The Enormity of Little Things That Are Huge

Some days can blow your whole heart wide open, and remind you why you do what you do. Or at least why what you do matters. I had one earlier and it’s still on my mind.

These moments aren’t usually planned, at least not for me. And maybe they happen quite frequently, but you have to prime yourself for them. I’ve not done a good job of preparing myself to see them lately.

I sure wasn’t expecting to have one of those days today. Especially not at around ten to five when Ia staff member approached me on our library service floor.  She asked me if I had a minute to assist a patron with a computer/printing need.

I did. It’s what we do at the library, after all.

And as we began to navigate to the pages he wished to print, he began to tell me a bit about what brought him into the library today, and things went along fairly normally. We found his document and I left him for a few minutes to review some things. When I returned, my heart was ripped asunder. I mean, it just blew right out of me. I’ll be cleaning up pieces for weeks.

The details are his, and not mine to share. But in many ways the story wasn’t unique. I was present and listening and attentive, and he had something he needed to get off of his mind. And no one else to share it with. He was struggling with several things, and making some progress on most of them, but maybe not as much as he wished. He felt alone. And there was pressure. And stress. And concern. All of which came out because we were present and open and there. I couldn’t fix his problems, and he certainly wasn’t broken. But he did need, and deserve, a little bit of attention.

HIs story is far from unique. I know many people who can tell similar stories from their daily interactions with library patrons, students, citizens and others who they encounter in public spaces from day to day. I’ve been on both sides of such interactions. I suspect you have been, too.

There are many people among us who need a little more attention from time to time. Sometimes, we’re that person. And I have grown numb or indifferent to such needs as an IT administrator, or a teacher, or whatever it is I am these days. Lots of the places in our society would rather these folks moved along to somewhere else.

But what happens when there’s nowhere else to go?

So tonight, my heart aches for a man I barely know, who lives in my community, and who trusts my library to be a safe place for him. I wish for a pleasant tomorrow and a step or two of progress. And I remember all the students who lingered after class, or stopped by while I struggled through a paper load, just because I was present and it was warm in my classroom. And I remember more about why it’s so important to be present and there for folks. Even for small needs. Some of which are the biggest needs of all.

There’s no incentive for being kind or present or good in the metrics that drive our systems. No charts will appear on 60 Minutes or in the Twitter rebuttal the following day that can truly measure how much it matters that we’re in community with our students, our patrons, and our colleagues. But it matters. Daily. In big and small ways. I don’t want to forget that again.

What should I do to remember?

3 thoughts on “The Enormity of Little Things That Are Huge

  1. Becky Russell – a Colorado State Library consultant – recently told me about a story from a librarian in Denver Public. A homeless person, who spends a lot of time at DPL, was thanking her for that time. He said, “The library is a respite for me… quiet in a world of loud.”

    1. That sounds right. I love being at the downtown branch of DPL when they open – there’s a large crowd gathered every day, like line drop at Disney World. So many folks. So many reasons for being there. So many good things.

  2. This is really moving. I heard a piece on NPR this morning about loneliness… health problems associated with loneliness are as bad as those that come from alcohol and tobacco! Thanks for being that man’s friend in that moment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.