I was in the ninth grade when the concept was introduced to me. Mr. Godfrey used Illusions, by Richard Bach, to teach us. In Salt Lake City, the primarily Mormon culture didn’t like their fourteen-year-old children taught by Mr. Godfrey. He told their innocent children that there was a world outside of the LDS Temple and that there were holy works outside of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. None of what the parents were worried about was new to me. I had lost my faith in God two years earlier and I was a lonely atheist among believers.
I noticed something strange about the book. “The pages don’t have numbers on them, Don.” “No,” he said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.” – Richard Bach, Illusions
The Master had a special book. All you had to do was think about your problem, open it up randomly, and your answer would be on that page. I was so jealous of him. I vividly remembered when that was true for me. I had the Bible. If there was a problem in my life, all I had to do was resort to the Bible. All the answers to all my questions were there for me. God could direct me through the Bible. Since I had lost my faith in a higher power, I found that the direction of my life was entirely up to me. That’s damn scary when you’re an adult, much more so when you’re twelve.
“A magic book!” “No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?” – Richard Bach, Illusions
Now, Mr. Godfrey wanted me to believe that I cold take any book and find the answers to my problems on a random page. I was a good student: I practiced. My teenaged angst was decided by the random pages. The Yellow Pages, the current sci-fi and the math text book were randomly consulted to solve my young issues. Amazingly, my problems were solved. Since that day, random books and passages have come to me in times of need and they bear my burdens.
I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years– generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco–and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad– Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice– Robinson Crusoe. In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much– Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain. – Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868
Why? How? What the !*@#? How can a logical human being believe this crap? I classify myself as an atheist who struggles with superstition, but this act of consulting random passages is not considered superstitious in my philosophy. The human mind is incredibly good at recognizing patterns. We search them out. We see pictures in clouds and guidance in the Yellow Pages. Evolution carefully selected the humans that were better at recognizing the pattern of the tiger in the grass. The side effect of this is that I can meditate on my problem, open a random book and my mind will find an answer there. Because we can see the tiger in the grass, we can also see angels anywhere.
The circuit is now complete. When I left you, I was but a learner. Now I am the master. – George Lucas, Star Wars screenplay, 1979
The circuit is now complete. When I spurned the Bible at age twelve, I was but a learner. Now I can return to it as a master instead of a slave. Maybe it didn’t matter which two books the Time Traveler took with him to Paradise. There are only two books in most hotel rooms: The Bible and the Yellow Pages. Both of them have equal ability to inspire and console. Maybe I should have started the tradition of leaving a dollar bill in both.