Close to Home
I had an unexpected reaction to the shooting that happened a week ago out at UCSB. I spent all last weekend reading all the articles and opinions and tweets that ran past me, and none of it was good news, but the thing that finally got me was when I went to work Tuesday morning and heard that one of our patrons claimed that the shooter had been hanging around the library the last few weeks. “Didn’t you recognize his car? It was out in the lot all the time.”
That was some chilling news. And of course, it was possible to imagine a black BMW parked just about anywhere if you wanted, this is Santa Barbara, black BMWs are as common as frisbees. I don’t ever remember seeing the guy’s face, but sometimes people sit out in the lot in their cars before we’re open and after we’re closed, just to use the wifi. It’s possible one of them was him.
So I don’t know if the patron who claimed the shooter had been that close to us was making up this story just to claim his own piece of the drama, or if he really saw the shooter, or what. I do know that anyone can come to the public library and most of our patrons are interesting and kind and grateful for what we provide. Underneath that, I’ve learned that some of them are terminally ill, and some of them are mentally ill, and some are homeless and some are the most polite racists I’ve ever met, and I do my best to treat them all the same.
Of course, this shooter who felt bullied and ignored, me being nice to him wouldn’t have helped. A woman my age would have been invisible to him. But so help me God, this is what I ended up clinging to in the wake of all this: Be nice to everyone. Listen. Be present. Say something funny whenever possible. Help them if you can, and if you can’t, refer them to someone who can. Of course, that’s my job, but I’m taking it more seriously than ever right now.
It’s not a philosophy that will bring any of those kids back to life, and I don’t know if it will prevent any more from dying, but at least it helps me feel like I’ve done my best by whoever shows up in front of me. And I refuse to live in fear of any of these gun-obsessed assholes.
END OF SERMON
On a brighter note, one of my friends from college died this month, and there’s nothing like one of your peers taking off for points unknown to make you wonder if you’re secretly growing a tumor or two of your own. I was commiserating with another friend who was in the same class, and we began to marvel at how many people from our relatively small circle at college are dead. Like, out of a loose coalition of 12-15 people, six are dead. Five of them went before the age of 40. One in his 20s, thanks to AIDS in the 80s before all the good drugs showed up. So, take care of yourselves, everybody! The darkness is closing in!
O.K., NOW THE SERMON IS REALLY OVER
The other weird thing is when a library patron dies. I mean, we work with a lot of old people. You get to know everyone, over time, and what they like to read, or what they’re willing to try when they can’t find anything they like to read. And then the day comes when you ask your coworker, Have you seen Mrs. X lately? And you check her record and see that she hasn’t checked out anything in the last seven months and your heart sinks a little. People have strokes and become homebound, or one of their children comes in and hands us their card and asks us to delete their account. I used to marvel at a sprightly 99-year-old who used to come in every few days. He stopped coming in at some point, maybe I was on vacation or I just didn’t really notice, it’s not like I have a checklist although maybe I should. And then last week, seemingly overnight, another one of our regulars stopped being the guy who always brought us jars of homemade jelly at Christmas and turned into a thank-you note from his wife telling us how much he loved the library.
I’LL STOP, I’M SORRY. FORGIVE ME?
May is fucking beautiful in Santa Barbara, these jacaranda trees bloom with purple flowers all over town and it’s heavenly. Unless you park under one and your car gets covered in smelly, sticky, godawful blossoms that ruin your paint. But apart from that: so beautiful! Here’s a picture! Cheer up! Would you look at that!