I’m starting to.
Over a year ago, I was asked to visit the Calgary Remand Centre, to promote library materials and services to the women who are incarcerated there. One of the women I met was Stephanie.
When Stephanie was released, I would see her downtown from time to time. Sometimes she’d be walking on 7th Avenue, and other times she’d be making a call at the payphones in the Central Library.
I also met her at the YWCA, where she was living and I was teaching an ESL class. One night she was strumming a guitar in the lobby, and we shared an impromptu rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman. I felt tears well up in my eyes when Stephanie sang the last line: “Is it over now / do you know how / to pick up the pieces and go home?”. I wondered what she envisioned, when she sang the word “home”. The experience moved me enough to write and deliver a speech for my Toastmasters club.
Today, I bumped into Stephanie in the lobby of the Central Library. I asked how she was doing, and she began to cry. She had been assaulted and was now living at the Centre of Hope; she was worried about the health of her grandson; she had only seven dollars to her name.
I invited her to come with me across the street, where I would buy her a bottle of juice and a cup of soup. Stephanie didn’t care for the soups of the day – won ton and corn chowder – and neither did I. We got salads, instead. She grabbed a heaping handful of salt packets and explained sheepishly, “I need these. I’m staying at the shelter”. I suggested that she grab some crackers, too, while she was at it.
Snippets of our conversation remain with me: her reference to residential school; her dissatisfaction with some of her treatment programs; her visits to an Aboriginal healer. What struck me most was her comment that she’ll “…be coming to the library more often these days”.
“Oh, really? Why is that?”
“Because I need a safe place, and I have nowhere else to go.”
I told her I thought she had a good idea, and reminded her that she was right – the library is a refuge from busyness, noise, bad weather, and the pressures of the world.
I also told her that initially, I wondered why I had been sent to the Remand Centre, but that I now believe it’s because I was meant to meet her. Was that crazy? No, she assured me. She felt the same way.
There are days when I encounter rude customers (but what industry is immune to that?) and days when I wish that some of the folks who stare at their Facebook pages would make more use of our huge range of books and extensive databases. But on a day like today, I don’t wish for any changes. I’m content simply to work for an organization that is a refuge for so many people, for so many reasons.
I’m proud to work for the Calgary Public Library.
Stephanie: this post is for you! Come and visit me, when you have the chance.