacks and ratty messenger bags, which surely house all sorts of paper treasures.
For me it was always books. As a kid, I carried two with me at all times, even on short errands with my mom to the post office or grocery store, on the chance I might finish one. At home, I took one with me everywhere — dinner table, bathroom — and kept an eye on the stack by my bed so I could plan the next library trip the day I finished the last page. On family trips, the whole stack, five, seven, nine books deep, went together into my backpack and I hoped no one would notice or ask questions when it came time to squeeze bags for two adults and three, four, five kids into the back of the minivan. I kept it up through college, tucking two books and a magazine in my purse wherever I went. For one year I had this brilliant group of roommates. We did a lot of stupid things, and a few terrible things, but we also went to bad chain restaurants on Friday nights, ordered appetizers, and sat around our booth eating silently, four girls with four different books open on our laps. I also took books on dates, although I’m grateful now I was never rude enough to read in front of a man who was buying me dinner. I just wanted to be prepared. If I found myself suddenly alone with nothing to do I was less worried about the fact that that would mean my date had gone very badly than about what I would so next. Smart girl.
Today, I still keep a stack of books by my bed, but I only take one (plus a magazine) to work and I limit myself to two or three on vacations and long weekends. If I’m pressed for space now, though, I have no problem leaving the book. I’d rather carry a notebook and a pen, or a small camera. I could leave those things, too, though, and still know that I carry with me the things I love because I love watching and everybody else, and keeping my eyes peeled for the passionate souls, heavy laden with a tangible love.