Toward the end of my junior year of college, Mom had the brilliant idea that I transfer to a less expensive school since The University of NC at Chapel Hill, AKA “Carolina,” cost more than sending both of my sisters to ECU. There was no way in hell I was going to transfer to another school; so I started selling Bibles. The plan was to train in Nashville, then relocate somewhere I’d never been before to sell Bibles and educational books door to door during the summer.
Ever the control freak, Mom enticed me with the offer of free room and board if I sold books in Fayetteville, NC. Since this was the time our relationship was at its most contentious, I acted as if I had to remain with the two young women whom I’d agreed to be roommates. They shared a downstairs room in my parents’ house while I rested comfortably upstairs in my childhood bedroom.
Mom didn’t really want to be a temporary landlady and was quite upset she couldn’t have guests all summer, but I’d wanted to leave home and thought it was fitting that she suffered for insisting I stay.
By the end of summer, I’d saved over two thousand dollars, mostly because I enjoyed free housing and food. At least my parents didn’t have to pay for my last year at Carolina. And as an extra bonus, I’d bought myself a Bible.
Although my parents raised me Baptist, ensured I had dutifully attended church nearly every Sunday, I believed in God but not religion. This was long before I knew anything about feminism or the patriarchy. All the conflicting beliefs and interpretations of The Bible, along with other religious books, didn’t clear up any confusion, especially when those so called religious beliefs touted that I was less than who I was because of my gender and race.
After graduation, I wired 12-inch miter saws on a non-moving assembly line. My coworkers teased me for being a Carolina graduate and ending up employed with them. I just smiled and took the ribbing in stride. Not because I had an even temper. I wanted to see how low their jaws would drop when they discovered I was paying off a small student loan and buying some things for my impending adventure to Tanzania as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I sat on that tidbit of information for 5 weeks. Afterwards, I had the cheek to give a week’s notice. The only reason anyone gives notice for a shitty job like that is to rub it in the faces of their coworkers.
I can’t remember whether I’d packed my Bible for that trip or not. As a matter of fact, my next recollection of that Bible was when I’d moved to Denver several years later. I’d scheduled a bona fide reading time in my daily itinerary. From the stack of material on my nightstand, I’d start off reading a passage, then a chapter from whichever books I had at the time.
In 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote, but not the presidential election, I put most of my things in storage and packed up the rest for a two-year teaching job in Alexandria, Egypt. I brought that Bible as a handy reference for life in the Biblical lands.
More significantly, however, I’d made a promise to God. My only surviving grandparent, Mama Bea, was in failing health. I’d vowed on New Year’s Day 2001 to read The Bible daily for a year and in its entirety if God spared her while I labored through this task.
My diligence paid off. Mama Bea remained alive for all of 2001, passing in January 2002. A few days after learning of her departure, I dreamt about her. She feared I would be late for work. Instead of simply telling me to get up, Mama Bea placed both of her hands on my torso and shook me as if rolling out dough. In my sleep, I argued with her to stop shaking me. I half woke up, looked at my alarm clock and complained about her waking me up a minute before it sounded.
Fully wake, I still shook. Or more accurately, the bed itself shook. I’d woken to an earthquake. Not as strong as the one that crumbled the famed Alexandria Lighthouse. Just strong enough to leave me with the eerie feeling that Mama Bea had come to me in form of an earthquake before reaching her final destination.
After teaching in Egypt, I moved to Mexico. Slowly, my Bible deteriorated from the outside in, starting with the binding. It’s tempting to say that the rough travels of being shipped from one country to the next shortened its life, but I blame the Egyptian customs agents. After all, when I’d optimistically packed up a class set of compasses to teach four different levels of math at a private school in Alexandria, I received my boxes only to find every compass metal point had been broken off. That should’ve been my forewarning.
My Bible suffered a torturous round with Egyptian customs. At least I still received it, unlike the two journals I’d written in nearly every day while living there. The only tangible memories I have of my time in Egypt are two photo albums and the long, descriptive letters I emailed to friends and family.
Over the years, my Bible’s leather binding shed completely, followed by pages from both ends. I recycled everything. When I noticed the decline increasing, I thought, “My Bible is dying.”
Absurd to personify a book, right? I chastised myself for being so attached to it, given my secular disposition. Yet, the thought of tossing the entire book into the recycling bin was unconscionable. I agonized every evening when I read a passage and more pages slipped away.
I went to a Christian bookstore to buy a replacement. The Bible selection was incredible: from colorfully illustrated children’s Bibles to the myriad of adult Bibles with their constellation of acronyms both familiar and exotic to me: KJV, NKJV, CEB, ESV, HSCB, NAS, NIV, NLT.
This didn’t even include the different publishers who had their own versions of these acronyms. With very little research, I selected the “latest” study Bible. It boasted of having over 8,000 study notes, along with QR codes and web links. I thumbed through it and read some of the passages, which were written in contemporary English.
Toting both Bibles, I placed the new one on the counter and asked the sales woman if they recycled Bibles as she rang me up. She cheerfully told me that they didn’t exactly recycle Bibles, but if I wanted to donate my old Bible…I held up my old Bible.
She stopped mid sentence. I told her the abridged story of how it came to be in that condition. Her eyes widened at the mention of “Egypt.” I told her I could recycle pages, but not the book itself. My eyes began to water. She smiled, handed me the new study Bible, which cost two weeks’ worth of groceries, reached for my old Bible and said they would recycle it.