I am a librarian.
What that really means varies as much as if I said I was a chef.
We both can serve up quite a bit, in lots of different styles.
She comes in tonight. She is anybody; she is everybody. Seeking books during a busy time when a line is apt to form.
She tells me the topic.
She shows me the titles she wrote down in the doctor's office.
I start typing.
I start looking.
I start thinking about whether or not we can get the items on inter-library loan if we don't have them in our collection.
My fingers are fast. My thoughts fly faster.
I am efficient and professional.
I don't want that line to form, let alone get restless.
And then I stop myself. Full stop.
I look at her intently. I really hear what she said: She got this list from a doctor's office after a very upsetting diagnosis for her grandson. She said it so fast, almost off-hand.
And suddenly I see it: Her daughter taking the son home, trying not to cry, or maybe too numb to.
She'd be saying: "I'm on it. I'll go straight to the library. We'll figure this thing out. There has to be resources for something like this. I'll get these books. You take the baby home. Don't worry honey, we can do this."
And now she's standing here in front of me, and I can see that she is in pain, and a little agitated, and that the pushy teen behind her waving his dvd at me like he's hailing a taxi with it is causing her to wish she hadn't come.
"I just want you to know, I really heard you when you said you received some big news today. Really big. I want to acknowledge that. I kind of jumped into trying to find your books without stopping to tell you that I'm really sorry that you're going through all this. Your daughter is lucky to have you."
And then her eyes get glassy and my eyes get glassy and we look at each other a moment longer than is normal with strangers.
"Thank you," she says, and her voice cracks a bit.
We move away from the front, toward where I know the books are. Where I knew all along they were without needing the computer to make it official.
She talks about the diagnoses. The signs and symptoms. I listen. I show her the two different sections that she'll want to browse later, when she isn't just here to make herself useful after the first shattering blow.
"How do you know all of this?" she asks with a little admiration.
"I'm a librarian," I tell her simply. How do I explain that it is my whole job to make the contents of this kitchen accessible to anyone who is hungry? To find the exact bit of nourishment they need and to offer it in a way that makes them feel like they could have just as easily found it themselves.
"Well, I'm so lucky I got you, then. You've been so helpful."
Oh, dear, sweet woman with an aching heart, I'm so lucky I got to be with you. At the intersection of your pain and helplessness, you came here.
To the library.
And you remind me why I'm here.