The perfect bookstore

Photo by Shaun Dunphy

Photo by Shaun Dunphy

I have a student in China who for a long-time has dreamed of opening a bookstore. She is a bookworm and enjoys sharing her passion for books with others. She is also a therapist. She is very unconventional in the sense that she approaches the finances of the bookstore with a gambling-entertainment mindset. She is realistic about the financial investment necessary for operating a bookstore. She informed me that she’s set aside a certain amount of money for the operation of the bookstore. She’s not sure how long this amount of money will last but she’s prepared for the bookstore to remain open as long as this money is available.

This reminds me of those who go to Las Vegas to gamble knowing fully that they are more than likely to lose. Yet, they understand that the amount they’ve set aside to lose is considered “entertainment expenses.” So to them, it’s not a losing proposition. Instead, it’s an investment in an experience. My student holds the same perspective. She understands that she’s investing in an experience without knowing how long this experience will last. She works hard to operate the bookstore knowing that she will be moving on to another life experience when the money runs out.

As you can tell, she is quite atypical (or perhaps not so atypical for those who dare to pursue their dream of opening a coffee shop or small café/bookstore). Part of my student’s dream for this bookstore is the creation of a space/place where people can come to reflect and get back in touch with their souls. She means for the place to be inviting and safe. A place of trust and nurturance. I’ve participated and supported my student’s bookstore dream by holding a few small seminars focused on existential psychology. I’ve experienced the intimacy and warmth of the space.

Thus, it was painful for me to receive a call this morning from my student who shared with me that she found about a half month’s wages missing in cash from her purse. The theft took place during an informal lunch gathering in her bookstore. She had a very good idea who stole the money from her because the thief must be familiar with where she stores her cash. My student knew that the thief was a trusted friend who has received several loans previously from my friend during her time of need. Furthermore, upon further revelation, the student shared that this was not the first time it happened. The student admitted to dismissing the likelihood of betrayal before. Surely, such betrayal could not happen in paradise (her bookstore). Perhaps the money was simply “borrowed” on previous occasions. But this time, there is no denying that money indeed has been stolen. Paradise became imperfect and ordinary as other friends shared with her that such thefts were indeed commonplace.

My friend shared with me the pain and meaning of the loss. One could easily feel the pain of betrayal and the loss of innocence. My student worked hard to create a piece of paradise in a dark world but darkness crept into her place of light. More painful than the financial loss was the loss of innocence and the loss of a dream. She can no longer roam freely in paradise and be carefree about security. She will now have to be on guard in her own “home.” She dreaded having to grow up to this reality.

Yet, as she shared her story and begin to make sense of it, the lessons of our trainings in existential psychology began to take hold for her. She thought about the reality of evil. She reacquainted herself with imperfection. She reflected deeper upon paradox. I shared with her about how I’m learning from my colleague Jason Dias (a fellow New Existentialist contributor) about balancing rather than resolving paradoxes. Jason taught me that “paradoxes do not require solution. The solution to a paradox is to grow large enough to contain the various meanings suggested by the problem, to stop insisting that only one thing be true at one time.” I’m learning to enlarge myself, and my student is doing the same through this current lesson.

Finally, my student shared with me that she learned that it was time for her to face the reality of evil. To face the pain she did not want to face before. She is learning about how perfection encompasses the imperfect. She shared that she’s glad that her perfect bookstore is now mature enough to include the imperfect. I shared with my student that she paid the tuition for the both of us. That through her lesson, I’m becoming just a bit larger to contain the imperfect within my being as well. I look forward to my next visit to the Perfect Bookstore.

— Mark Yang

Read more stories by Mark Yang

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