I have temporarily relocated to come to the aid of family. My first consideration was finding a place to stay. My second; to get myself a library card. For me, books are a source of comfort and libraries are a hub for enquiring minds.
In grade three I was intimidated by Mrs.Powers, the Teacher Librarian at my school. It didn’t help that I committed a crime that year. I lost a book that I borrowed from one of her shelves. I searched everywhere while reporting to Mrs.P. each week about my lack of progress. She became a constant reminder of my shame. When I found the book, months later, I couldn’t bear to return it. I tossed it down my apartment incinerator chute.
Many years later Janice appeared. She was my first high school romance. She volunteered at our town library. I would meet her there to go on a date. She encouraged me to get a membership. I developed an association between my feelings for Janice, the other librarians I encountered while waiting and the overall atmosphere of calm found in this stone building filled with things to read.
Being a solitary sort of person I somehow feel less alone while searching the stacks in a library. In University I sometimes arranged to meet someone in a library rather than a campus pub. I filled my spare time between classes in Teacher’s College sitting in a comfy chair catching up on ‘classics’ I had missed through my youth. Later as an elementary school teacher and as writer for a newspaper I depended on my town library for research material. My wife and I took our children for library programs while they were still comfortable to sit on a lap for story time.
I came across a letter my son wrote to his grandparents regarding his love of books. While in high school he worked at a Coles book store where he had borrowing privileges. He reported, “I’m so in love with words right now that I feel I could easily make my life’s ambition to read until I’ve lived thousands of lives, in thousands of lands by merely turning the pages of worn out books that come alive by my active eyes.”
Last month I was in the branch of my local library picking up a hold I had requested. I overheard a lady struggling to describe a book to the librarian at the front desk. It sounded like the very book I was about to check out so I held it up, boldly calling, “You mean this one?” I could sense the half dozen bibliophiles presently among the shelves stop breathing. The lady turned to see me holding up the book. Her eyes widened. “That’s it!” she cried. Two librarians came from a back room to confront the ruckus. There was still a pause felt in the air. A voice said, “Now that’s serendipity.” Another, “It happens all the time. You just have to be alert.” I left smiling, happy to be part of such a splendid community.
Children can annoy us with their constant questions yet a teacher comes to value a student who shows curiosity. When interest to go deeper into a subject is shown, the answers desired will be close at hand. Questioning forms a basis from which we discover. A well thought out question opens doors to knowledge and understanding. The popular game show Jeopardy is a creative reversal of the question/answer format of dialogue.
Some people have bridled at my questioning ways. To some folk, my questions have aroused suspicions of ulterior motives. Indeed, the questioner can sometimes be viewed as an intrusive examiner or interrogator in the manner of a police officer or a court room lawyer. My sister and mother used to accuse me of giving them ‘the 3rd degree’ whilst all I was after was an opportunity to find out how they perceived an event. Unfortunately many feel that answering a direct question puts them in a position of potentially being judged. I dated someone for a while who grew annoyed with the level of intimacy that questions and answers provided in our relationship. She would qualify her answers by insisting that her words not be used against her during some later conversation. To her, any question was a potential trap.
I like being asked questions as much as I like giving answers. I’m a sucker for an online survey, somehow feeling honoured that someone or some organization values my opinion. In Canada we are currently undergoing a nationwide census. I felt a bit miffed that I got the short form questionnaire while some of my friends got the long form version. There is certainly controversy in this era of information technology. I fully appreciate how my eagerness to participate and share my thoughts could endanger my privacy. Yet my use of this blog site is a testament to my belief that sharing information can be a healthy way to show that I have feelings and valid thoughts that others might relate to or appreciate.
‘Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’ is a phrase that has been around for more than a century. Here’s a charming musical admission from Bing Crosby who sings these words in an attempt to avoid a conflict of interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOABpY4PKko
In many current cultures it is still deemed rude to ask someone about their finances, religion, politics or sexual preferences yet these are all important topics that lead us to understand another person’s point of view. There is a diplomatic art to questioning so perhaps a tactful beginning is advisable: “Forgive the intrusion…” or the pre-question question, “May I ask you a question?”
I believe a questioner is making an offering. If there is curiosity of intent and good manners in the delivery then I say nothing ventured, nothing gained. I love it when people tell me that I ask good questions. I also enjoy broadening my understanding of people’s choices. I only wish there was more time to get around to everyone.
Searching is what adventurers do. Some questers are fictional: Sherlock Holmes searched for clues to solve the unsolvable, Don Quixote searched for wrongs to be righted, James T. Kirk journeyed to find new worlds. Sir John Franklin was a real life adventurer. He searched for a Northwest Passage to China over the top of North America. When he and his crew disappeared a massive search was joined to unlock the mystery of their whereabouts.
One of my first memorable desires was to search the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. I enrolled in Marine Biology at university to achieve what had become an adult goal. However, during the course of my studies I had to do an inner search. I questioned whether I had the right stuff to live life away from home and family. In this soul searching, I concluded that being a family man, married to a like minded woman was my primary goal. I quested for Mrs. Right: a woman with a heart of gold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qkjchElp0s
That seemed like an adventure that would be the ticket to my happiness. Along with my search to find the secrets to a loving family I ventured into the world of religion. I self studied various texts and practised what could be found in the community of the United Church of Canada. I joined choirs, became a soloist. One choir leader found that I often changed some of the lyrics as I sang. When she asked why, I told her that my search for God hadn’t yet made me accept some of the script. She showed me how grace can be found through understanding. A hymn that captured my spiritual belief at that time was turned into a cool folk song by Jim Croce, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAjzEQgZBh0
When I started writing columns for a daily paper I enjoyed searching for the right words. I would pore through my small collection of books looking for quotes and phrasing. I had friends (research assistants?) at the local library who looked things up for me when I’d exhausted my personal resources. My eldest son is a historical writer and researcher. He digs deep to find primary source information: diaries, letters, journals, original news stories. My first wife used to love searching through microfiche to unearth dead ancestors.
Internet search engines are a game changer. For those who love knowledge, web sites can open worlds of information. Access to facts that previously had to be dug up like a pirate’s buried treasure, now spring to life at the typing of a few computer keys. I first tried Alta Vista, Excite (I liked that name) then Yahoo before I settled on everyone’s favourite: Google. How did we ever manage before we could ‘just google it’? When I want specifics I go to Youtube (music&video clips), IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes (film information) or Wikipedia (historical profiles).
Whether you travel abroad to search for answers or sit in Zen-like contemplation. One must do as Captain Jean-Luc Picard commands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ie5usEuNdI