I have always loved libraries. One of my strongest memories is walking from home to the old Seattle Public Library in Ballard on Market Street. In order to check out a book you had to know your address and be able to sign your name on a small yellow card. This meant that you had to be able to write in cursive which meant—in the 1960’s at any rate—you were in the second grade.
Once I knew my address and could write my name, my mother took my younger sister and I to the library and I filled out the precious yellow card that would be like a passport to other worlds; I loaded up my arms with children’s books.
The old Ballard Public Library exuded mystery and a sense of the holy. It was an old brick building set up off the main street with many stairs leading to the entrance. Once inside there were even more stairs that wound around each side of the main entrance finally leading to the actual library.
It was a hushed place with lots of dark wood and leaded glass and rows upon rows of books. And this was the thing that astonished my second grade self and astonishes me still today—they let you take books home! Can you imagine that?
These people trusted me enough to give me books for a certain space of time after I signed a small yellow card on which I promised to bring them back! Wow! Where else does this kind of trust exist?
Over the years I have realized that when I purchase a book, if I believe that I “own” it, I have a much harder time reading it than if I check it out of the library. When I own the book I can read it anytime which translates for me as sometime off in the future.
For me, library books command a different kind of attention. You run the book’s bar code under the scanner and your time starts now! Maybe you’ll be able to renew the book and maybe not. Maybe other people want to read it too. Maybe you yourself waited quite some time for someone else to read it and return it and you want to keep the book in circulation and move it along to the next patron.
It got me thinking about life, about the gift of life, about this quality of living on borrowed time, that none of us will live forever, that at some point we will be returned to our Creator’s love and care. In the meantime we do not have an endless supply of days in which to offer our gifts to the world, to be present, to be a present.
As we walk through these last days of Lent leading to Easter we will hear again the story of Jesus’ last days. We will learn what was important to him as he faced impending death: bread and wine, gathering around a table to share a meal with friends and enemies, robust prayer that cries out to God, truth-telling to those who held his fate in their hands, and a steadfast commitment to love that overcame the most tortuous kind of suffering imaginable.
Everything is borrowed.
Everything is a gift.
Maybe you too signed a small yellow card at sometime in your life and pledged to return your life to God as a gift of love.
On my better days I can see us all out there circulating around, books of God as if on loan. It fills me with joy to imagine us “checked-out” to the world.