read me seymour

In the two offices I occupy, approximately 400 books reside. They line the shelves in height order, grouped by subject. It is a very appealing way of displaying books, but sometimes I can’t find a damn thing that I am looking for. So, I often spend a great deal of time scanning my shelves.

When I am looking for a particular book, I begin with the group most likely to hold said book. From left to right, my eyes scan the shelf, taking in color and shape and size (I even read the titles as well). Sometimes, I will run my fingers along the spines as I glance down a particular shelf, hoping to find what I am looking for by touch rather than sight. Inevitably, I will run into one of two problems.

First, I will not find what I am looking for in the place where I thought it lived. Second, an epiphany will hit me, and a crystal clear image of the book will form. It will either be situated cozily on the shelf of my other office or lounging around a bookshelf at home. Either way, a struggle ensues. I am either forced to scan all of my shelves at work, or I have the opportunity to test my memory and see if I remember to get the book or understand why I wanted it in the first place…

So, I was scanning the shelf in my counseling office and I ran across a well-worn tome that I don’t think I have ever picked up before. Another thing about me, I buy books. I hear titles and subjects that interest me and I buy them. Yard sales, seminaries, Barnes and Noble, it doesn’t matter, if it has to do with religion, theology, psychology, or counseling it will come to find a place in my home.

So I pulled this book from its home and gaze at its cover. Black, tattered, torn, gold letters pronounce the author and title to me. Inside the cover, stamped in blue are the words “Withdrawn Union-PSCE” and “$1.00.” This gives me some clue as to when and where I bought the book, but it is not the perceived value or the books tiredness that draws me to it. Very simply it is the title, Man’s Search for Himself, by Rollo May.

Regardless of the dated title, I gingerly opened the book and began to read. The pages have the musty scent of an old library attached to them and my nose crinkles at the smell. I turn to the table of contents and the words click in my head. “The Hollow People,” “The Struggle to Be,” “The Experience of Becoming a Person” scream at me as their words sear my soul. How, I ask myself, could this book have come to share the same space with me without being read before now?

So, I do what I do with all books that interest me, I sit down and begin reading. Fifteen minutes and twenty-five pages later, Dr. May has spoken to me in a deep and profound way. Let me share three quotes that provided a moment or two of clarity for me.
It may sound surprising when I say, on the basis of my own clinical practice as well as that of my psychological and psychiatric colleagues, that the chief problem of people… is emptiness… Perhaps some readers are conjecturing that this emptiness, this inability to know what one feels or wants, is due to the fact that we live in a time of uncertainty—a time of war, military draft, economic change, with a future of insecurity facing us no matter how we look at it. So no wonder one doesn’t know what to plan and feels futile! But this conclusion is too superficial. (p. 15-17)
He goes on two pages later to say this:
But the present typical American character, Riesman goes on to say, is “outer-directed.” He [or she] seeks not to be outstanding but to “fit in”; he [or she] lives as though he [or she] were directed by a radar set fastened to his [or her] head perpetually telling him [or her] what other people expect of him [or her]. This radar type gets his [or her] motives and directions from others; like the man described himself as a set of mirrors, he is able to respond but not to choose; he has no effective center of motivation of his own.
Finally, he states this about the emptiness or hollow feeling that he finds in many people:
The feeling of emptiness or vacuity which we have observed sociologically and individually should not be taken to mean that people are empty, or without emotional potentiality… The experience of emptiness, rather, generally comes from people’s feeling that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in. Inner vacuousness is the long-term, accumulated result of a person’s particular conviction toward himself [or herself]… that he [or she] cannot act as an entity in directing his [or her] own life, or change other people’s attitudes toward him [or her], or effectively influence the world around him [or her]. (p.25)
So I read these things and then I stop, and I turn to the front of the book to look for a copyright date. I shake the cobwebs from my head as the year registers and I realize that this could have been written yesterday about the people who inhabit this shallow culture in which we live. By the way, sorry about all of the brackets, the book was written in a time where language that included women was not yet the standard. I know that many of you would have read it and assumed that, but I felt that it was important to add the “hers” to the text.

Anyway, I put the book down and just sit for a moment. I am in the middle of my counseling office, on the floor, staring at the bookshelf. I don’t have a client coming for a while and I wonder if I want to read more. I decide against it. I realize that I have found a long lost friend, a person who sees the world much as I do; a person who has asked the same questions about life and meaning and hope that I ask today. This is a relationship that is meant to be savored rather than hurried.

In the end, Rollo May joins the stack of books that I have begun to read but not yet finished. He is in good company, surrounded by Gilead, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Supervising Therapists and Counselors, and National Geographic Magazine. These are just a few of the companions on my journey right now. Their voices provide meaning to my relationship with the rest of the world.

The thoughts contained between the front and back covers paint the canvas of my life with wide swatches of purples, blues, reds, and greens. They liven the fields that I walk through and bring me closer to others. Most of all, they help me access the parts of me that I have often kept hidden. They are a rich tapestry that hangs on the wall of my soul, giving it a welcoming softness that makes me want to visit more often…

grace and peace

PS - what year do you think this was written?



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