for Seed of Devotion on Oct. 8, 2010
Yesterday I took the elevator up to the second floor of a certain building built in 1929 on the campus of the University of Florida. I rung the doorbell and the woman at the desk motioned for me to enter through the glass doors.
I stepped into the deep quiet of the Baldwin Library, Special Collections. The vaulted wood ceilings cast a hush over me, as if I was entering a cathedral. After I signed a plethora of permission sheets, the librarian disappeared to fetch two books for me.
When she returned, she placed two books upon the table. My heart jumped. I glanced at the librarian and she gave me a smile.
With a cautious hand, I opened the cover of the first book, which was covered in maroon leather that dully shone. Upon the brittle pages was a copyright date from over 230 years ago.
230 years ago.
In awe, I opened to a random page. The author was a man who traveled with the British embassy - he told of his adventures and the diplomacy of missions to the Far East. The author spoke about the 1760s as if that era was not so long ago. On one page I saw ancient Devanagari script scribbled in pencil, as if a scholar in India had taken notes.
I flagged down a librarian. "This little piece of paper says that this book was sold to the University around 60 or 70 years ago for $375. How much is it worth today?"
The librarian grinned. "Oh, 230 years old? Over 10,000 dollars."
I opened the second book, which told the tales of two boys and a Doctor who travel the world.
130 years old.
I skipped ahead to the chapter when the crew touches shore in "Pooree". The book overflowed with meticulous and stunning illustrations, and so lo and behold when I turned a page, there was Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra! The author even drew a map of the famous temple. I guess that was before the priests outlawed the entrance of Westerners into the temple.
For an hour, I entered the ancient world of these books. The sound of turning brittle pages seemed to echo off the ceiling.
As I was about to leave, I took one last glance upon the inside cover of the children's book. In faded script was a little note that said something like, "To Harry, Dec. 25, '81"
It took me a moment to process the year.
Where have these books been? Who were the people that wrote them? Who were the people that turned these pages before me, throughout the decades... throughout the centuries...?
Somehow, a person who lived a hundred and two hundred years ago set words to paper. I will never know how he looks, never know how he speaks, and he is forever lost to the sands of time. But somehow, that person has reached out through the centuries to speak with me.
Then I pondered how Srila Prabhupada's books continue to change lives to this very day, even though he's no longer on the planet. His books will continue to reach out and mold the lives of people all over the world, for hundreds - for thousands - of years to come. His books have certainly changed my life.
That is the power of the written word.
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