"Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky..."
Libraries are levelers. Like home, when you go there they have to take you in. Libraries collect the affluent and the indigent, the young working on assignments that will make them ready for life, and the old catching up on knowledge that they've missed. From time to time I go there to see what's new in the world of books and what's old in the realm of the classics.
My library is a brick building, cool inside on hot days and warm on cold days. Its facade and interior speak to the elegance of a former age that today's public works cannot hope to emulate. Inside books line the walls and stretch back into the stacks. It's staffed with bright and helpful souls known as "librarians," and they are a special and wonderful breed. It's a bit disappointing that all of them now seem to be women, but that's the way it goes in the realm of high security jobs with good pensions and low pay. It's hard to imagine a man taking the job, especially now that the profession has devolved into a world of women.
But more than it's bricks, books and librarians, a library is made of its patrons. Because it is free and is open and warm and comforting it gets its share of people who, in the middle of the day, have no real place to go. Since it has put in a number of free machines with free internet hookups it also draws in those who have no home computer but who still maintain, through the miracle of Google gmail and online document storage, a way to connect to the wider world of the internet. They come to the library to work with their email and their writing since the expense of a computer is, temporarily or forever, beyond their means in this slow rolling depression.
In many ways, the library is a means of seeing what's going on in the lives of your fellow citizens. I've gotten into the habit of using my visits there to take a kind of core sample of what our democracy is doing at this moment. I tend to notice what others are reading and writing and checking out. It's not really that I'm nosy. I'm just interested.
Today in a nave filled with free computers there were six women, all facing the screens and all searching, or typing emails, or scanning jobs on Craigslist and sending out the 500th copy of their resumes to the scant jobs listed that they might be suited for.
All except one. She was a woman working at her screen and it was open to a page that said, "MAKE A NOTE." I saw this in a glance as I was browsing the shelves nearby that offered hardcovers and paperbacks for sale at very reduced rates. Her back was to me but she had the size of the font turned up large and was still squinting at the screen as she slowly typed her note into the frame provided.
My glance lingered and a phrase caught my eye. It was rude to look longer but I was curious and I foolishly indulged myself in a brief moment of reading over her shoulder.
I wish I hadn't.
What she had written began, "It has been two weeks since I lost my precious baby boy. The pain that I feel is unbearable. I never knew a heart could break like...."
At that I broke away, ashamed I had allowed myself to intrude on this moment, and left the area. At some remove I glanced back and she was still typing slowly, intensely focused on the screen, writing down the bones of her life and saving her pain and her memory as a note, a terrible footnote to her life. Perhaps by making it a note and saving it somewhere in cyberspace she was putting the pain and the loss away. It would be in the world but, at the same time, it wouldn't. I prayed it would help her find peace.
A bit later in a large box store where I'd gone to get some meaningless object I imagined I needed, I looked around at the others in the store pushing their carts around in the daily ritual of getting and spending. I wondered how many there had a similar "note" stored with faded photographs in the shoe boxes of their lives. Quite a few I decided since time and chance happens to all. Still I was struck by how, even faced with deep and scaring tragedies, we pick ourselves and go on, even if it is only to go shopping, or to the library, where the computers are free and you can, as they say, come as you are.
When I got home I turned on the news. It was a program presenting the circus of "candidates" currently "running" for the Republican candidate for president in 2012. They didn't seem to be saying anything to me. I turned them off. Turned them all off.
None of them had anything to say to me. None of them had anything to say to the woman in the library whose screen I had overseen.
Earlier today, for what were flimsy reasons, I attached the opening of Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts to a brief blog item about Tiananmen Square. It didn't seem to fit so I removed it later. But it did fit what I had overseen at the library,
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
... Or seems to be just typing a note on a screen.
A note that contains a terrible memory. A note I didn't need to read but, at the same time, did.Posted by Vanderleun at June 13, 2011 7:00 PM