The library houses a unique cast of characters, doesn’t it? Ours is no different.
When I walked into our main library this morning with Chipmunk and LP in tow, I remembered how much I like libraries. If I’m paying attention, people are full of interesting detail. When we walked into the reference room there was an old retiree, he was carefully photocopying some pages out of a medical dictionary. He wore a jade pendant on his neck and had a single skull dangling from his ear. There was a woman who was typing on a computer with only her two index fingers, cursing under her breath. There was a young teenager with headphones on, reading the Atlantic. The stuff I could hear from his headphones sounded distinctly like Easy-E. Hm.
Then there was me. Mom in tatty jeans with baby in a sling, photocopying a book while telling her toddler to stop playing with the drinking fountain.
While I was at the photocopier, a man came in, clearly agitated. He had on tattered clothes, didn’t smell so fresh, and was muttering and cursing about his plans to beat someone up. It seemed clear that someone had made him angry, but he didn’t actually look dangerous to me. Still, everyone became uncomfortable. Everyone watched him sideways and would avert their eyes if he seemed like he was going to go towards them. We all refused to engage, simply waiting for him to peter out or go away.
This went on for about ten minutes, while the man wandered and muttered. Chipmunk watched him closely, with a very dispassionate air. She seemed unconcerned with his cursing or clothes.
So there we all were, looking but not looking, and Chipmunk, bless her little self, finally just broke the silence.
“Why that man so fustarated? Maybe he need do some dwawing.”
The man turned around and I paused. My initial impulse was to look away or apologize, but Chipmunk just kept staring right at him.
“Here!” She cheerfully went to retrieve one of those small library pencils, and pushed her piece of paper over to him.
He paused, looked angry, looked confused, then nothing.
“Nah, little girl. Thanks though.”
And with that, the man stopped his muttering and sat down to wait for the reference librarian to return. Everyone went back to their business. I don’t know what had really happened to that man, nor what happened to him after we all parted ways. I hope that small moment was good for him. It was good for us.
I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if we really looked into a stranger’s eyes when we spoke? Really contemplated what others were feeling, no matter how brief a moment that was. I’m so guilty of rushing and assuming, being a bystander rather than an agent of change. I try to slow down, I try to connect through the small and big moments, but still, it is easy to forget.
Ironically, my usually self-centered two-year-old was the one who reminded me of this today. Thanks, sweetie.