An Afternoon at the Library

Millie is a reference librarian at a small rural library. She has worked there for over 20 years and she loves her work. She is very happy to be the young adult librarian serving middle school and high school students. She herself really identifies with that age as she feels as if she is still an adolescent herself in many ways, finally coming into her own as a person, no longer trying to fit into society’s molds, but rather just be herself, and that self is a wonderful person. The teenagers who come into the library always seek her out because they know she will listen to them with kindness, interest, sincerity, compassion and she will not judge them. She understands too well that judgment should be left to the judges in a court of law and even there it can be questionable.

Millie was sitting at the reference desk one Thursday afternoon when Joe ambled in. Millie likes Joe, and she understands that his apparent nonchalance is really covering some pretty deep-seated social anxiety issues, so Millie always gives Joe the space he needs and waits for him to approach her. She has even had to coach some of the other staff members so they don’t just pounce on him asking if he needs help.

Joe wandered around the library for about 15 minutes, stopping at the computers for a bit, browsing the magazine rack, and finally in a very circuitous way arriving at Millie’s desk.

“Hi, Joe,” greeted Millie. “How’s your day been going?”

“Uh, ok, I guess,” answered Joe.

“You haven’t exactly convinced me,” said Millie, in response to the obvious hesitation in Joe’s voice.

“What do you think about graduation,” blurted Joe suddenly.

“Well,” said Millie, “it is an important occasion for many.”

“Why should adults get so focused on graduating? What difference does it make? Does it make you a better person?” Joe asked.

“That’s a very difficult question, Joe. Is someone hassling you? Aren’t you a senior this year?”

“Yeah,” said Joe, “and so what. I know what I want to do. I want to live in the wilderness in harmony with the earth. I’m tired of all the wars and killing and poverty. Everything is just so screwed up. And I want to go now. I’ve lived on my own in the woods the last few summer vacations and I’ve even gone there for winter break. I don’t need a high school diploma for that, do I?”

Millie thought long and hard before she answered. She knew Joe had some real problems in school and that he wasn’t necessarily treated well by some of the teachers. He had long hair and wore a headband and he tended to look anywhere but at the person he was talking to, so teachers frequently felt that he was not paying attention to them. In fact, as Joe had explained to Millie many times, he liked to close his eyes when listening so he could picture things in his mind as that made them clearer to him, but frequently that was seen as rude and Joe was sent out into the hall or to the principal. Joe did not feel as if anyone heard him or in fact really saw him as the person he truly was.

Finally, Millie answered Joe. “Joe, I agree that at the moment the whole mess seems pretty ghastly and yes, it would be nicer to head out into the woods by yourself. But Joe, you do need to try to see a bigger picture. A high school diploma may not seem like a big deal as far as your current plans go, but believe me, without that piece of paper you will be operating under a major handicap. And down the road you just might want to further your education in the field of ecology or conservation, areas which you are passionately interested in. And trust me, Joe, most of us felt high school was a horrible experience, but college is vastly different. If you quit now you will be crippling yourself in ways you can’t even imagine now.”

Joe really respected Millie and he didn’t want to tell her that she had no idea what he was going through or what he needed. He took his time with his answer and suddenly he looked at Millie more closely. He remembered how she had stood up to the library administration to make them allow skateboards in the parking lot when the library was closed. He remembered how she had come to his English classes and spoken passionately about books that actually sounded interesting. He knew she was lesbian and he figured that hadn’t been easy either.

All of a sudden Joe realized that just maybe Millie wasn’t spouting hot air. He needed to think about this some more. So he answered, “Well, maybe. I sure can’t think about more school now. I definitely want some time away from the classroom. But maybe you are right that it would be just as well to stick it out for a few more months. Ok, you’ve given me things to think about. You always do! Thanks, Millie!”

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