Here it is! The long-promised post!
If you’ve been following along, you know I listened to this podcast episode recently and it really moved me. If you haven’t listened yet take a pause and go do that now (especially the first and third acts).
What did you think? Did anything about these stories move you?
I’m going to focus on Act III, Growing Shelf-Awareness, for most of this post, but before I get there, I need to mention Act I, In Praise of Limbo.
I haven’t talked about it much, if at all, here—but when I moved to Charlottesville (2 years ago next week!) I began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee. Charlottesville has a vibrant community of people from all over the world who are making their home here. I have had the incredible privilege of getting to know some of them, and have been welcomed into their home and lives with so much love and hospitality.
Listening to that first act, in which families meet in this library that straddles the border of the United States and Canada, had me in tears. Can you imagine not being able to hold your child, or your mother or father, or your siblings? Maybe you can, maybe you’ve experienced something similar and can relate.
Can you imagine traveling so, so many miles and the only way you can hug your family is in this very public space, for a brief amount of time?
I’m so grateful this library exists and that people who need it have found it…but I wish it wasn’t needed. I wish families and friends weren’t separated. I wish war, and disaster, and persecution, and violence of many kinds didn’t make it difficult—and oftentimes impossible—for people to live safe, thriving lives in their home countries. I wish my new friends in Charlottesville didn’t have to miss the people they love who are now so far away; I wish they didn’t have to wonder if they will ever see them in person again.
I have looked in the eyes, shaken the hands, and been welcomed into the lives of so many people from around the world in my short time in Charlottesville. It is their faces that I imagine as I listen to Act I. I wonder, who are they missing? Who do they wish they could hug just one more time? I’m grateful they are now my neighbors and I get to know them…but I wish my gain didn’t have to include their loss.
I try to keep these questions in mind…How can I extend kindness to this person in front of me? How can I make them feel welcome and seen and loved? How can I work toward a world that doesn’t need a library like this?
I also love Harry Potter. For Christmas this year, my mom bought me a t-shirt that says…
When in doubt, go to the library.
— Hermione Granger
When in doubt I do go to the library, just like Hermione said I should.
In Act III of The Room of Requirement Lydia and her family are in doubt so…they too go to the library.
It wasn’t until Lydia was grown up that she realized that the reason she spent every day for a year at the library was because she and her family didn’t have a home.
Lydia didn’t realize her family was struggling because it didn’t feel like a struggle to her. She got to go to the library every day where Mrs. S, the children’s librarian, greeted her with a smile, strolled the stacks with her, set aside a favorite book just for her, and let her roam. Lydia’s little brother took naps on the floor while her older sister read to him and Lydia watched as the other patrons wandered in and out of the library with their stacks of books.
There are many beautiful moments in this portion of the podcast, but my favorite is when Lydia and Mrs. S reunite. Mrs. S wraps Lydia in a hug and tells her she looks just the same as when she was a child, just bigger.
Lydia takes the opportunity to tell Mrs. S the impact her kindness had on her life. She felt like she belonged, she felt safe in the library…she felt seen and understood and important.
Mrs. S deflects and says she gives all the credit to Lydia’s parents, she was just doing her job, she’s a librarian, this is just what librarians do.
Lydia says, “You keep saying you were just doing your job, and I feel like I need to say, though, that you did not have to be that kind. You could have done your job without being that eternally kind.”
And she’s right. No matter what job we have, we have a choice about how we will treat the people we interact with—whether it’s a child and her family in the library, or a customer, or a patient, or someone else we serve. We have a choice. Mrs. S chose kindness again and again.
Lydia hopes she is doing the same now that she herself is a children’s librarian.
(Sorry for the spoiler…if you haven’t listened yet, you still should. It’s especially powerful to hear these stories from the lips of the people who lived them.)
True to everything we know of Mrs. S, she begins speaking words of affirmation over Lydia. She assures her that of course she is, it’s obvious. Mrs. S encourages Lydia to just keep doing what she is doing.
It turns out Mrs. S is right. Lydia received a letter from a little girl at the library where she works who is called Anna. Anna has a rough time at home—much rougher than Lydia had—and will often disappear and not be around the library for a while; Lydia always worries about her when that happens.
Anna’s letter says, “Lydia is really nice. She’s a really nice person. She’s an intelligent, rememberative, and fast young woman. Sometimes when I’m at home, I just want to go to the library, just to see Lydia.”
That year in the library could have been painful for Lydia, but it wasn’t because Mrs. S took the time to see her and be kind to her. Anna’s visits to the library could be a situation where she doesn’t feel welcome or seen; but they aren’t, because Lydia cares for her.
What a beautiful spiral of hospitality.