Saturday, March 16, 2013

Magic Hour

Here’s a Kendrick Koan: If Jesus sent me an Evite today, asking to meet Him for a cup of coffee and a hug, but the coffee shop was in the deepest, darkest western suburbs … would I go? That’s a tough one.  How many different highways would I have to drive on? Any left merges? How far from home, overall? Will the women in the shop have fake tans and big rings? What is Jesus doing in Maple Grove anyway?

Is there an option where I can just Skype Him and still save my immortal soul?

Yes, I do harbor an extreme geographical prejudice, and to say that I “keep close to home” is putting it mildly. The glove box in my car carries printouts of directions to the homes of all my suburban friends, even though I have known some of them 20 years. But still, is it Flying Cloud or Black Dog where I make a left at the lawn jockey, and what direction am I going when I’m driving past that enormous strip mall, the one with two different outposts of the Cheesecake Factory (just in case you need a snack and you’re at the other end)?

Tell me that you live on a nicely alphabetized Minneapolis street with a numbered cross-street, and I like you already. If you’re in the first part of the alphabet (I get a little antsy after Newton Avenue), you’ll probably be my new best friend.

Still, for every rule, there is the time that it gets broken and everything turns out okay, maybe even better than okay. This past Tuesday turned out to be one of those days – an absolute gift of grace that took place a good 25 miles from home, go figure.

A new customer had asked me to attend one of their monthly informational meetings, and I had readily agreed. “It’s in St. Anthony Park,” she had then said, and I had kept my eyes big and my teeth showing, all the while thinking, “Farfarfarfar. This sounds far,” and all the while saying, “See you at 6:30!”

On that fated Tuesday, I had to drive a teenager somewhere first (you may have noticed that this is how most of my stories begin), so I arrived ridiculously early. I parked behind the customer’s building and wondered what to do next. I had noticed some retail-ish looking stuff on the way in, so I got out of my car and stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change. Just as I was gazing over at the Dunn Brothers Coffee sign, sighing at the thought of spending money for the privilege of drinking lukewarm coffee and passing the time, I looked to my left. In the way that some women must hear the birds sing when they see a “Saks Fifth Avenue” storefront, I instantly felt elated at the sign in front of the stately building: “St. Anthony Park Library.”

I practically skipped over, climbing the stairs, taking in big, deep lungfuls of dusty, papery breaths. My friends were in there, thousands of them. When I walked into the main reading room, I hoped, deep in my heart, that heaven might be like this, and that I could devote a few thousand years to hanging out in a space just this perfect. Huge windows fronted one side, and the watery March light, newly released into Daylight Savings Time, was spilling in over the stacks. The room was round, and tiny, and dotted with little window seats, just big enough for one person and a good story. There were laminated signs posted on the walls, extolling the power of a good book. Preaching to the choir, I thought. I had to keep consciously closing my mouth, because I could feel my jaw dropping.

I hadn’t even found a book to read when the lights were turned off. “Are you closing?” I asked the librarian. “Five thirty on Tuesday,” she said. And then I made a decision, not be sad, but to be grateful. It’s not a choice I manage to make very often, but it felt good, just this once. “Thank you for letting me be here, just for a little while,” I said. She looked at me quizzically. You get all kinds in the public library.

I climbed down the stairs and back onto the street. The Dunn Brothers was still there, ugh. I decided to take the long route to get there, and that’s when I found Miracle Number Two. It was a bookstore – an actual, independent bookstore, just sitting there on the street, as if it didn’t know it was supposed to be on life support. And (I checked the hours this time), it was open until 8 p.m. I let myself in. Of course there was a little bell over the door. And leather chairs with reading lights. And a nobly scarred wooden floor. I fell into a chair and just sat there, looking at all the choices of actual, paper books. The clerk didn’t even look up. You get all kinds in a bookstore.

I sat in the leather chair a long time, letting my eyes run over the contents of the shelves and tables, until it was time for my meeting, and then, slowly, I crossed the street and completed what I had initially thought was my purpose in coming to this place. It turns out that a work assignment wasn’t the reason, though, it was just the medium.

I had gotten a free pass out of the jail of my current life, and I had spent a Magic Hour with my best friends in all the world. Books have never ignored me, or shouted at me, or lied to me, or let me down. They have never sneered or disapproved of me for not understanding them. Thanks to the good graces of the Minneapolis Public Library, they haven't even cost me any money. They have just waited for me, patiently, in so many unlikely places, until I am lucky enough to find them, no matter how far from home I may happen to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment