I am a “lifer” in a small community; I have lived my entire life within about a 10 mile radius. I have also rather preferred long periods of time by myself when I can get it. Though I will not become a social butterfly by any means, I sure am learning to value friendships, acquaintances and the public in general.
At the beginning of social distancing and stay at home, it was like “woo hoo!” Then came the impact. I miss people! I had been subbing at the school for the health office, volunteering at the local thrift store and managing the Onamia Depot Library. Initially my thoughts were of more time at home, finishing incomplete home projects, cleaning closets, the garage, store room, et cetera. Well, so far most of those projects are still incomplete, and I’ve found I like people more than I thought.
On a more serious note while driving through town, I notice empty streets with the exception of an occasional vehicle at the post office or drug store. The streets are hauntingly bare and quiet in our little town. I miss going to the local café whenever I want to, going for a last minute haircut whenever I want to, stopping by the thrift store for new treasures whenever I want to, visiting the school to see how things are going whenever I want to, attending church services whenever I want to, and greeting people at the library whenever I want to, hugging those I love whenever I want to – the list goes on.
I am learning a couple of things during this COVID-19 social distancing and staying at home. The library is a very important place in our small communities. It offers patrons an opportunity to communicate with each other, share which books should be read next, catch up on the latest news, find out about community resources and pick out a favorite book to read. It draws all kinds of people together from young to old. I always thought one had to be quiet in the library. That’s not really true; people gather there to share with each other, and, really, you don’t have to whisper! The library also offers solitude and a calm environment. You can have a quiet place with your own thoughts if you prefer. One can read for pleasure or education. Some come in to communicate using the computers. I have come to appreciate how essential the library is, as it provides a safe, comfortable environment to socialize and learn. Right now it is painfully quiet with only the sound of my footsteps filling the building.
I am learning self-discipline. Don’t get me wrong; I am so ready for this to be over, but I have also looked internally and said, “I am so spoiled.” When is the last time we have had to police ourselves and say no I really don’t need to do this? We are so used to doing what we want to do whenever we want to. They are not bad or unreasonable things, such as haircuts, shopping, going to church, having large family gatherings, and other social events. But now in these few weeks, I appreciate more than ever the everyday things I usually take for granted.
Lessons learned: Libraries are great for communication, I may like people more than I thought, and I like doing what I want to do.
Margaret Willis is the Onamia Depot Library Director.