Voices of Good Company

There is something to be said for the effect of the company we keep—clearly.  One of the things that brought me great joy as a teacher was when the right students found each other and became friends—when those who could bring out the best in each other got a hint or a taste of that possibility and decided to give friendship a try.  I know that to be true for myself too…those people nearest my heart make me a better person, a more whole person.

There is a corollary within the library world—The right book for the right reader at the right time.

A while ago, I met someone who shelved their books according to affinity… the books that ‘got along’ in some way were next to each other.  I loved that idea because it speaks to the “voice” of text, the power of the written word, the company a book can be.  It is that voice that calls to the reader, perhaps makes the mind move in ways it almost but not quite moves on its own, or proposes something totally other, adding depth, perspective, new swaths of horizon, to the ways in which a reader thinks, creates, acts.

I have written before about my relationship with certain books…how I find it satisfying to know that there is a particular volume in my bag, even though there are times when I might not have a chance to read it over the course of the day.  There are times when that company is more important to me than others.

These last weeks when so many voices have been tweeted, chanted, berated, raised in protest, stifled, barred, printed, cascaded across the expanse of our world, it has been all the more necessary for me to ground myself in the company of a voice that touches on or draws out something generative, something thoughtful and creative, from my experience of all that is happening.  And to walk with that outside voice nearby.

The author Rebecca Solnit has walked around with me, had coffee with me, eaten with me, and simply hung out with me, for the last number of weeks. 

I mentioned her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost in this post and that post from January.  Her paragraphs have been part of my writing, my conversations, my prayer, my thinking, from the first drawing back of the cover.  The margins of my copy are filled with my own commentary, my own leaning in toward an interesting encounter that I am not ready to end.

A friend is borrowing that conversation and hopefully adding to it… meanwhile, Hope in the Dark has filled the pocket in my satchel.

The title alone would be enough to entice me during these times.  For a kinship to be maintained, however, more is needed.  And Solnit offers much to make firm my affinity for her voice, for her way of expressing her perspective, for the content of her thought and action.

The hope I’m interested in…You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. (p. xiii-xiv)

This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen.  It’s also a nightmarish time.  Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both. (p. xii)

Thus it is that the world often seems divided between false hope and gratuitous despair. Despair demands less of us, it’s more predictable, and in a sad way, safer. (p. 20)

I wanted to write this in part as a thank you to her and with the Internet, who knows—maybe she’ll read it.  If not, my gratitude is no less.  I write it too in part to say thank you to all of those people whose voices I carry with me and who make me a better person for others, the people who inhabit my hope, inspire my actions, and sometimes haunt my dreams.  The people who teach me about solidarity and suffering and what I do not know.  The people who listen to my voice, my chapters.  The people with whom I stand and among whom tomorrow’s horizon of justice, compassion, and Love, will rise and beckon.

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