This post will be very emotional. I just wanted to let you know before we go any further together. I’m writing from a broken heart. Some of the reasons are very personal, other reasons include the recent shooting in South Carolina, and all the violence we see daily across our nation and across our world.
This September will mark two years since a young girl died at the hands of her uncle. Her name is Willow Long. My daughters knew her. She lived in a village just ten minutes from mine. I remember those long nights waiting for news about her. Would they find her alive? Like many mothers in my area, I kissed my children good night. So glad they were safe. So thankful. Yet guilty because there was a little girl out there… in pain, afraid, lost, alone. We didn’t know.
We didn’t know a family member did the unthinkable.
In the wake of this grief that struck our communities, I wanted to do something. I spoke with a few friends of mine. I wished I was a NYT bestseller, or had money at my disposal. Like many families, mine struggles. To pay the bills. Buy small comforts for our children. I wished I had the money to build a library for our communities. I was told I didn’t have to wait. To start from where I was. So I did. A friend and I began sending out emails to the director of Helen Matthes Library and others.
Residents of Edgewood, IL (where I live) and surrounding communities have access to the Helen Matthes Library in Effingham IL. But because we live outside of Effingham city limits, it costs us over one-hundred dollars for a card, and cost and convenience of transportation to a town twenty minutes away by interstate is dear to many.
I have only great things to say about Helen Matthes Library. The director and staff there are generous and supportive. They’ve volunteered their time to meet with our board and train us in various areas, such as how to properly cover a book.
Shortly after my friend and I sent our emails out, the director of HML contacted us. Someone else, a resident of Watson, where the tragedy had happened, had also been in touch with the same idea. We met. I hope he is as grateful as I am to be part of the same team.
Soon, we had our own board. In almost two years, we have held fundraisers, volunteered, and put our time and hearts into what is now the WME Community Library.
It is located in what last year was the Edgewood Grade School. Losing the school was another hard hit to our community. Many still grieve its loss.
The Mason Township Park district bought the building and rents two rooms out to us. What was once an idea, shared by two strangers, is now a reality. We keep our books in one room and the room next to it serves as our lobby/computer lounge/children’s creation station. We have plans to expand. A local artist has agreed to come in an paint a mural of a willow tree, in loving memory of Willow Long.
And now, for the personal and emotional part.
We opened our doors just a few weeks ago, on June 8. I left the library room and went next door. When I walked back into the library, I saw something that began to mend the pieces of myself I didn’t know were still broken. A little boy sat on the love seat we put in our children’s area toward the back of the room. There are blocks, puzzles, and colorful rugs there. It’s my favorite part of the library, outside of all the books. The little boy turned the pages of a picture book, smiling.
That was the moment I realized the power of hope, of small change, in a world gone mad.
That little boy reading, so full of innocent joy with the discovery of a new book, symbolizes faith to me.
I can’t bring myself these days to tell my children monsters don’t exist.
I can tell them we are not powerless to fight them.
We can’t place our faithful trust in strangers, or even, sadly, family members.
We can place our trust in ourselves. In our capacity for goodness. In our will to make the right decisions, to believe in the world we want (for ourselves, for our children, for their children, and so forth). We can put that faith into actions of love.
Maybe we can’t trust strangers. But we can love them. And that is the hardest, bravest thing we can do in our lives. And the most true and worthy.
I need healing. And so do you. And so do the people I don’t know in my own community and the surrounding communities. That is my personal mission with the library. When I started out, I only knew about ten people in my area. I don’t know how I was able to reach inside myself to care about these strangers. But I did. And so have my fellow board members and so many who have volunteered their time, donated books, funds, and other items we need.
Yesterday, I walked into the library feeling sad and lost and so, so vulnerable. What the library means to me is a safe place to explore this world, ideas, philosophy, history, and the dreams and lives of others. Two rooms in an old school symbolize the goodness in the world. Strength. Oasis. Shelter to be truly free, to learn about the best in ourselves. To realize that there are monsters, but they can be fought. Through knowledge and caring for strangers. Grieve with them. Celebrate with them.
An older gentleman came into the library yesterday and said he wanted to volunteer. He said he has experience with woodwork, he will build us book cases. He has experience tutoring literacy, English as a second language, computer literacy, math, and more. Another stranger who offered his time and valuable experience. I laughed for the first time that day. Because this stranger became an angel in my eyes. Because I shook the hand of a good man. Because he reminded me of what I already knew, about the powerful force of basic goodness.
As have so many others. Authors who send their books to us and ask for nothing. Friends who write checks for books and licensing fees. Strangers who bake cookies for other strangers. The woman who owns the local grocery store who has donated pancake mixes and syrups for breakfast fundraisers, chicken and vegetables for soup suppers, book cases, and lets us post signs in her store window to let people know we’re here. That they have access to books, computers, fresh coffee, air conditioning, and the promise of friendly volunteers.
These are all simply people who believe in a good world, and in acting on this faith, make it so.
I have spent a good part of my morning crying into my coffee and looking out my kitchen window into the rain. Some of my tears are from grief, others are tears of catharsis. Because all those broken pieces of my soul, shattered by family news and national news and world news are coming together in a shape that is better than what was there before.
Robert Putnam said, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.”
I am already grateful for those I’ve found through the creation and growth of the WME Community Library, and grateful for the many more I hope to meet and provide service, information, friendship, and support to.
For more information on The WME Community Library, please visit: wmecommunitylibrary.org
For more information on why libraries are important to the community, please visit: http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/04/community-centered-23-reasons-why-your-library-is-the-most-important-place-in-town/