I work at the local library now. It’s not where I expected to be when I dreamt of the places a double degree and internship in English and Theology would take me, but it’s simple, cozy, and if you ask the 43 books stacked on my nightstand they will tell you it’s quite pleasant.
It’s been a hard walk since I graduated and came home. A short one – thank God – but between my father’s death in July and the rest of 2016 (looking at you, Society and Culture of America), I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. In fact, I started several times to write something so I could relaunch this blog. I thought it was time to write again, even if I didn’t know what to write about. Writing about my dad’s death seemed too trite, writing about Harambe’s seemed too…stupid. I wanted to write, and I can’t say it was so much a fault of writer’s block that kept me from writing or if it was a lack of inspiration and motivation. I’ve had plenty of energy – I built a bench by hand! Redid two bathrooms! Painted the cat! – but nothing seemed important enough to share.
Today I was at the library, working “book drop,” which sounds a little more chic than it is. I was processing books that were dropped off to the library – scanning, checking for damages, placing items on hold, etc. I picked up one book and noticed tucked inside was a letter.
Books often come to us with bookmarks, business cards, bills, notes, and other paper miscellany sleeping in the pages, and the protocol is to throw them all into the recycling. But today I found a handwritten note – a handmade one, too – inside The Lake House by Kate Morton. The book itself is inconsequential, but the letter was on beautiful thick white paper. The author had painted a sunrise over the water onto the front, in watercolors. Her handwriting reminds me of someone’s I know, familiar and nostalgic. She must have learned her letters years back, when schools still taught handwriting.
Dear Elaine, it starts. Elaine is the one who dropped off the book at the library. I imagine her to be a busy mom, only allowing herself seconds while her babies sleep in the car to hastily dump off a book she may have only read in pieces on the toilet or while stirring the soup. Maybe she’s a young woman, swinging by the library on her lunch hour, before heading back to the office and wishing she were reading instead. I let my imagination carry me while I processed more books.
I painted “Sunrise” for you. I am still mastering all the techniques, but thought it was sunny and colorful. Hope it cheers your spirits, and you are feeling better each day.
It’s dated July 7th of this year.
Sensitive heart that I am, I chewed my lip and wondered what to do with it. I can’t very well recycle something like this. But if it goes into the lost and found – from which nothing ever returns – will someone else coldly toss it later? I put it in my purse.
Look, I am no thief. And to tell you that I put it in my purse and then forgot about it would be a lie because I basically spent the rest of my shift rolling carts around the library floor wondering if this is a sin, did I break company protocol, is this an invasion of privacy, can I be fired for this, or worse, what if Elaine comes back looking for her card and no one knows where it is and I have to fess up to STEALING IT? If I don’t fess up, what will she explain to Trish when Trish asks why “Sunrise” isn’t on the nightstand or the refrigerator anymore? Have I just ruined someone’s friendship?
People of the internet, I am telling you this because when I came home and pulled “Sunrise” out of my purse, I placed it on my nightstand. And it thrilled me. Not because I love stealing things (seriously, any priests want to weigh in on my culpability here?). But it thrilled me – thrills me – because it means something. Its sole purpose is to cheer someone up. It was made lovingly, perhaps with wine or TV or on the phone with Trish’s mom or daughter or vet, and given to a friend for the sole purpose of brightening her day. Hope you are feeling better each day. Is Elaine sick? Depressed? Did she lose someone or something?
Regardless of what Elaine and Trish’s stories are, I will likely never know them. But what’s so striking to me tonight is that I don’t need to know them. I am warmed from a distance – lit with the knowledge that tonight the world is bigger than me! The world is bigger than my problems, than my struggles. It is bigger than you and your problems. It is bigger than America’s presidential election, bigger than Trump’s ego and Hillary’s list of deleted emails. The world is bigger than my father’s death. The world is so freaking big. People are everywhere. The people who drop off books at the library are living their own lives, their own joys and problems, and the only connection I have to these people is that I see the pages that they have just read and maybe one day I will read them, too.
I’m not invalidating anyone’s feelings, nor am I brushing away my own grief. I’m not saying that everything is fine when we all just love, dude, but I am saying that for some reason, holding a tiny piece of someone else’s life shook me a little bit today.
The other day a man named Gary put three books on hold about divorce. A woman named Lauren put a book on hold about dating at 50. Are they each other’s people? Are they strangers? I don’t know anything except that these people exist. They have lives. They are lives. They are gifts, to someone, somewhere. I have watched a young man come in and request books for the last few weeks, working his way through a series of graphic novels. One woman once requested twentysix picture books – is she a teacher or a mother? Perhaps both.
I have no connection to these people – only that I touch and see books and words and paper that they have once seen or will see – and that alone is enough to wake me from my selfish belief that I am the center of not just my world but this world. This isn’t a political post, but from what I’ve seen of America this week I wonder how many people out there could stand to be woken up from ego-centrism, however prevalent it is in their lives.
Elaine, I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do so hope that you feel better. I hope you aren’t turning over your house to find this letter. I hope this note makes its way back to you somehow.
Trish, I hope everyone finds a friend like you. Your talent in watercolors is nothing compared to your care for your friend.
Hope it cheers your spirits, and you are feeling better each day.
It’s dated July 7th of this year. The day before my father died.
I painted “Sunrise” for you. Hope you are feeling better each day.
Two days ago marked four months. I am feeling better each day, honestly. I’m still not quite there, but isn’t it funny what silly simple little things can lift us?
How little do we understand the impact the smallest of our actions may have! Kindness can go further than we expect. Such a small little note, and I ended up feeling the ripples of it. Just once, break from your reverie and notice something that isn’t you.
Notice not you. It will make a difference in you.
Hope it cheers your spirits. I thought it was sunny and colorful.
I hope it cheers spirits, too, Trish. Thank you for your little act of kindness.