At the beginning of spring, just a few days before public congregations were limited by the outbreak of the coronavirus, before state parks closed, before restaurants stopped dine-in services, I
At the beginning of spring, just a few days before public congregations were limited by the outbreak of the coronavirus, before state parks closed, before restaurants stopped dine-in services, I traveled to Morganton for Burke County’s Friends of the Public Libraries annual luncheon, likely the last gathering any of us would be able to participate in for what looked to be quite a while.
We clustered in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church of Morganton, about 180 of us, each of us a little anxious, unsure of what was to come in the days ahead. We nodded at one another instead of shaking hands, instead of hugging, and tried to focus instead on the reason for our coming together: to celebrate the importance of libraries, to be thankful for community support, to honor volunteers, and, especially, to recognize the privileges and pleasures that come from a lifetime of reading.
Before the start of the program, we bowed our heads and listened as the Rev. Fred Schuszler, minister of Christian education and spiritual formation, delivered this blessing:
Lord of time and eternity, we gather as friends of the library, as book lovers.
We thank you for the almost sacred space that is a library, where great people — some still living, but others long gone from this world — speak to us their most personal thoughts and deepest-felt emotions, enriching our minds and touching our hearts, through the miracle of the printed word.
In Greensboro, I live 2,000 feet from a public library, 800 steps if you’re counting, and I look forward to my regular weekend walks there, sometimes with a list in hand, but more often to see what undiscovered book might find me.
I’ve gone home with my arms laden with stacks of books, cradling them in the crook of my elbow just the way I did when I was a little girl.
Back then, my grandmother lived across the street from the Randolph County Public Library, and nearly every one of our Saturdays began with a trip there, while she checked out a new hardcover — The Thorn Birds, Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline — I loaded up with a stack of paperbacks. Babar and Bread and Jam for Frances and Frog and Toad Are Friends. The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web. I remember the summer I tore through Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Deenie, Blubber, and all of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Our afternoons were spent reading in the swing on her front porch or stretched out in the hammock in the backyard, our books serving as both a luxury and a necessity.
These days, I find myself craving the comfort that comes from words — the escape, the distraction, the reassurance, the respite that is found on the printed page. I’m combing through my own collections, soaking in lines from poets like Michael McFee and Dorianne Laux; rereading passages from my cherished Jill McCorkle novels; leafing through my yellowed church cookbooks, a much-needed revisiting of my favorite books because my own library has closed now — more precautions in this time of uncertainty, a sign on the door noting “until further notice.”
In the meantime, I wait, as we all must, until these beloved places, our sacred spaces — libraries, yes, but also our schools, our hotels, our restaurants, our beaches, our parks, our businesses, our churches — invite us to return, as eventually they will, and fling open their doors, a day that’ll surely be for rejoicing indeed.
Editor in Chief