December 8, 2019

The Bookmark

"Help me learn to play and write music for You and I will spend my life teaching others to praise You."

Dixil Rodríguez

Several years ago I was given a bookmark. The bookmark is square, thick metal, and has beautiful Celtic designs carved on it with the engraving: “Live, Laugh, Love.” It’s not a bookmark I would have selected for myself. It’s heavy and slips out of books quite easily, which renders its primary purpose useless.

Yet it is beautiful and oddly profound: Live, Laugh, Love. An invitational phrase; a checklist of sorts. It makes me wonder: could we sum up transformative moments of our lives into just three words?

* * *

The week is dedicated to academic professional development meetings. For four days professors from across the state will spend six hours in workshops, training, and lectures.

I am late to the first faculty lecture series, and I quickly search for a seat. I quietly tiptoe toward the last aisle in the auditorium to an empty chair next to my friend, Dr. Michaels, a composer and music professor. I whisper hello, sit down, and, to my horror, I hear the sound of my Celtic bookmark fall to the floor, hit the tile, and oscillate in vibration.

“Help me learn to play and write music for You, and I will spend my life teaching others to praise You.”

As the bookmark becomes silent in its movement, my colleague whispers: “Your bookmark is set to A sharp.” I try to control a small burst of laughter.

During a break Dr. Michaels examines the bookmark. He finds the metal to be resilient yet problematic as he notices the bookmark’s weight will never “hold still” between pages. “It is a rather persistent bookmark,” he says. “Every time it escapes the pages of a book it will fall and remind you of three rather important general tasks: live, laugh, love.”

Still holding the bookmark, Dr. Michaels shares that as a young disabled boy, he grew up at a time when few resources could help him succeed in school. He never spoke in class. Music helped him communicate. When his grandmother took him to church, he would listen to the choir, hear the harmonies meant for heaven, and say: “I want to write something for God.”

He prayed for a gift and dedicated its outcome: “Help me learn to play and write music for You, and I will spend my life teaching others to praise You.”

I listen, reflecting on the many concerts I have attended in which he conducted original compositions performed by the university orchestra. Amid many standing ovations he always looks up, points to the heavens, then humbly asks the orchestra to stand and accept their standing ovation. I never understood the blessing behind the talent, the answered prayers, in every note he writes.

“You have a bookmark in the pages of my life’s story,” he says, adjusting his glasses. “My three words would be: pray, listen, praise.” He smiles and slowly walks away, using his support cane to probe through a busy crowd he cannot see, carefully touching the back of the chairs, silently counting them until he returns to his seat.

I somehow know that his three words are part of a ministry for me. I follow him to our seats, with my advantage of sight and the challenge to engage other senses, as he has done all his life: to pray, listen, praise. Because those are the roots that sprout life, laughter, and love.

Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.