What makes my job, my career, my work, so fulfilling….is not my paycheck. I don’t gripe about my pay a lot, because I always knew that if I worked in a small, rural library, then my salary would reflect that. But for whatever reason, I became pretty emotional and angry when I discussed it with a friend this week. We didn’t even start out talking about salaries but about “useless college majors” and if there was such a thing. But then I went on about not wanting my son to live in my basement forever and really wouldn’t want him to follow in my footsteps of getting a liberal arts degree if it meant he’d always be broke. Being penniless means being powerless and that’s one of the worst feelings in the world. My friend retorted with something to the effect of this: the arts and humanities we learn about and create and bring into our lives is what can create passion within us, and ultimately those are the things that make life worth living.
And as much as literature is one of the greatest passions in my life, either reading it or writing it or discussing it, I’ve realized that it isn’t the arts that have lit a fire within me or have made my life worth living…it’s people. Not just my friends or my family, but the people I am in contact with at the library every single day.
Sometimes I complain about working with the public. As many of you know, it is not an easy thing to do. Some people treat you like you’re nothing or take their life’s frustrations out on you because the photocopier wouldn’t work to their satisfaction. BUT, a majority of the folks I encounter are really quite wonderful. Case in point: One of my favorite 7-year-olds paid me a visit at the library on Wednesday, just to tell me he doesn’t have to have chemo treatments anymore. He wasn’t excited about it or anything, just matter of fact. “Nope. No more chemo.” This kiddo has been through a lot this past year, but he’s a brave little bugger and hopefully he’s now on the mend.
That same day I got a lovely email from one of my favorite “kids.” (I have a bunch of them from the library since I started there back in 2005, and now I just call them “my kids.”) She’s not a kid anymore, but a college student at the University of Southern Maine. She recently wrote a few poems for a class and asked me to read and critique them. I am so in awe of this young woman. She’s always been exceptionally bright and articulate and the imagery in her work was just beautiful. I was absolutely honored and really quite grateful that she took the time to let me read her work. She made me feel needed and important, and I can’t wait to read her next batch of poems.
And then, of course, there are always the folks that break your heart, even if they don’t mean to. I saw on the news that one of “my kids” had been arrested for attempting to rob a pharmacy. He has a few children of his own and obviously a drug problem now. I was shocked and saddened by the report, and wondered about his siblings and his parents and how they were all faring through this.
Friday started out better with a meeting with some of my colleagues and reconnecting with some of my favorite librarians. We laughed and talked and discussed and griped and all in all had a terrific time. Then the school kids arrived at 3:15 and I became Miss Grumpy Pants. Believe it or not, I actually like most of the kids that come into the library. Even the middle-schoolers. But when there are 15 of them in a small room on a Friday afternoon? They drive me nuts. The volume of their talking kept escalating and I gave them a warning and ended up yelling and kicking out a handful of kids. Some folks think I enjoy doing that, but I really don’t. Seriously, who wants to be the bad guy? (Well…besides my Darth Vader-loving kid.)
As things finally quieted down and it was getting near closing time, one of my favorite patrons came in. He’s one of our usual Friday night movie guys and we always talk about running and eating and our kids and it’s always so much fun to talk with him. But just as he started to leave, he tells me that he and his family are moving two hours away. I was speechless. And a little heartbroken. His youngest daughter is about my son’s age and his other daughter just a few years older. I’ve watched them grow since they were toddlers and watched the family go through many painful changes but somehow made it through. They are all lovely, lovely people and am so sad to see them go. But I guess they can’t stay just for their librarian, can they? (Although it really would be great if they could.)
My work week has been a rollercoaster ride filled with anticipation, excitement, nausea, laughing, and both relief and disappointment when the ride was over. And a majority of all those emotions were created from interactions with my patrons. As much as I like to run all by myself and need the occasional day for alone time, I am ultimately energized by the people I meet each day and make connections with–even those folks that come into the library just to make a quick photocopy or to grab a book. We may discuss the weather for a minute or two, but within that time we have those few moments of commiserating and correlating and connecting.
Sometimes this is all a person needs.
Sometimes YOU, my friends, are the reason one’s life is worth living.
Not the books we read, nor the art we admire or create…..but you.