Today I read a beautiful article by one of my favorite writers, Beth Kephart. You can find it here:
The title and the illustration drew me in: Home, Where the Art Is. The colorful illustration depicts a woman tucked into a bookshelf bed with her white cat in a library room, while her companion stands at the stacks, considering a title to bring to bed. This image is so much like my fantasy bedroom. Imagine sleeping in a library complete with a fireplace, a lovely cat and a mate who also loves to read. Heaven, I say.
Perhaps because I’ve worked in libraries, first as an ESL tutor for immigrants, second on staff at the desk, and third as a housekeeper at my beloved college, I experience a library to be another home. The one place in my community where I’m not asked to purchase anything to participate in a shared or solitary activity. A place that is as quiet and comforting as the little cemetery I visited in my childhood, where the dead waited for me to listen to their stories. Where sitting in the tall grass and weeds, I imagined the children who sleep now under the stone lamb, once skipping in petticoats, playing with a ball. I particularly love historic libraries for this reason. Long dead writers give me new and yet familiar journeys to experience from the yellow pages, where their voices can be dusted off, where a ray of light from a tall window captures the motes as they climb to the vaulted ceiling, whispering, whispering into cinematic form, an old world now awakened and visible on the screen of the mind.
Two days ago, I wrote a complaint on social media. I was annoyed because at the end of the day, having just come from the library with a book I had been waiting for, the dryer buzzed loud and long, disturbing the silence, messing up my plans. I lamented that I hadn’t yet learned to fold laundry and read at the same time. How maybe I could learn how to fold towels with my feet. The shirts, however, would be wrinkled.
The responses showed how I hadn’t yet made the leap into the now, using an electronic device for reading, or an audio book. One friend knew me enough to understand my disappointment with these mediums, calling me a die hard page turner. What Louise Erdrich would call “people of the book.” I am, indeed, a person of the book.
In a book I have found the ultimate comfort. A way to be joyfully in our home while avoiding the expense and discomfort of travelling the world. Paper bound books are a way to experience soul-calming silence, an event so rare as to be my new preferred currency. (Sale in the esty shop? Can you pay in coupons of solitude and peace? Where I can escape the nagging irritations in my head related to unnecessary family drama?)
There’s something so completely restorative as a quiet nap on the couch with my son and our two cats, while the fire slowly dies and glows red. Home, with real books, we sink into in our own pages, days after Christmas. I’m still remembering the balm and healing of that afternoon peace.
Home, a place to read quietly next to the ones we love. With cats and cups of tea. A place that in this post holiday season is not brimming with activity. Our home classroom has been abandoned during the holidays and during the flu. We wander into the kitchen for a whiff of my terribly bland chicken soup that if is sadly unappealing, at least helps us helps us breathe in the now humidified kitchen.
Home, a place to quietly fold the laundry and anticipate the new book. A place where in Kephart’s words, “we allow ourselves to be ourselves and allow others to be cared for.”
I love that she writes this. This line encompasses more than just a single family building with a roof and a little kitchen garden in the back. It can mean an entire country, like ours, where through the centuries people have come to be themselves, without the fear of persecution and harm.
And so, slow learner and even slower responder that I am, the one who loves to escape the current world event by diving into the past, where things get lined up in neat words, where stories lift me into hope on the final pages, I’m newly and freshly aware of how important home is for millions and millions without one safe place to be.
I sit here now in comfort and consider that there are such things as private prisons where women and children are being held in cold cells with thin sheets, where they are also raped and mistreated. That we as a nation are so afraid, so terrorized by news events that we are turning our faces away from refugees, or locking them and their babies in freezing concrete cells.
It’s a pesky bothersome and irritating thing to consider, like a dryer buzzer marking that my time is about to be interrupted.
Because it takes me to the screen on my desk to write letters to people who are doing things to bring people home. To discover if there is something for me to do, outside of my comfy home. To a place where I am not known, to learning what I don’t yet know.