No cheating in reading

August 04, 2005


The words of Hugh Prather's "Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a

Person" were printed in large type, very few to each page. This isn't

a book, I remember thinking, this is cheating.

The sentences were short, the paragraphs were short, and there was

loads of space between them.

"Few consciously choose when they will die." No kidding.


I recalled page after page of obvious statements (or obvious

questions) about obvious things.

"I choose to accept death now. As of this moment I give up my

'right' to live." That's heavy, Mr. Prather, but tell me, how hard is

that compared to choosing to live?

"What is the difference between the living and the dead?" I'd

start with this: The living are livelier in this time and place, dead

as they might sometimes seem.

Prather had to wonder if the dead were not "more present, more

comfort, more here than most of the living." Change my middle name to

"shallow," but I just couldn't see it.

Prather was 32 when he penned "Notes." I was 20 when I read it,

and it was clear to me that most of his brain cells had died by then.

If Prather's acuity was any indication, I figured I was looking at

another 10 good years, at best.

Even though I was avidly searching for God, I didn't regard the

book as having a religious context. I assumed that Prather's

references to God (such as "God knows") were mere figures of speech.

When Prather remarked, "God revealed his name to Moses and it was: I

AM WHAT I AM," it seemed to me like a handy (applicable or not)

endorsement of what he was striving to embrace: "I will be what I

will be -- and I am now what I am."

Oh, me of little faith.

Prather's ruminations sparked a light for many who saw they were

in the dark. "Notes to Myself" became a bestseller, was translated

into 10 languages and has sold more than five million copies.

I revisited the book when I came across Prather's new companion

book, "Spiritual Notes to Myself: Essential Wisdom for the 21st


Its back cover calls it "A Modern-Day Book of Proverbs." I'd call

it a modern-day book of Ecclesiastes.

The study notes in my New King James Bible describe Ecclesiastes

as "a profound and problematic book ... the record of an intense

search for meaning and satisfaction in life on this earth, especially

in view of all the iniquities and apparent absurdities that surround


Prather has spent decades in that search. Solomon, who is said to

be the author of Ecclesiastes, spent a lifetime.

Solomon would know, I think, what Prather was getting at when he

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