Thursday, July 28, 2011

Running After One's Hat for 38 Years

It was in the spring of 1973 that I was browsing through The Antiquariam, a used book store in the Old Market section of downtown Omaha, when I discovered a somewhat battered, orangish copy of what was soon to become a life-changing book. I had experienced a few such encounters with books before this, notably Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (which influenced my conversion to Christianity) and, in later years, Henry Ironside's Commentary on Ephesians, C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity, Francis Schaeffer's The Church at the End of the 20th Century and A Christian Manifesto.

But the book I picked up at The Antiquarium was unique in several points. For instance, it served to introduce me to a writer who was remarkably talented in many genres. Indeed, this particular book showcased the writer's skill in poetry, essays, journalism, literary criticism, and short stories. There was an especially arresting quality about the writer's perspective as well. He looked at the same things that others did but from a different angle, one that illuminated and made memorable the truth of the thing. And finally, he was a master wordsmith who wrote in a style that liberally used metaphor, symbol, paradox and humor -- and yet one which produced an analysis of even complex matters that was clear as glass.

And I'd better add this. The writer was an absolute delight to read! Fascinating, provocative, convincing, inspiring and, like I said, quite funny. Even when he was making the most serious of moral exhortations, he was able to do so with mirth, wit and a charming confidence.

The writer I'm speaking of is G.K.Chesterton and the book I found there in the stacks was The Man Who Was Chesterton, a marvelous sampling of his incomparable work. That book would end up changing my life by introducing me to a writer who would become a life-long inspiration and friend.

Not bad for three dollars.

But before I knew of those GKC books and poems that would become treasured reading for me down through the years (The Man Who Was Thursday, Manalive, "Lepanto", Orthodoxy, the Father Brown stories, Heretics, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Thing, The Club of Queer Trades, "The House of Christmas," "The Donkey," the numerous collections of essays, and much more), I was first drawn in through reading just one enchanting essay while standing in the dark stall of that Old Market book shop. That essay was called "On Running After One's Hat." It was for that essay alone that I bought the book and began my adventure.

By the way, if you're interested, that very essay, "On Running After One's Hat," can be read on-line right here. Go it!  And I hope that it stimulates and delights you like it did me those many years ago.