Here is the smallest of the libraries I’ve visited on my trip thus far. Housed in two suites in the middle of a little office-commercial strip mall, the footprint of the library is just about the size of a suburban house. It’s also the quietest I’ve been to. I can’t tell what noise is louder: the muffled hum of cars passing on the state highway out the window across the parking lot, or the ticking of the clock on the wall to my right. It’s probably the ticking of the clock.
When I entered, the two librarians behind the desk looked pleasantly surprised to see me. Two boomer-aged women, they each read their own book in their own chair. The three of us were the only ones here on a Friday afternoon. We said hello, and I sat in front of a carrel in the corner.
The quiet of it reminds me to slow down. I’ve spent the past number of days visiting with old friends, wanting to see people while I’m in this area in which I have history and community. It’s been wonderful, but also busy. Now, with the ticking clock in the otherwise quiet library, and nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, I can take a breath and be still again, a luxury at once appreciated and rare for a vagabond.
Now a couple, a man and a woman of early-retirement age, walk in and take up chairs in front of a public computer across the room. They’re wearing flannels and jeans of nearly identical color and pattern, and they speak to each other in low library voices, pointing occasionally at the screen and nodding. They interact with what seems to be a familiar lightness, a comfortable ease. Their years together must have brought them closer, rather than driving them apart. They make me aware, in an acute way, of the solitude of my journey. I’m suddenly both grateful for it and hopeful for its end.
In the few minutes I’ve spent on the previous paragraph, the population of this little library has doubled: a mother with a young boy, another retired couple, a business-like woman in a rush. The silence and stillness was nice, while it lasted. The activity brings a higher level of energy, and I’m struck by how much of life is a balance between those two, and how difficult the balance is to find.
There are more voices in the building now. The ticking clock is still audible, like a metronome, over the improvised music of community. I’ve kind of missed that tune.