The Marginalia of Our Days



If I’m making my acquaintance with a book for the first time, I usually want a clean copy; underscored lines and personal notes can be cumbersome obstacles to the main text.

But occasionally, if I’m looking through someone’s library or browsing a shop of old books, the marginalia hold more charm and interest than the printed words. I think a foray into the personal collections of my favorite authors would be a fascinating way to spend a few hours — or days.

The words scribbled in the blank spaces of books often tell their own story. Y’s gift to me from two Christmases ago, S., is an outright celebration of marginalia; one narrative takes place in the black print, and the other in “real-time” conversation between two readers. I haven’t finished it yet, but I do appreciate this tribute to the physical book.

Not always, but sometimes, the writing in the margins is art in itself: expressions and impressions from minds sparked by other minds.


This afternoon the house sat practically empty. I sent Lucy and Y off with my parents to a special afternoon tea, and settled at the kitchen table for a good hour of reading while Little Jo slumbered upstairs.

But as I cleared the space around me, I found at my elbow many of the little scenes that fringe the mainstream activities of our days.

Little Jo cooked me a pot of Lincoln Log pasta before her nap. These days we marvel at her full sentences. “Thass it fo now,” she said, as she served me my meal and trotted away.
Y disappeared into the garage on an afternoon two weeks ago and returned with these, made from our Christmas tree and scrap pieces from our entryway bench. With them, Lucy’s been learning the fun of tic tac toe and healthy competition.
A gift from dear friends, and until now a source of wild frustration for Little Jo. Last Friday, for the first time, she put it together on her own.
Our Thanksgiving wreath, and the leaf I might never have thought to write without living this past year.

Some of these are so commonplace to us that I scarcely notice them before sweeping them neatly out of sight. But today I’m suddenly glad to have these outshoots and sidebars of the life that rises and runs and shouts and murmurs through our house.

They are our marginalia.

They frame the tales of the four individuals who live here, drawing attention to the fact that we live together. In sterner housekeeping moods I’m tempted to dismiss them as mere clutter, but these objects and everyday exhibits hold value because they show what is being made from our overlapping existences.

A toddler’s red pencil scribbles on the corner of a preschool parent letter.

Wrappers from hotel muffins brought by grandparents.

Y’s puffed vest, which he wore every day for warmth during a recent illness, now flung across the foot of the bed.

They are our notes to each other about the passage of time; our tiny, tangible records of thoughtfulness and of relationship; portrayals of our life shared as only we could share it. They are, in fleeting form, small stories that enhance and even foreshadow the changes in the people we are and the family that we comprise.

And so, while wiping down the table and herding the art supplies into the sideboard, it seemed fitting to pause and trace the quiet accounts of these little things before the page is turned.

For these scattered histories, these details that pile up so often and everywhere: today they gleam with the intentional patience of a Father who is teaching us how to number our days rightly.