Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lessons in Compassion from the Library

I spent much of yesterday trying to recover from the week.  My weeks don't usually wipe me out so deeply.  Of course, I don't usually have weeks where I'm so scheduled and where I get going early (off to exercise) and get back to the house so late.  I don't usually have weeks where I need to do so many activities to buy a house.

On Friday, I realized I might be pushing a bit hard.  I got a letter from the Broward Public Library that said I had returned a DVD with a piece missing.  My first response was to wonder if I'd put the DVD in the wrong box.  I checked the boxes by the DVD player.  Nope.

My second response was to assume the library was wrong.  I marched right over.  It wasn't until the librarian showed me the box, with its DVD of special material there, and the empty spot where the movie should be, that I said to myself, "I never actually checked the DVD player."

So, after asking what happens if I can't find the DVD and what happens if I'm sure I returned it, I said, "You know, let me run home and check the DVD player."  I went back home, and sure enough, there it was.

I felt shame.  I felt a shuddering anger with myself.  Instead of saying, "Well, at least I don't have to pay $40 to replace the whole thing," I tried to calculate the overdue fees.  I kept reminding myself that a money issue is really not worth this level of upset and anger with myself.  I went back to the library.

I had only been gone about 10 minutes, because the library is very close to my house.  I came in and said, "I'm here to apologize."  One librarian smiled kindly and said, "This happens to me all the time."  He clicked in some information into the computer and said, "Now, if you return an empty box again, we'll charge you, but this time, you're cleared."

I said, "You mean, you're giving me a free pass as a first offender?"  He smiled and nodded.  I said, "I don't deserve it, but I'm grateful."

I felt tears welling up and said, "I'm gonna go and get some other books to check out."  I went to the stacks to try to get hold of myself.  I thought, what is wrong with me?

Well, each day last week I was operating on only about 4 hours of sleep.  I can do that once in awhile, but day after day is tough.  I've been worried about money on sort of a meta level as we head towards the close date on our house.  I've been worried that I've left some task undone.  All those strands rose up to grab me as I wrestled with a simple library issue.

Once again, I was impressed with the kindnesses of ordinary humans in ordinary jobs.  The librarians could have been very ugly to me.  Instead, they smiled and let me apologize.  They could have charged me for the overdue fines plus a penalty for turning in an incomplete item.  They did not.  I was also grateful that they didn't respond with alarm to my watery eyes.  They let me escape to the stacks where I could recompose myself.

I find myself living a life where I come into contact with all sorts of people, and with many of them, I have only the most fleeting and tangential relationships.  I want to remember the lesson of the library on Friday.  I want to believe that I always strive to treat people in the wonderful way that I was treated on Friday, but I know that sometimes, I fall short.

In this short work week, the week before a new school term begins, let me resolve again to treat with compassion and extreme kindness everyone who crosses my path.

No comments: