I had to get “out” today. It’s a gorgeous day. In contrast to the numerous overcast days we’ve been having, the sun was assertive this morning and drowned my home office in cheery sunshine from 7:15 on. But when there was a break in the action, I was feeling Spring Fever and decided to drive to the Bee Cave McDonalds to grab lunch. And, yes, I was blaring Radiohead on the round trip.
On my way back home, I passed an outdoor sign for an upcoming fundraiser for the new library. When was the last time I was in a library? It’s been decades. And it made me a little sad and very nostalgic.
My family was not wealthy. For most of my childhood we were not exactly “working poor” but not “middle class” either. My mom was a stay at home mom. My dad worked – sometimes two jobs. When relatives shared the bounty of a deer hunt – we ate venison for months (I hate venison). I was the oldest of three kids. Mixing up a couple of quarts of Carnation instant milk in Tupperware containers (cheaper than the carton milk) was one of my chores. We lived in a duplex in Southeast Minneapolis. We did not have air conditioning.
During the hot summer months, I would get permission from my mother to go to the branch library in the neighborhood. I was probably in the 2nd grade. It was a long walk. But I was motivated. The branch library was air conditioned. For some reason, I was intrigued by World War II. I read every book that library had on World War II that summer. After about a week and a half of my extended presence in the library, one of the librarians took notice of me. I remember her sitting down next to me, glancing at what I was reading, and asking me if I liked the book.
She listened very patiently to what I had to say. She asked me if I had any other interests, asked me if I would show her which books on the shelf I had read. What did I like about this one? Why didn’t I like that one? Would I be interested in taking a look at something on another topic? She was also very impressed with my reading comprehension. I remember her saying those words “reading comprehension.” I owed it to the excellent parochial education I was receiving – I was reading far beyond my grade level – which, to be honest, made me feel like a freak. But there was nothing judgmental in the questions from this librarian. She began to request books from other libraries for me to read. What a gift from God.
Yesterday I was talking to a client about the dangers of the online echo chamber – the same experts, case studies, etc., being cited over and over.
And on my drive home from lunch today, it occurred to me, the sweet, sweet irony of limitations leading, forcing in a way, an expansion of my horizons. Had my home been air conditioned, trust me, I would have been on the floor watching The Munsters, Hogan’s Heroes, and other network TV. But the lack of air conditioning led me to the library.
The limitations of the library led me to read everything they had – not just what I wanted to read. And, thanks to a librarian who had a vocation rather than a job, I was introduced to new subject matter. Things I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. And thanks to the fact that my parents believed education was more important than material things, I had the capacity to absorb what was intellectually available to me.
Hardships can sometimes be our greatest gifts. We just don’t see it at the time. But it helps, I think, to know that the battle itself, can sometimes lead to a more precious gift than any immediate comfort/relief might bring.
Was there a hardship in your life, that with the wisdom of time, you now see as a blessing? Please share your story in the comments.