Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waiting for Repairs...and Glimpsing a Little Hope

It is a windy March afternoon, late winter in Minnesota. I’m hunkered down in the Excelsior Public Library. It’s a beautiful, bright, new open space. Three adults sit reading within my line of sight. One or two more roam the shelves. Indistinct staff banter floats over the shelves. It is a quiet, sheltered space—a good place to think and write.

I spent the morning waiting for my car to be fixed. A routine oil change and tire rotation should have meant a short stay, but my early morning appointment morphed into hours. I had little choice after staff informed me that a brake job was necessary. I acquiesced to the brakes, knowing a long road trip to Colorado was in the works. Peace of mind, especially as it relates to aging automobiles, was worth the extra time.

While waiting in the dealership’s lounge, I had plenty of time to contemplate our current state of affairs. This morning, Republicans trumpeted their new health care legislation. My representative urged his constituents to read the plan, all 123 legalese pages of it. I scratched the surface of this draft bill, read other summaries and reports, and may attempt to tackle the entire bill at a later date. But, for now, I was unimpressed by what I read. 

Meanwhile, Washington reverberates with Russian intrigue as a chorus grows louder to appoint a special prosecutor. Costs continue to mount from presidential trips—including family members on family business—and we shake our heads in disbelief, our cheeks tint with mild disgust. A new executive order on immigration is in the works while my university has now formed an immigration response team to assist foreign students concerned with their status and safety. According to University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler, we attract students from more than 135 nations, not to mention visiting scholars and foreign faculty. That’s a lot of worry and concern to deal with.

Back in my quiet corner, the library has suddenly filled with student chatter. Almost all of my new neighbors appear to be elementary students. The nearby school must have just let out. It’s a delightful sight. Nearly every seat is filled. A young boy politely asks me if I am using the computer next to me. I’m not, and he pleasingly plops down in the chair and begins whatever explorations are ahead of him. Over the next ninety minutes or so these students—sometimes boisterously—engage the library. Are they working on assignments? Doing some required reading? Browsing for pleasure? Whatever their needs, they seem addressed by this after-school oasis.

Before long, I notice the time. Normally, I’d be leaving my office about now. Most of the students have left, no doubt on to their next activity. And yet, two youngsters still sit on the other side of my station, ears muffled by headphones, eyes glued to their computer screens. The looks on their faces are priceless, rapt as they are in whatever they’re watching. It is a special moment, one I savor, and a reminder of how important public libraries are to the social fabric.

How many times have legislators sought to cut library funding, just as they’re now ramping up to strip (or abolish) our national endowments in the arts and humanities? Public radio and television seem to be on the chopping block as well. Have these lawmakers ever taken a quiet moment to sit in a public library on a winter’s afternoon and look—silently look—at the enthralled faces of young students such as these? Or experienced the exuberant joy and thrilled discovery in excited, nattering voices? Nearby, as if on cue, a young boy, picking a book from a bin, exclaims, “This book is awesome!” No one in the library on this blustery afternoon could have missed his exhilaration.

Here, while the adult world wobbles on the brink of something frightful, I see our hope for the future. I see it in their eyes. I hear it in their voices. I feel it in their lively steps. No legislator fully present on such a day would want to steal such hope. Before I pack my own bag and prepare to depart, I’m left with a final plaintive question that drifts to me from across the room: “Mom, can I get one more book?”

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