You’ll never quite understand how lonely people are until you place yourself inside a library close to the librarian’s desk. There are those who hang around public libraries eager to strike up conversations before the sliding doors even open. Allow me to describe my morning at the local library.
The first on the cast of characters was a short, caucasian guy, who was loud as can be. My guess is that he hailed from my old stomping grounds of New York or Mass. area: he was very direct, very assertive, quite opinionated and unpredictable, possibly a “ready to fight” type of dude.
He yells, “I’m here for my interview. It’s about my trillionth job interview now. McDonald’s turned me down because they asked me what language I spoke. I thought to myself ‘HOW RIDICULOUS’.” And off to the races he ran, expressing all the ways in which his interview questions were beyond absurdity. Five minutes goes by. Ten. Then twenty. Thirty. He hadn’t moved a step.
“They want me to call them on the phone instead of talk to them in-person now. No one wants to talk to each-other anymore. I mean, can you believe that?”
He may have been a bit off his rocker, but he also had a valid point about the preposterous state of our world, which increasingly devalues more textured forms of communication in favor of their cheap rasterized counterparts. I quickly checked myself and declassified him from the “conspiracy theorist” box I had unknowingly placed him in, and tried to reconsider what I was hearing. Maybe my new acquaintance was more tuned into a signal that us normies routinely tune out. I mean c’mon, I used to laugh at people who predicted we’d never have privacy ever again, that we’d reach a time where we were being watched at every moment. That sounded ludicrous 7 years ago. Yet, look where we’re at now? I can’t even sit in my living room and have a conversation with Ross about buying a car for our new baby without my TV remote listening to us, collecting data to advertise a 2020 Mazda-3 to us the next time we turned on our TV. That hoo-ha crap from 7 years ago sounds pretty accurate to me now.
McDonald’s man finally sits down.
Two minutes later, another man, southern to his core, waddles himself in toward the front desk.
“My parents died last December and I think my family is hiding some money from me. I need you to help me figure out how to find it,” he says in that rich southern voice as if he’s never left the grounds of South Carolina.
Further along in the conversation he mentions he is almost 80. I can assure you his parents died a lot longer ago than last December.
“I graduated college with a law degree from USC. Then lived on 11 Spring st. I think I could get about $6,000 if I find it. I’m not gon’ give up on this.” The librarian looks up resources that would direct him toward governmental access to his land property account.
Old man chimes in, “This hidden money could even be a million dollars. Who knows?”
Librarian being oh so kind replies, “Wouldn’t a million dollars be nice?”
Old man says, “YES… and no.” Then laughs at himself, assuming he doesn’t trust himself with a million dollars in his bank account. “I already have about $3,000 in my account right now, you know.” Keep in mind, libraries are supposed to be silent. This man was not. I chuckled. Okay, I more than chuckled. Twas’ hilarious.
“My Dad graduated with an econ. degree in 1962. My mother…”
As we climbed through the family tree, I could tell this man loved his parents. He talked about them as if he was a little boy again. Then, I sensed some resentment toward his siblings who he claimed were hiding this $6,000 from him.”
“Who knows if his siblings are alive?” I thought to myself.
Confused as to why the librarian couldn’t reconcile him with his money or his siblings, the old man says, “You know, I thought you’d be able to do a little more for me than this.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I locked eyes with the other librarians who were holding back their laughs as well. The truth is, the entirety of this exchange was innocent and oh so sweet. If you’re someone like me who appreciates the elderly for who they are and the unfiltered system that comes with them, you would’ve adored this ole’ southern friend.
Pondering my first hour here at Cynthia Graham Hurd St. Andrews Library showed me two things. One: how lonely people are and their longing for face-to-face connection. Two: how truly innocent and sweet most people tend to be.
It was clear that neither of these two men were there to find employment or lost family treasures. No. These were just ways used to chat with other human beings, to feel heard, known and understood. That was their desire. Sure it was done in a roundabout way, but I can’t help but feel HOPEFUL now. Sure, I was uncomfortable and scared that maybe these guys were dangerous. But in listening to them, they weren’t dangerous at all. Why are we so paranoid now? So fragile and ready to be shot up everywhere we go? Sure, tragedies happen but the everyday tragedy is knowing that some individuals live alone, don’t have community, or anyone to release their inner turmoil to. That the only opportunity for human-to-human interaction may be to walk into a library. So, then what’s the hope I claim? That people are still making an effort for one another, that lonely people are still making an effort to leave their lonely houses and connect with strangers.
I view that as doing something for the greater good. Let’s give up this silly public health act that’s getting damn old and refocus our hearts on what really matters in this life. Real life, in-person, human love and connection.