Yesterday, I stopped in a "stacked to the ceiling" used book store in Syracuse and picked up two volumes on Argentina (one endorsed "with much love to Papa from Dorothy. March 11, 1918." and the other published in 1969).
At the register, I mentioned to the owner that Argentina was my destination for the month of February. "Ah!" he said "My sister is moving to Panama in the same month. Here....let me show you what I put aside for her."
A moment later he was gingerly handing me a broad-faced, well worn volume on the building of the Panama Canal containing incredible black and white photos of everything from the Cristabol slums to the landslides in the Culebra cut. I had noticed a copy of McCullough's "The Path Between The Seas" in the Latin American section, so after spending about an hour with his find I went back, dug it out and suggested he add it to his sister's gift package.
With shelves overflowing, the bookshop was still half in boxes. A dozen college kids were hunkered down around what would one day be the cappuccino bar, cataloging pyramids of faded bindings from the inventory collected over a lifetime by the previous owners. It was like an "Inkheart" fantasy and very musty smelling to boot; nothing quite like the odor of an old book along with a trace of malt Scotch and stale tobacco.
While I was thumbing pages, a fellow in his early twenties stopped in and began reminiscing about how he and his childhood buddies would ride over on their bikes and spend the afternoon perusing the reams of comic books stashed in one of the store's forgotten back rooms. He was very happy to see the place had reopened.
The shop keeper, perhaps a bit drunk on all the print cascading down around him, expressed the rather disheartening observation that life is simply too short; that just when you REALLY start appreciating how much there is to taste and touch and learn, the sands in the hour glass are nearing depletion. I nodded in agreement, but pointed out that a healthy sense of time's fleeting nature helps get us off the bench and into the game. It also makes us take our work seriously, because like the books, what we leave behind embellishes the future.