When I first retired I often spent Friday mornings in my local Barnes and Noble. I arrived there early so that I might nab a chair inside the Starbucks area. I preferred a comfortable wingback seat located next to an electric outlet and a table. I’d order a hot chai tea latte and a cinnamon scone, open my laptop and work on my writing.
It was a heavenly experience to be surrounded by books and fellow silent companions who were reading or studying or creating. It became a routine for me until my husband also retired. I had not gone there early in the morning for many years until recently. In fact, because of Covid I had not been inside the store for at least three years at any time of day. I was not surprised to learn that a few things had changed, but essentially the feeling that I had in being there at the beginning of the day felt the same.
I arrived a bit too soon because the store no longer opens as early as it once did. I might have just returned home, but I decided to wait in my car playing games on my phone until a young woman unlocked the doors. Since there was not a crowd vying for seats like there once was I easily reserved my favorite chair, I ordered my venti chai tea latte, but there were no cinnamon scones so I settled for a bagel. Instead of working on my laptop I decided just to savor my return by observing the store and the people inside.
I have to admit to getting the warmest of feelings and thinking that it might be fun to reprise my old habit of visiting there on Fridays. I loved the vibe of those who wandered up and down the aisles in search of treasures. For the most part the place felt just the same as always, a refuge of creativity and learning, a repository of wonder. It was comforting to be there without any goal other than to relax.
I have been feeling a bit anxious in that last couple of years. I’m certain that I am not alone in worrying about the state of the world and its people. We’ve all been through a rough time that created losses of people and jobs and a feeling of security. We watched a huge divide open up in politics, religious beliefs and attitudes about vaccines, science, learning, schools, police, immigration, sexuality, different races. The constant disagreements along with countless mass shootings and the rise of violence and depression in our midst has been exhausting. For someone like me whose nature is to be the diplomat who attempts to bring people together it has been a time of difficult change. Somehow I was moved to speak out for the causes that seemed most important. I felt that silence was dangerous. In the process I opened a Pandora’s box of differing reactions to the advocate I had become.
Just sitting silently in the serenity of the bookstore was like a tonic for my soul. It gave me an opportunity to meditate in the midst of some of the most brilliant thinking of humankind as chronicled in the trove of books that surrounded me. I felt the honesty and ideas of the authors who were so willing to fix their thoughts into the written word. It comforted me to think of them.
I had been impressed with Michelle Obama’s newest book and I wanted one of my daughters to enjoy the experience of reading it as well, so I finally surrendered my chair and wandered through the rows of books in search of a copy for her. Luckily it was featured on one of the tables in the main aisle. I grabbed a copy but continued my slow walk through the stacks of books and magazines and quirky pens and cards and games. I somehow felt that surely this must be a close approximation to heaven on earth. I was in my element. I was with my people.
I don’t think a month’s worth of therapy sessions with a counselor would have served me as well as my foray back into Barnes and Noble. In that stunning atmosphere I was able to consider my place in the world and what is most important to me. I remembered how reading and learning has always served as a panacea for all of my worries and woes. I am admittedly and proudly bookish. I no longer worry that my admission might classify me as a nerd. In fact I am sometimes a bit too boastful about who I am and how much I enjoy reading just about anything.
I suppose that I am very much my father’s daughter. His idea of fun was visiting a library or bookstore. I cut my teeth on accompanying him to his favorite repositories. I feel his spirit every single time I am in such a place. I suppose that I need to go back more often. Maybe I don’t need to do it every single week, but now and again an early morning trip to Barnes and Noble might be just what I need to rearrange my thoughts and realize that we humans have been dealing with problems and conflict for centuries. Somehow the good seems to always find a way to solve the problems we face. The way forward is all there in the stories and histories.