Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: In today's news

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

In today's news

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the front page of this morning’s Boston Globe was a thoughtful and compassionate article by David Abel on Carlos Arredondo, the man who saved the life of another man, Jeff Bauman, at the Boston Marathon finish line in April. At the start of that day, Arredondo was someone who had lived through our worst nightmare with the loss of his two sons. By the end of the day he had become someone whose heroic actions we all hope we would have taken under those circumstances...even as we know, most of us, that we would have had neither the quick-thinking nor the selfless and confident courage that he showed.

On the back page of the Metro section of the same paper was a small gossipy item about the Cambridge Public Library’s refusal of the gift by Katherine A. Powers, of her newest book, “Suitable Accommodations:  An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J.F. Powers 1942-1963.” “Is it on the New York Times best seller list?” one of the staff members reportedly asked in turning it down with the comment that “we don’t take donations.”

That one hit home for me. A few years ago, giddy with the publication of my second collection, my happy move to Cambridge, and my delight at being within walking distance of the library’s newly-reopened beautiful main branch, I did what Katherine Powers did: I took a copy of my new book to offer to the library. I also was told about the no-donations policy. Powers should feel better, though--one look at my slim collection apparently showed that no question about the best seller list was needed.  I quickly slunk away (slank?) and have felt a little embarrassed ever since to be caught using the library from time to time, unworthy person that I am. 

When I discussed this on Facebook, my friend Charles Coe, always a voice of good sense, commented that libraries institute these policies so as not to be overburdened with unwanted/unneeded books, and his explanation sounded valid and reasoned.

But those two articles made an impression on me and blended in my mind into something about what of ourselves we give to our neighbors. Now, in no way, in no stretch of the most elastic imagination, can the gift of a book be equated with the life-saving action Carlos Arredondo offered. And yet, in some very tiny way, the impulse is at least related--to offer something of yourself to your community.

Arredondo is rightly celebrated for what he did. I worry, in reading the article, that his life has been consumed by the celebration of him and that the attention of the public, being fickle, can turn away quickly and thoughtlessly.  I wish him a life of satisfaction, of appreciation and comfort.

But I think, too, about the smaller gifts we try to give our neighbors, in small ways and large, unseen and public, from volunteering in schools and shelters to casting our votes with thought and goodwill.  We give what we can. We hope that, if called upon to give more, we would be up to the task. And that may be why the rejection from the Cambridge Library stung so. It was a gift of myself, the best I had to give--thanks but no thanks. A small sting, but a sting nonetheless. 

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