I don’t know if you have ever noticed the ‘Neighborhood libraries’ that there are a few of around here. I first noticed them over a decade ago by one of my sisters’ homes. They are just a little wooden cabinet mounted on a pole in someone’s front yard that has different books, mostly paperbacks, that someone has read and now put out there for someone else to take and read, and hopefully leave a book themselves for someone else later to come and take. They make a lot of sense, you can share a book you probably don’t plan on reading again and also get a different one that you now don’t have to buy, and you saved shelf space at home. When I was in downtown Indianapolis a few weeks ago I saw one of these that was a bit different, it was supplied by the public library. They had five carousels with library books in them that you could just take, no means of registering your library card to check them out, but they asked you to return them there or at another library when you are done.
That seemed so strange for a library. I can see people doing it, basically sharing a book they have read since they probably won’t do anything else with it anyways, hoping someone else might like it, and then getting other ones they can read. But a library, that’s kind of like a bookstore that simply gives books away. Not the best business model. But what is the purpose of the library? To get people to read. You realize they only have a limited budget so if they were just giving books away they would run through that pretty quick, but I imagine that they have done, or are doing, a little research to see how many of the books they do get back, and how much work this takes or not, and realize this actually works in getting books into peoples’ hands. And they also have the library card in it and the code on the side of the book that most of us might get embarrassed if friends and family saw all these library books we had on our bookshelves. This lets the library do what it is supposed to do, its’ mission.
So what is our mission that we might look at in this way? Something that we are supposed to do, even if the other person doesn’t respond as we would like, but this is our mission and we need to do it anyway because it is what we are called to do. As friends, neighbors, children, parents, spouses, even as a priest. We do many things in these relationships that we hope will have a certain response, a certain effect on others. Sometimes some recognition or a thank you, other times that we see a recognition of what we did by the other reacting in kind to us or maybe paying it forward, doing it for someone else. But if this is our mission, what we feel we are supposed to do in these positions or relationships, we are going to do it anyway, even if we don’t always get the desired response. Like the library most of us have limited resources, so while you may want to do everything for those other others, it is normally going to be limited and we may not be able to just ‘give away the books’, but we also don’t want to get overly caught up in overdue fines, secure check-out procedures, or we might just start losing our whole mission and become a bookstore.
So what are the things I should be doing, no matter the response, no matter what others do, as a friend, neighbor, parent, spouse, priest, Christian? And how can I be better at that?