A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


To tell the truth, I don't remember seeing Mom actually read her old Bible.  As far as I could tell, it just sat on the night stand next to her bed.

And that was the best place for it, since it probably wouldn't have survived any meaningful usage anywhere else.  The black cloth cover was ragged and time-worn, its dog-eared pages yellowed with time.  Once I accidentally knocked it off the night stand, launching loose pages all over Mom and Dad's bedroom.  I expected a tongue-lashing for my carelessness (and believe me, this was no small expectation, since Mom delivered a tongue-lashing like Pavarotti delivered an aria – with the practiced precision and stunning power of an artist).  But Mom was so busy gathering the pages, gently smoothing them and returning them to their place in the book that she paid no attention to me.

Soon after I moved away from home my sister Kathy and I combined our funds to buy a new Bible for Mom for her birthday.  It was a black leather volume, twice as big as her old Bible.  The pages were trimmed in gold, and there were maps, references and a complete Bible dictionary included within its pages.  We even had her name engraved on the front with gold-leaf lettering.

It was a beautiful book, and Mom was touched and pleased with it.  I remember watching her thumb carefully through the pages, admiring the quality of the paper and the clarity of the printing.  From that day on, it was the Bible she took with her to church, and the one from which she read during the family Nativity pageant.  But for some reason, it never displaced the old Bible from its position of honor on her night stand.  And that kind of bothered me.

"I don't know why you keep that ratty old thing," I told her as we prepared to pack it among her most precious belongings for what would turn out to be the last of many relocations in her life – this time to the warm, heavy air of Southern California.  "That new Bible we got for you is the best that money can buy.  You can't even use this old one anymore."

Mom smiled at me weakly and sat on the edge of her bed, carefully wrapping the old Bible in an equally old, equally shabby white shawl.

"Just because a thing isn't useful anymore, that doesn't mean it isn't valuable," she said softly, deliberately.  "You look at this and see an old, worn-out book.  But I see the gift your father gave me on our wedding day.  I see the friend that was always there to provide strength and comfort when your father was sent to Pearl Harbor during the war.  I see the storybook from which I read to all of my children, and the primer from which you all read your first Bible verses.

"This Bible has been in the family as long as we've been a family," she continued, caressing it through the tattered shawl.  "It's part of us, part of our history, part of who we are.  So even though it isn't especially useful anymore, there is still value in what it represents.  At least, there is to me."

Suddenly it occurred to me that she wasn't just talking about her old Bible.  We live in an age of fanatically obsessive utilitarianism.  Everything is disposable – even people.  If it's old or odd-looking or not particularly useful, toss it – or him, or her – out. We forget that there is value beyond utility, and worth beyond "what's in it for me now."

When Mom died Dad gave me her "new" Bible.  It's among my most cherished possessions.  It means a lot to me, and it really is beautiful and incredibly useful.  But I'd trade it in a minute for Mom's old, useless Bible.

I even have the perfect place for it: on the night stand next to my bed.

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— © Joseph Walker

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