More Than Books

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

My childhood dreams were built beside a bookshelf. Sitting cross-legged on the library floor immersed in science fiction, I dreamt of time-traveling tesseracts, of machines intelligent enough to raise families, of lunar colonies equipped with modern plumbing capabilities. It’s been over seven years since then, but I still pass the hours beside a bookshelf, although this time, I’m the one filling it, one newly labeled book at a time.Or at least that’s what I’m supposed to do. At times, the pressing urge to read overcomes common sense. My library “Volunteer” badge safely hidden in my pocket, I relive my childhood, desperately catching words as they leap off the pages only to materialize in my imagination as physical objects.Fridays always carry the musty scent of worn book covers. Books silently cry out my name as I search for them, armed only with a hierarchy of dots and digits I’ve written in my heart. 100 for Plato, 200 for Islam, 300 for Odysseus… Fingers grown adept at handling fragility, I gently flip through the yellowing pages, scanning for signs of damage. A minute passes. Then another. Seeing no evident need for book repair, I cross out “TESSARO, KATHLEEN” off the inventory list with a Sharpie. The sharp odor of the marker jars me from the peaceful lull of work. Yet, a certain feeling of serenity remains.Sometimes, when I’m working behind the circulation desk, I see the return flap open, a rush of sunlight, a book drop into the return tray, the briefest appearance of someone peering into the slit. The worried face of a mother. The weary face of a retiree. The stern face of a lawyer. Excited, I take a guess before looking at what was returned. A guide to parenting? A guide to gardening? Sherlock Holmes? And although I’m rarely right, I can at least smile at the fact that I’m not the only one with overdue fines.When gray clouds gather, I love lying there alone on the sofa beside the window, watching the orchard trees bend in the wind, listening to the drizzling rain beat their quirky rhythms on the rooftop. The library is my shield against Thursday thunderstorms and Monday melancholies, and I can always find refuge when I seek it. Not surprisingly, I know all the librarians by face; when they wake me from my nap in the armchair behind the Mystery Section, their smiles are the first things I see.In the clarity of such moments, I realize how I’ve lived the last four years of my life in a blur, rushing from orchestra rehearsals to debate tournaments, from English class to math club meetings. I’ve made good judgments, and I’ve made poor ones. I’ve experienced success, and I’ve also endured setbacks that almost convinced me to give it all up. But never, until this year, have I learned to slow down, to stop, to listen, to appreciate the small details in everyday life.My early time spent with books deeply shaped my love of reading, and in some ways, I’m still the same ten-year-old kid who finishes a new novel overnight, who renews a hold just to reread a favorite book for the fifth time. Yet, after a year of volunteering at the library, I’ve never felt more attentive, more at peace, more alive. Those quiet moments alone, among both written and unwritten stories, have brought balance to my life and taught me to treasure every moment of it, especially as the last days of high school slowly slip away. After all, the stories that speak loudest to us sometimes don’t speak at all.

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