I used to see a bumper sticker a lot – “THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY!” It’s kind of a feel-good, “I can change the world” sort of thing. I can care about what’s happening in Syria, but by shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk, I can make up for the fact that I am ill-equipped to change anything about wars in far-off lands, right?
I have to admit, though, that I feel ill-equipped to conquer many of the world and societal ills smacking me in the face these days. I am a huge lover of public education, for example, and our state has recently gutted collective bargaining rights for state employees – including teachers – and thrown in a number of other flat-out mean-spirited policy items which they didn’t mention they were going to do in the last election. So, I marched and wrote and showed up at meetings when I could, but it’s not like they seem the least bit worried about what regular people think, because anyone who opposes them is, they accuse, “out of touch.” Meanwhile, they have been handing away tax breaks to companies and rich folks, so of course, our state revenues have fallen and next year – they’re so sad to report – there will have to be more cuts. And if they could re-organize all the voting districts, so that my vote meant nothing and they would remain forever in control “doing what’s best for the state and the country,” I think they would. That’s how little I trust them. And on the national and world level, it’s at least as bad if not worse.
I understand that my politics are probably neither here nor there to you, but I have a point here. Some days I have to focus on what I CAN do, and not on what I can’t. I realized long ago that I was never going to get a Nobel Peace Prize or do something that really changed the world, but I do try to live a life that is mostly positive when I’m not complaining about my legislators.
And here’s where my love of reading and books comes in. I’m lucky enough to work in a library and spend some time volunteering in a school. I’m really lucky, because I came to my job in the library as a second career, and I came to volunteering in a school because of my son’s absolutely wonderful elementary education. (There’s that love of public education.)
Along the way, I have met some really incredible women who make me feel like there is a reason to hope. Things happened last week that made me appreciate each one of them all the more.
J. is one of our regular library patrons. I liked her even before I knew that she was friends with some people I admire and respect. She is always telling me about interesting books and TV shows and movies she’s come across, and she is kind to absolutely everyone. She notices things, too. One day, she came up to me to thank me for being nice to people who are complete jerks to me, having had to listen to someone angrily accuse me of a whole list of things, followed by the threat that they would get me fired for being incompetent. Nice. She spends a lot of time trying to do good in the community and her own family. Last week, she told me about something happening in her life – a really awful thing brought about by people in her own family – which upset me, because people shouldn’t be jerks to her, either. So I wrote her a poem, which I will add in below. I’m a mediocre poet, but hey, I was trying to repay some of her kindnesses.
That same afternoon, I went to see V., whom I’ve known for almost three years. V. got her first library card in 1920. Her grandfather, who lived with them when she was a child, was a Civil War veteran. When she was in high school, she rode the streetcar (which doesn’t exist anymore) to the old downtown library. After her eyesight failed, she started listening to books on CD, which is how I came into her life. At almost 104 years old, she was sharp as a tack the last time I saw her, three days before she died. From the outside, I can see how someone dying at almost 104 would not be a shock to most people, but V. really had become a friend. We talked about books, but we also talked about our lives at work and at home. She was such a delightful and kind person that I often talked about her at the library with my coworkers and with my son, so her influence went far beyond the minutes I spent in her room. I was touched by the fact that her obituary noted her love of books on tape, because the library was able to keep her love of reading going right up until she passed away.
The next day, I went for a walk with one of my teacher friends. I volunteered with her kindergartners last year, reading books, doing finger plays, occasionally staying for recess afterwards. One of my favorite kids was a little girl who barely spoke above a whisper, but who paid attention to everything and had a spark in her eyes. You could just tell she loved being at school and learning. Yay! And on the playground, she had two friends, and those little girls as a group were so fierce and fearless! I loved watching them coming up with games, jumping rope, racing around, giggling. My teacher friend gave me a little book of drawings the kids had made for me. My favorite had drawn the picture you see here. And what’s wonderful about it to me – aside from the really awesome triangle dress which I never wore, but clearly am rocking in this picture – is that she included two books in her picture: The Snowy Day and You Can Read. Both are books I read to the class in the sometimes chaotic time before recess. She remembered!
So as I thought about all of this, it struck me that even if I can’t do much to change a toxic and angry world, I could do these things. And I have to start somewhere, because hope and kindness (and public education!) do make a difference in the world.
you are a warrior
arms open wide
the selfish, the greedy,
the mean-spirited fools
are blind to your might
unable to bend your destiny to their will
you carry no shield, no sword
unafraid of bitterness
energized by ideas
open to challenge
no arrows can pierce you
when you share yourself so willingly
do you armor yourself with so much
love tempered by loss —
can they not feel your strength?
your weapons may be your kindness,
your baked goods
(Midwestern, after all)
do not forget your power
you are a warrior