For years after her death, my grandfather kept her house the way it had always been during their years together. He lived alone amid her scratched recordings of opera plus two modest bookcases that held books of art, classic literature, and the prized Shakespeare collection. I was always curious about the books, but they were shelved in the room where my grandfather rocked as he sat sentinel with his wine and his TV. It was not until he died and the house was finally shut down and made ready for sale that the books were given to me, and for the first time, I really met my grandmother face to face. Even though I knew her modest collection was symbolic of a forgotten era, she suddenly came alive to me there amid those small, penned notes in the margins of Shakespeare’s dusty, tattered, leather-bound masterpieces.
For me, those books held a fascinating appeal. They begged questions I longed to ask of her. What was she like, my grandmother? What did she think about? Did she immerse herself in the classical world of Shakespeare to forget about her life? Did she ever draw parallels in the Shakespearean classics with the characters she knew and lived with?
I think she did. I believe that she would have needed to find a bolt-hole—a refuge from the drudgery of keeping house for four children and the uncertainty and pain of life with an alcoholic husband. Men or women imprisoned by life must find an outlet for their souls. That need for an outlet is part of an enduring and inescapable truth in human existence. We are not made up of flesh and liquid merely to exist here. We are meant for greater things.
We are souls in need of creative expression and immortal salvation. There are ways and ways to find salvation, and if my grandmother’s notes are correct, Shakespeare appears to be one of them.
I believe we are simpatico, my grandmother and I, and we share a bond that can never be broken. We are both part of the fragile lineage of humans who need to live outside ourselves for a time in a place where there are no boundaries, countries, races, genders, or meaningless platitudes. That place exists in a world apart. The creative mind invents this new world of art for all dreamers, lovers, and explorers. My grandmother’s Shakespeare taught me that boundaries are limitless in this brave new world. It is where the mind leads us when we are forced at times to work in a colorless void or to live in solitude. If my quest has taught me anything, it is the simple truth that our minds are windows to our souls. My grandmother’s Shakespeare has shown me that the only way true freedom is found in this world is when we open our hearts and find the courage to follow our dreams. -Anne Safka