The Poor Library

May 23, 2023 | Russ Moe

Renovation of the Saint Joseph County Public Library is now complete. It’s stunning. RAM Stern Architects have created a modern cathedral of learning. The square block structure complements its surroundings in downtown South Bend magnificently. Within are the most advanced technologies and resources including an extravagant children’s library, private study rooms, a commons area, a coffee shop, a courtyard, computers, an auditorium, and an elaborate multimedia center. It’s stimulating, alive, and brilliant with light. It reminds me of an art museum. I’m inspired every time I walk in. I come here every day to write. It’s a haven for creativity, like a garden of Eden. But something’s wrong in paradise.

I walked into the restroom one day and blood spattered the sinks and the counter. Another day a man hunched beneath the hand dryer drying his hair. One time, police chased a screaming man through the entire building. Another time security guards led a man out of a private study room filled with people. As they confiscated the beer he smuggled in, they yelled, “You can’t bring that in here.” Security guards constantly monitor the dozens lazing at desks and laid back in the beautiful new furniture throughout the building because you’re not allowed to make this your place of sleep. Body odor is in the air. I even detect the subtle hint of marijuana in our glorious new, thirty-eight-million-dollar homeless shelter. 

It's like the night of the living dead. They all look the same, like they just walked out of a mass grave. They all shuffle along, with that same flatfooted gait. Their faces are expressionless, always downcast, never making eye contact. And they just keep coming. They line the sidewalk every morning when I arrive, each one carrying as much baggage as if boarding an international flight. And somehow, when I leave in the afternoon, they’re still there. I’m sure they’re not the same ones, but how could you tell?

Annoyed, I asked one of the security police on duty,

“Can’t you do something about this, it’s becoming very unpleasant to be here.”

“I know,” he said, “there’s nothing we can do. This is a public facility, they have as much right to be here as you.”

I expressed my resentment to my wife. My teammate is a champion for righteousness. I often quote the useful acronym WWJD: what would Joyce do? 

Sensing my dilemma she said, “Maybe you’re there to show them God’s love?”

I hated the suggestion. But it sounded right. I grimaced and prayed,“OK Lord, show me how.”

The next day while I’m set up at my study table to write, a man comes shuffling towards me. There are four chairs at my table. I don’t want anyone sitting at my table but me, so no one ever does, but I can see he thinks he’s going to sit down. I stare at him. My stare means: don’t even think about it. He pulls out a chair anyway. I stare harder. He sets all his stuff on my table. Now I’m laser staring. No use, he’s movin’ in. Then all his stuff crashes to the floor.

The noisy cymbal reference shoots through me like a flaming arrow. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).

As he gathers his stuff, he mutters, “God works in mysterious ways.”

I sense a Holy Ghost nudge.

“That’s your cue, you’re supposed to say something now.” 

My first thought is, duh? But The Lord has made it easy for me.

“Why did you say that?” I say, and engage him in a conversation.

We ended up bringing Marvin to church on Easter. 

Recently I met with Pastor Steve. He was deeply involved in helping the homeless. I told him how the library was being overrun.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “There’s shelter, and they get to see normal.”

I reached down and removed my jaw from the floor. I realized, I’m part of the normal. 

I repented. Now I understand. The library is more than a learning center, it’s a community center. All these people are my neighbors. Lessons for loving them aren’t only on its shelves.

All of us were once the walking-dead spoilers of God’s paradise. Yet He loved us and went all the way to save us. Sometimes I’m so selfishly preoccupied, I forget my role in this suffering world. Please forgive me God.

I sat at the library today asking, “Lord, what should I write about for this blog?” 

Marvin pulled up a chair. We’re bringing him to church next Sunday. That’s what Jesus would do.