There is a library in my hometown that I adore. It really doesn’t look like a library at all though. It’s smooshed (or shmushed, depending on your region) in between a creepy costume shop and a Buddy’s Pizza. This costume shop is creepy enough for me to go to a different library on occasion simply to avoid the radiant creepiness of this small shop, but that’s not important, at least not now. The library is one of those buildings that proclaims its existence on the front, but only allows entrance in the back. I don’t know who’s idea that was, but I find it darn funny. You walk through the unmarked and heavily tinted double doors into a bare and wonderfully earth-tone lobby with two plastic chairs from that era in the 70’s where apparently the awkward plastic chair industry was booming. I so love those chairs and their awkwardness.
The only other thing in this small flash-from-the-past lobby is a giant silver elevator. The silver is almost glaring in its opposition to the uniformity of dulled browns and greens that adorn this little hippie oasis. Even a newcomer would assume that the elevator is the next course of action in this bizarre venture because the chairs don’t seem to hold much promise, and there is nothing else in the room. So you climb (or walk I suppose) into the elevator and observe the one lonely button all by itself, which I still find hilarious. It makes me think of a special agent elevator for some reason. So with deductive reasoning as your guide, you press the one button available and begin ascending slowly upward (that last part was redundant).
Now this poor elevator is like the vertical version of The Little Engine That Could. If you hadn’t seen the outside of the building before you came in and knew that is was only 2 stories high, you’d think you were climbing the highest sky-scraper in the mid-west (hyphen-tastic!). But alas the doors open and the elevator (who I like to call Earl for some reason) lets out a little huff from his exhausting 15-foot journey in hopes that no one else strain his poor gears for at least another 2 hours so he can fully rest. Poor Elevator Earl.
Upon first glance this looks like a typical low-budget library. The ambitious interior designer that beautifully orchestrated the lobby below apparently got his big break when asked to also plot out the color scheme for the library as well. Browns, greens, oranges, and what once were yellows dance on your eyes as a literature collide-a-scope of educational delight (ha, ok so that one was a bit wordy). The smell of old pages fills your nostrils. It smells a lot like a thrift store actually. And no matter who is working, the attendant at the front desk is always wearing over-alls, a mother goose shirt, and adorable little librarian glasses. Always. I’ve never so consistently been greeted to the point of thorough enchantment at any other place. It’s like seeing that one aunt who lives relatively far away but will always welcome you with a delightful smile and hug. Only these librarians don’t typically hug, but you get the impression that they would if they weren’t behind that colossal desk, so you let it slide.
There’s a lot of library-esque type of activity going on, whatever that is. You can see little drooling toddlers who are much more concerned with the pictures than the notion of reading, which greatly resembles college in a way. There is always some individual in the corner who was a functioning citizen during the Wright Brothers Flights reading some obscure textbook or romance novel that peaked their interest for some reason. You almost feel as though whatever category of description you yourself fit into is exactly the demographic that is missing to bring balance to this scholastic exhibition. Your seating destination is almost obvious, mainly due to the limited number of chairs, but lets not count out the possibility of that whole balance thing I was just mentioning either. You pull out your trapper keeper (you know you had and loved at least one) and find either the book you were looking for, or the more intriguing one that you saw on the way, and return to your seat (I’m not sure at what point I turned this into a ridiculous narrative, but go with it ok?)
You might get a few pages into it before you notice, but eventually it hits you. It hits you that you can actually hear the turning of pages other than your own. It hits you that the struggled breathing of the retired Ford worker is strangely audible, yet oddly soothing at the same time. It hits you that for some reason the atmosphere in this library is brilliantly different and peaceful. You might look around for a second or two and even apply your detective skills to determine the cause of this wonderful stillness. And over the muffled snickers of preschoolers laughing at the guy that fell asleep, you realize the element that is missing from this scene thus creating such a pleasant atmosphere: computers.
There isn’t a single whirling computer in the entire library. As you could probably imagine that means there also is not a single printer or copier for that matter. There is no frantic pounding on keyboards or buzzing gears of the inkjet wonder. No, the Dewey Decimal System is lord here. The rich history of library classification is found in beautiful actuality right before you..
You would not believe the utter sense of serenity that is experienced in a place like that. The deficiency of mouse clicks and paper jams is an experience that my limited writing skills will not allow me to convey with the accuracy deserved of such an encounter. It is beautiful. The atmosphere is really inexpressibly enthralling.
It is mind-boggling to me the difference that such a small absence, like that of a computer, can make. It truly is one of those things that we don’t seem to mind in a place like a library because that’s how it is at every library we go to. Those distractions and those noises are to be expected and therefore tolerated because that’s just "the way it is." We put up with it, we ignore it, and eventually we don’t even notice that its there. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, that is just typically how it goes. Until, that is, we enter a library like my beloved hometown library. It might even take us a few times of reading and studying there to realize the uniqueness of this place, but eventually the realization hits us, that we are experiencing a completely new and foreign brand of placidity, and it makes it hard to go back to the whirly and buzzing that we had grown so accustomed to.
There are just a hair under a million observations and connections I could make with all of this, but the one that seems to be burning itself into the forefront of my mind is the concept of distractions. This is fairly unlike me, but I immediately thought of this verse:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
- Hebrews 12:1
Distractions do very easily “entangle” me for lack of a better word. And they do indeed hinder, to say the least. But the part that grabs me so hard is this idea of perseverance. I might even use the word determination because I feel like I can relate to that even more. Distractions and hindrances don’t just disappear upon our heartfelt wishes, sometimes we have to persevere with determination through them. The hard part is, like the computers and all that; sometimes we don’t even realize that they are there. It’s like, remember in Junior High when you really liked that one special person you couple skated with at the roller-rink that one glorious weekend and the ridiculous things you did for and around them to get them to notice you? When you were acting these things out you probably didn’t think they were that ridiculous, but the week or month later when he/she is “dating” someone else, or you just plain moved on, you realize how comical some of the stuff you did really was. Yea, that hindsight is a killer.
I feel like that sometimes with distractions. There are so many things in my life that have “always been there” that it can become rather difficult to effectively prioritize and/or make decent choices. You almost get caught in that rut, that routine of being you, if that makes any sense at all. I read a note I wrote to myself years ago and it floored me with some of the things I decided to write myself (ha, that sounds a little bit crazy I realize). One thing it said was "Don’t you dare forget that life is about people. Don’t ever let yourself become so consumed with stuff that you forget how to show love to people, how to take time out of your day to just be with people. Most importantly, be authentic, even if it kills you. Don’t be willing to settle for mediocrity in anything." That was crazy to think that I had written that, but it made complete sense that I would, because I know me, sort of.
Stepping out and observing is an odd experience. It’s kind of like the bitter cold we’ve been experiencing. Walking around in it yesterday was frustrating and downright displeasing. But today when I walked out into it for the first time after cleaning up inside for quite awhile, it was refreshing and didn’t even feel cold for the first, well, 3 seconds. The stuff that can become so mundane and grinding can be so revitalizing when we take the time to simply step back and re-evaluate ourselves and our lives a bit.
So thank you. Thank you to those that inspire me, often without even knowing it. Thank you to those that love me when I really don’t even deserve cordiality. Thank you to those that push others and myself on towards something so far beyond ourselves that it hurts to think about. Thank you for you.
Let no man pray that he know not sorrow,
Let no soul ask to be free from pain,
For the gall of today is the sweet of to-morrow,
And the moment's loss is the lifetime's gain...
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox