Ripples of Kindness, Starting at the Library

The other day, a friend asked me if I’d had my ‘moment’ yet; that is, of truly feeling the weight and enormity of what we collectively are living through with the global pandemic. I think there have been plenty of ‘moments’ for me of ever-shifting tectonic plates of fear, empathy, bafflement, frustration, regret for what will never happen and nervous excitement of what could come to pass.

But yesterday, I did have a moment unlike others. I took my three children to the library as we knew it would be closing soon. I’m not an OCD person about many things at all, but when it comes to books I am off the scale. If I am walking past a bookshelf that looks a little out of order (whether at home, in a library or bookshop or someone else’s home), I don’t feel quite satiated until I’ve tidied it up. My elder daughter has inherited this trait, going one step further than me as her books are in alphabetical order and there is a signing in and out list beside her bookshelf if anyone wants to borrow one (woe betide anybody who doesn’t return one of those books…)

My local public library has always been for me a haven of meticulous calm with everything neatly stacked and librarians scurrying purposefully around like book fairies, keeping everything in order. They have generously said that during this difficult period, the public can take up to 45 books out each. EACH. That’s a lot of books – potentially 225 for my family alone. So perhaps with the impending closure yesterday it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see that this space was not what I was accustomed to: books were on the floor, spilling off the decimated shelves, in haphazard piles and librarians and the public alike were wearing gloves and looking anxious.

So, that was my ‘moment’. I let my children spend time choosing their books and I went and sat somewhere quietly on my own while I tried to pay attention to the clamour of emotions going on inside me. It’s difficult to express the significance of libraries for me as a writer, as a mother, as a reader, as a human being. I even wrote a love letter to the public library in 2018. Last year, hands down, was the toughest year of my life, but I still made it to the library. When my life had become so disordered, this was somewhere I could find order and solace. I even went once to a singing group in the communal area of the library for dementia sufferers. I was about 40 years younger than the average attendee and I don’t have dementia, but it didn’t matter at all. I came away stronger, feeling like I belonged.

And as I sat there yesterday with the books being removed in clusters from the shelves like stars vanishing, I thought about all the hundreds of thousands of others out there for whom the public library serves as so, so much more than a place to borrow books from. There are always countless people in my local library alone who are immigrants, who are vulnerably housed or homeless, who are refugees, who feel voiceless, that go there to access the internet, to read a newspaper, to play scrabble, to practise English, to listen to music or to receive a friendly smile, to feel less lonely. Where will these people go now? The public library is literally a lifeline for people the world over.

I would love to start a conversation on how we can use our creativity and resilience to reach out to people who feel on the margins, how we can support them during these hugely challenging times. Please share this post and please add your comments. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. I have been blown away by how people have been reaching out to others as this crisis has unfolded. Perhaps this is the opportunity to become who we were truly meant to be: a global family.

My two pennies to kick us off:

Age UK have an initiative called Postcards of Kindness to help combat loneliness in older age, sending cards to elderly people in care homes.

I’m going to leave you with the words of local legend and medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, whose words feel so appropriate right now:

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Over to you.

Rebecca Stonehill
2 replies
  1. sustainablemum
    sustainablemum says:

    Public libraries are special places aren’t they, you are right that many who use them are now going to be very isolated. I have been avoiding most of the internet these past few days, trying to lessen the load of the current situation. I have had an email from a local zero waste shop who have offered to take orders from people who need to isolate, they are using social media to find people who live near by who can pick up the order and drop it off. Simple and clever solution.

    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Hi there, yes that is such a great idea. Our amazing local zero waste shop is doing the same. It’s definitely a good plan to not listen to too much news – I was listening to too much last week so cut it back drastically and feel much better. Particularly now, we need strong, calm voices, not panic. Hope you and your family are doing ok X


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