Monday, December 22, 2014

A Message of Peace : Libraries As Havens of Hope.

There are moments when the headlines of the news can not be ignored.  Issues that were once considered better to be left alone are now surfacing to the top and ready to boil over.  It would be nice if there were a book that can be accessible to everyone and be read by everyone in order that calmness can conquer chaos.  There doesn't seem to be a book that can put out the flames that have been set by recent incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.  The "mob" mentality seems to be winning the day and clear heads are not prevailing.  Libraries play a vital role in every community.  They provide a place to gather, a place to discuss issues and a place to learn.  This must have been the reason why the staff at Ferguson Municipal Public Library felt that it was important to remain open when the schools shut down due to the civil unrest.   The library was one of the few places where children of Ferguson could go to find a safe refuge.  It can not be ignored that the decision to remain open was powerful and positive for the citizens of Ferguson.   The library isn't just about providing a safe place for children.  It is about finding  answers to problems or finding the truth buried in the issues of the day.  Three days before Christmas,  there is only one gift Americans need most:  PEACE.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if libraries could point the way to that gift of peace through books.

 May wonderful and prolific writers have tackled the complex issue of racism in their works.  Most of these titles have been listed as required reading in high school or entering into a university.  Novels such as Harper Lee's  To Kill A Mocking Bird and  Toni Morrison's Beloved invited readers to see the injustice that blacks in America have faced.  In Lee's book it was about a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town.  We see the prejudices of the town folks who readily accept that the accusation is true.  Why? Simply because of the skin color of the defendant.  It is a book that forces the reader to examine why it is easy to accept the guilt of a person solely on the basis of his skin color.  Morrison's tome deals with a former slave, Sethe  who had escaped to Ohio.  What follows is the events that depicts her escape from slavery but is forever enslaved by the memories of her past.  In particular, the child she lost who now haunts her.   It seems that with freedom Sethe also needed peace to make her life complete.  Unfortunately,  this was something that was never a possibility for Sethe.  Perhaps life was simpler with Twain's Huckleberry Finn but now  his work has been criticized for having racial overtones because of the language used.  Sadder still is that Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods has been deemed inappropriate and racist because of the not so positive views of the American Indians.  This  causes a librarian to sigh and wonder where will it end.

It may be that it will end when society as a whole is reminded of  two important facts that all four of these books prove in different yet subtle ways.  First,  as a society we have come a long way.  No longer is it acceptable to judge people with words and deeds solely because they look different.  Thank goodness for that!  These books help readers to understand different is not dangerous or detestable.   It's just merely different.  Learning from other  cultures reinforces the notion that the hopes and dreams of every child are the same regardless of culture or language.  Secondly,  everyone comes into the world the same way and will leave this world in the same way.  Realizing that, it's time to come to the only conclusion that since we share the same planet, we might as well get along.

On a final note, it may just be that humans  have never really changed.   Shakespeare points out so well hundreds of years ago, that humans are greedy, vain, and jealous.  Some are good. Some are bad. One thing that is certain, it is only during a time of tragedy that the truth to life is revealed. It was the same lesson Shakespeare taught through his works years ago that today's authors try to teach and immolate.  It wouldn't be a bad thing if it could be remembered and practiced to forgive often, understanding with patience  and that life is short and fleeting. There are no second chances to do things  over.  It is as simple as that.  At least through books,  it is possible to stop and learn from the characters who have leapt into situations with passion with little thought of the consequences.  Then painful lessons would not have to be relearned over and over again.   Libraries are the safe haven to stop to think,  reflect and learn for children of all ages.  During this season of light, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah or secular celebration, take a moment to be grateful for the good in life.  There is too much sadness that everyone needs to take a moment to see the good and to feel hopeful for the coming new year.

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