Ave atque vale

From Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Profound: There appears to be a string of seemingly profound messages that have grabbed me along the way. The messages may differ in form—aphorism, quote, song lyric—but what they all have in common is that each promoted an embracing view of life; each elicited an immediate yes! feeling in me, which I in turn felt impelled to share with others; each ultimately lost its juice; and each new crush made me feel embarrassed that its simplistic predecessor had actually felt so deep. I believe the first up in the parade was a charm necklace I received when I was about thirteen. It read live love laugh. I liked the cadence, the three one-syllable L words, but mostly the terse, wise command. What more is there? I thought. Live, love, laugh—that’s it. The next one I can remember presented itself to me when I was twenty, during a summer internship at the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in New York. I was doing grunt work in the research department. I cannot recall the specifics, but what is vivid is this: There was a passage in a packet I was given, no more than a paragraph or two in length, which jumped out at me and aroused a feeling of This is what life’s about, we have to tell people, this is the perfect thing to base an advertising campaign around! I highlighted it, attached an empathic note, and then placed it on my boss’s chair. I was sure that I had saved the day, that I had unearthed some incredibly valuable insight that would have numerous reverberations around the office. When it went unmentioned for a day, then two, then a week, I came to terms with my miscalculation, and felt red-faced and small, tricked by my own naive, impressionable self. And it goes on. Mid-twenties I was infatuated with Kierkegaard’s “Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.” Age twenty-eight, doing freelance copywriting for Adidas. Listening to the Indigo Girls’ song Watershed. With sudden clarity, I was positive that the chorus was anthem material, and I was jazzed by the idea of imparting this message via a running-shoe commercial. When you’re learning to face the path at your pace every choice is worth your while. My grandiose mission was squelched by a polite Okay, uh-huh. And today, at this market on my existential grid, my philosophical and spiritual capacities intersect in such a way that I am a prime target for—and unabashedly moved by—this Pueblo verse: Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands alone. Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here.

I first read those words and encountered this book in 2005. Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life is set up like an encyclopedia of all things Amy Krouse Rosenthal. As someone who admires creativity and is always looking for inventive ways to convey a story, I was immediately impressed by what she had done and a little jealous that I hadn’t done it first. By the time I got to the book’s intermission, right before the end of I’s but not quite before the J’s, I was hooked. By the time I got to the entry for profound I knew two things: that Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life was one of those profound moments that Amy Krouse Rosenthal had written about and that the book would secure a place in my top 10 list of all-time favorite reads.

Sometimes an author that is unknown to me will write a book and the Powers That Be will make sure that the book finds its way to me, that I’ll read the book and that what I read will become life changing and, sometimes, life saving. Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life came to me at the right time and at the right moment. I was a year away from turning thirty and feeling bad that my life hadn’t turned out the way I had intended. I was working at a library and attending classes but still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was caught up in the shallowness of life, judging myself and my life based upon the strategic placement of my MySpace top 8 and the amount of comments I had received per day. I had an empty hole in my soul because I wasn’t being appreciative of my life. I was so worried about what other people thought about me and trying to live up to the expectations I thought society and the ubiquitous them had for me. Amy Krouse Rosenthal changed my outlook.

Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life celebrates the little things, the every day moments that make up a well lived life. The book made me pause and remember and reflect on all the good that was in my life. I was so focused on the larger picture I had forgotten all about the fine details that keep the gears turning. I was almost but not quite at the milestone birthday of three zero but, after reading Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life, I somehow knew it would be okay. This book, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, gave me the encouragement to know I could have an ordinary life and still have that life be meaningful. I’ll forever be grateful and that’s why I’m more than a little sad this afternoon. “Why so glum, chum?” you might ask. Well, it’s because Amy Krouse Rosenthal has left the building. The news came down through the publishing world that she had lost her battle with cancer. 

Ave atque vale, Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Thank you for your work and thank you for the inspiration. I hope that you find peace in the next life.


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