My library book was due. I know the rules: you check out a book from the library, and you return said library book on time.
There are different types of checkout situations at the library; some books can be renewed three times, some books need to be returned after three weeks. Various items carry with them various overdue fines. The menu is simple to navigate: X book + Y time – Overdue Rates = free book to read.
I was a little under 100 pages to the end, and paused at a turning point in the book.
It has been a shit few months, and sometimes it feels as if we’re on a messed up board of Snakes and Ladders, where someone has removed all the ladders and left only the snakes.
This past week has felt particularly snakey, with people not following through on things. You’re always told that you’re not supposed to take other people’s flakiness personally. But I do. Maybe just to be contrary. Maybe just because I don’t believe that it isn’t personal. I think we put out an effort when we care about the other person; even if that relationship is transient and the care is minimal. A waitress can care about her customers. A reader can care about a blog writer.
What I’m getting at is that I wanted a librarian to care about me.
As I slipped down another snake, I wanted a librarian to put her hand out and slow my fall, saying kindly, “Let me do something nice for you.”
That isn’t what happened.
I drove to the library and walked up to the desk, handing in two of the three books in my hand.
“I have a huge favour to ask,” I told her, holding the third book closer to me. “I’m about 100 pages from the end of this book, and I could finish it by Friday. Is there any chance you could extend my checkout time by a few days?”
“No, I can’t,” she answered.
Well, yes, she could. I’ve seen her do it. I’ve seen this very same librarian give extra days to other people. I’ve been in line behind people who have asked and been granted the same favour. She could do it. It’s a matter of hitting over-ride on the software. I know. I used to check in library books.
“Please. It would mean a lot to me. I’m at this turning point in the book.”
She finally met my eye and said, “Sorry, I can’t do anything about it. Why don’t you come back tomorrow and check it out again? It just has to be in the system for 24 hours before you can take it out.”
By tomorrow, the book would be on a truck, traveling back to a different library branch.
“Okay,” I said, and handed her the book.
Suddenly it didn’t really matter how the story ended. I mean, what was the point? The librarian didn’t care if I finished the book — and frankly, she didn’t have to. That’s not her job. There are rules in place, and it is her right to stick to the rules. The author might care if I finished her book, but she had no clue that I started it so she certainly won’t know that I didn’t finish it. And maybe I didn’t even care anymore if I finished the book. If no one else cares, it’s hard to muster up the care, you know?
Part of me wanted to walk back into the library and tell her, “I know you owe me nothing. I am not entitled to four extra days with a book. But I brought it back and asked rather than being rude and making it overdue. I support my local library both with my attention and money. So I repeat, you owe me nothing, and it was entirely your right not to grant me the extra time. But I just needed someone to be kind to me today. Why couldn’t you simply be kind for the sake of being kind? You would have made an enormous difference in my life by granting me that extra time, and just imagine the trickle effect that could have taken place where the care I received goes into spreading care to others.”
But I didn’t do that. I just got into the car and drove away. Because that’s what a lack of kindness does. It makes all the effort of speaking your heart shrivel up in your throat like shed snake skin.
I wasn’t okay when I started writing this post.
I’m okay now.
Thank you for reading this.