Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dear John

There's a movie playing at the cinema now, Dear John, starring Amanda Seyfried ("Thank You for the Music"). It's the story, I gather, of a young soldier and his girlfriend back at home. This bare bone of the plot (or perhaps the title says it all) reminds me of something I overheard at the Carroll Gardens library when I visited Brooklyn over Christmas. I was sitting at a computer terminal, wishing for silence so that I could concentrate, commune, and work. Instead, sitting diagonally across from me was a woman, younger than me I think but still middle-aged, jabbering rather mindlessly to a man who was working at his computer next to her. She just kept going on and on talking. Yes, I was annoyed - she was oblivious that others might need quiet. But at the same time I realized how hard it is for people to talk to one another, to find any opportunity to casually connect, to spill out their story to a passing stranger and that, you know, these communal moments of talking and connection are part of what a little library in a neighborhood needs to be about.

I love what I heard the visionary designer Bill McDonough once say. (Or overheard, rather, at a conference to discuss design ideas for Liberty State Park in Jersey City, back in '97 or '98. I was a graduate student, a group of us were all walking someplace in the park, McDonough was talking to Ed Schlossberg, also a designer, they happened to be behind me, and of course I listened.) He said that it's all well & good to have a large central library but what children need are little libraries that they can walk to whenever they like, preferably with a tower so that librarians can see them, and observe them walk safely back home.

Anyway, the woman was jabbering and the man was working at his computer but at the same time kindly, patiently listening to her. The woman mentioned something about her partner - husband perhaps, significant other - who is in the military and deployed overseas. Do you miss him? the man softly asked. And in this post-human world she paused for a moment and said no, I expect he will be very, very different when he comes home, not the same at all, so no, I don't really miss him. (A paycheck and a fact of life, is what I thought.)

And I was sitting there at the computer missing you, my dearest J, so very terribly though I haven't seen you in over 30 years (!) and I thought, that poor soldier, going through hell & hard work & separation & absence and he'll come back exhausted, and this woman is just jabbering blithely & doesn't miss him, and is she likely to comfort him in any real way, with apples or anything else?

Darling, I need you, I miss you, I feel, I love you. Welcome home, in every way.

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