Monday, March 10, 2014

Lessons from the circulation desk...

Until I started working at the library, I had no idea what a huge variety of people live in Cumberland County. That isn't to suggest, of course, that I had ever espoused the redneck generalizations and stereotypes of small, southern towns; I knew we weren't a bunch of uneducated hicks who all drove big trucks and had field parties well into our 30s and 40s. Those people exist primarily, if not only, in Luke Bryan songs. Do we have dumb people? And racists? And homophobes? And moochers? And jackasses? Well, sure. ... just like every other small town and big city in America.

On the other hand, we also have some of the most genuine, hard-working, and kind people I will ever know.  If I were going to run out of gas, I'd want it to be in Cumberland County. If I needed help moving furniture, or assistance at the barn, or advice on some random piddle project of choice, I could turn to any number of neighbors and friends.  In my moments of arrogant exhaustion, I regain perspective by looking around at all those people who are getting up earlier than me/working longer and harder/coming home later.  If I want to see goodness personified, I only have to drive three minutes and spend less than that with my grandmother.

Obviously, this is not some profound conclusion. Just as some seem inclined to promote the barefoot and pregnant nonsense, an equal, if not greater, number consistently play-up the "aww, shucks" nature of small-town life. Laced with oft-unintentional condescension, descriptions of the compassion, pride, and revered naivete of areas like Cumberland County sometimes seem like back-handed compliments in a "bless their hearts" sort of way. Intelligence is neither assumed, nor acknowledged. Political awareness is overlooked. Reading, music, and art affinities get lost in discussions of smiles, waves, and general hospitality.

My point is simply that in addition to all the things I mentioned in the second paragraph, Cumberland County is also home to some of the most multifaceted, interesting, and intelligent people I know. And working at the public library reminds me of this nearly every day.  For every one rude person who comes in trying to scam us in an attempt to check out movies under an alias, there are four who give me book suggestions or talk about something they saw on the news or invite me to a play or ballgame or fundraiser in which their child is participating. Local authors come in and do book signings.  A huge variety of people stop by to pick up farmers market applications. PhDs, retired doctors, renowned artists, decorated military servicemen/women, teachers, skilled craftsmen/women, jack-of-all-trades pseudo engineers and farmers with more knowledge than nearly every professor I've ever had, and successful business owners frequent the library just as much as those to whom many assume the public library caters: the unemployed, the poor, the shiftless, the outcast, the loner.

We also have people who take ten years to reach the crux of their argument. Sorry. ...

I say all of this to highlight one particular comment from one particular patron on one particular Saturday morning. She said something I found so profound that it has stuck with me for 15 days and literally been on my mind every one of those. Offering a review of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, a book
she knew I had read and enjoyed a few weeks prior, she applauded the way it came full circle at the end, describing how the tragic heroine finally acknowledges that "the most monumental thing we ever have to face is the betrayal of ourselves, the betrayal of our common sense."

Now, as I said, I've read that book. And I consider myself a fairly analytical and introspective person...BUT, I would have NEVER come up with something so articulate and eloquent.  I would have been incapable of reducing a 500-page novel to something so accurately poignant. I'm not sure I have ever had an original thought so replete with tragic depth and truth.  And, I think it important to note that as much as I initially was, and have remained, impressed by her conclusion, I have been equally haunted by it for two weeks now. I have looked at her words, the quote I quickly scribbled down on the little yellow post-it notes we keep by the circulation desk and have kept it affixed to the cover of Gilbert's book that I'm currently reading, Committed: A skeptic makes peace with marriage.  But these are glances, despite their frequency, unsustainable by choice. To linger would be to question. Focus would breed regret. Simply put, if I took the time to really think about this statement, to consider the times I have betrayed my gut, my heart, my mind, it would be painful. Trying to rationalize those times to myself or to anyone else will be emotionally and descriptively difficult. I know I have been there though. I know she is right to call it the most monumental of tasks.

I don't feel ready this morning to go into any details. As I've said since I started this blog around four years ago, when I write stuff down, I'm more inclined to do it.  I just thought putting it out there would be impetus for me to take the time to really evaluate choices that I would rather hide in the confines of a mind purposely overflowing with projects, recipes, and chores.

Plus, it gave me a chance to brag on my patrons and the area that I do so love.
Thank you for keeping me inspired. Thank you for encouraging me to think.  Thank you for being so much more than Luke Bryan songs suggest, Cumberland County.
I haven't posted much this winter, so I thought I would share a few of my favorite moments from the past few months...

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