The words of Hugh Prather's "Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a
Person" were printed in large type, very few to each page. This isn't
a book, I remember thinking, this is cheating.
The sentences were short, the paragraphs were short, and there was
loads of space between them.
"Few consciously choose when they will die." No kidding.
I recalled page after page of obvious statements (or obvious
questions) about obvious things.
"I choose to accept death now. As of this moment I give up my
'right' to live." That's heavy, Mr. Prather, but tell me, how hard is
that compared to choosing to live?
"What is the difference between the living and the dead?" I'd
start with this: The living are livelier in this time and place, dead
as they might sometimes seem.
Prather had to wonder if the dead were not "more present, more
comfort, more here than most of the living." Change my middle name to
"shallow," but I just couldn't see it.
Prather was 32 when he penned "Notes." I was 20 when I read it,
and it was clear to me that most of his brain cells had died by then.
If Prather's acuity was any indication, I figured I was looking at
another 10 good years, at best.
Even though I was avidly searching for God, I didn't regard the
book as having a religious context. I assumed that Prather's
references to God (such as "God knows") were mere figures of speech.
When Prather remarked, "God revealed his name to Moses and it was: I
AM WHAT I AM," it seemed to me like a handy (applicable or not)
endorsement of what he was striving to embrace: "I will be what I
will be -- and I am now what I am."
Oh, me of little faith.
Prather's ruminations sparked a light for many who saw they were
in the dark. "Notes to Myself" became a bestseller, was translated
into 10 languages and has sold more than five million copies.
I revisited the book when I came across Prather's new companion
book, "Spiritual Notes to Myself: Essential Wisdom for the 21st
Its back cover calls it "A Modern-Day Book of Proverbs." I'd call
it a modern-day book of Ecclesiastes.
The study notes in my New King James Bible describe Ecclesiastes
as "a profound and problematic book ... the record of an intense
search for meaning and satisfaction in life on this earth, especially
in view of all the iniquities and apparent absurdities that surround
Prather has spent decades in that search. Solomon, who is said to
be the author of Ecclesiastes, spent a lifetime.
Solomon would know, I think, what Prather was getting at when he
writes, "God is the only sane thing there is, and we are all part of
God. However, if I believe there is some divine law manifesting
itself as parking places and fat bank accounts in the West, while
allowing children in the East to step on land mines, I have got an
insane God on my mind."
The iniquities of life, absent God's clear reasons for them,
needle Prather and needled Solomon no end.
"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor
the bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor
to men of skill," wrote Solomon. "But time and chance happen to them
To make his point, he told the story of a poor wise man. The
little city where the poor man lived was besieged one day by a great
king, but, with his great wisdom, the poor man delivered the city
from its enemies.
"Yet," Solomon wrote, "no one remembered that same poor man."
I sense these authors hope that by setting down our human
predicament in all its fullness they will come to understand it --
and that we will too.
But that doesn't seem to be our lot. As Solomon noted, "Of making
many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the
flesh." He concluded his search for meaning in this way: "Fear God
and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of man. For God will
bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether
it is good or whether it is evil."
Prather -- like Solomon, who declared, "All is vanity" -- suggests
that we often stake out our quest for meaning and satisfaction in
"There is no reward in the world for our spiritual efforts," he
writes. "There isn't even a connection. The payoff for turning to God
is more God, not more world."
As in his earlier "Notes to Myself," Prather's words in "Spiritual
Notes" are set in large type, very few to each page. The sentences
are short, the paragraphs are short, and there's loads of space
But brief as it might be, it is, like Ecclesiastes, a real book --
perhaps in its own, 21st-century way, a profound and problematic
* MICHELE MARR is a freelance writer from Huntington Beach. She
can be reached at email@example.com.