As a recent Jesuit arrival from Toronto at Quixote House, a welcoming community for those trying to make the “next step” after having served a sentence in prison, I live with men with various problems including addictions to various substances. Each of us cook for the community at least once a week, and share in the cleaning and other chores. Replacing the other Jesuit resident who had to attend a meeting I cooked chicken ? la king last Monday. After the meal, while the others cleaned up the mess I had left, I went off to honor a long standing engagement.
When I returned I learned that two police officers had arrived at the house after I had gone and taken away one of our people for violating his parole agreement by using cocaine. He spent the night in the Winnipeg remand center having left the window of his room open on this cold night. He was “caught” thanks to a mandatory urine analysis.
This led me to reflect some more on the mysteries of addiction and to realize that I, too, was in my own way an addict. The difference between myself and my friend now in prison once again is that my addiction is not illegal.
My addiction is to books. I would like to say “reading books” but that is not accurate. While I do read a lot my compulsion is to acquire books that I would like to read sometime in the future. I especially enjoy buying books that are inexpensive. For example, this morning I purchased a Marilynne Robinson novel, which I do intend to read eventually, from the bargain table in the University of Manitoba Book Store where I had gone to buy some computer paper. The cost of this book was less than that of a cup of coffee.
All addictions have costs associated with them. The cocaine addition of our friend from Quixote House has landed him back in jail. One cost of my addiction is where to store my library which now includes another book by Marilynne Robinson. Coming to Winnipeg from Toronto I brought with me more than 60 boxes, many of which had books in them. These I have stored in the basement of Quixote House thereby using up valuable space.
Another cost is the misperception of others that I have actually read all these books and am therefore highly learned. This is not true. I do not believe that in the years I still have in my life I will actually read all these books especially because I continually obtain more and more. Being counted as a well-educated nerd has a downside which is that I am sometimes perceived as remote and unavailable because I am off reading a book somewhere. I am sure there are support groups for book worms, but I have not yet found any.
Humility comes in various guises, but is important in our spiritual lives. The form of humility I am exploring here is the “rigorous honesty” described in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. It tells me that in reality I am no better and no worse than the most hardened addict who has lived at Quixote House.