We round the corner from our Thanksgiving holidays into a fragile time of year. Nights have grown long. Darkness comes early.
Perhaps we are more aware of our mortality, for regardless of our traditions, we light candles to allay the darkness. And we tell stories of love and generosity, of innocence and of courage and faith.
The winter stories we tell include all of those elements. We sing songs about miracles and about hope. We talk about the forms of oppression still plaguing the world’s peoples. We speak about freedom and peace, and about what it would take to create both for all humanity.
Some might argue that Christmas is not a holiday centered on exchanging gifts. Hanukkah surely is not.
I think both holidays are about storytelling and learning. They are both about understanding the fragile experiment of human civilization.
In our home, we consciously associate this time of year with plenty of quiet time together. Reading, mostly.
Every year, just before the holiday, we would go to a bookstore. Each of us would pick out one or two new books. We’d head home with our new books, light candles on our hanukkiah (a menorah with eight candle-holders for each of the eight days of the festival), eat dinner, cozy into our library and read.
We were fortunate to be able to buy books of our own.
But millions of Americans are too poor to pay for the necessities of life, much less buy books. For those Americans, books are a luxury item.
They can get books at public libraries, though. For free, of course.
They can access computers and the Internet, too. Did you know that our Concord branch has 20 workstations? Library programs are also available to help people learn how to acquire computer literacy.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do; the library is open to you and for you.
Except when it isn’t.
Last June, our county commissioners reduced the Concord main library staff by 25 percent. Library hours have been cut at the other Cabarrus County Public Library branches.
Some staff members have had to accomplish two jobs at the same time. (In the Concord branch, the librarian at the front desk also has to cover the Lore Room, which is devoted to local history.)
Outreach programs to reach our county’s housebound elderly have taken a hit because we don’t have enough staff to meet the need.
Early last fall, I asked our county commissioners to reconsider. I argued vehemently that there is nothing gratuitous and irrelevant in the work of our public libraries.
Public libraries epitomize the highest civic standards we can hope to achieve. They are about serving the members of our community without regard to ethnicity, class, age or any other category.
We are entering a fragile time of year: a time of increasing darkness, a time when we tell stories of love and generosity, of innocence and of courage and faith.
I would like to believe that our new county board of commissioners will take the lessons we teach and preach this time of year to heart.
So I ask them again: Please support a communal treasure, an institution that has only the most generous of aims – to serve our county’s residents.
You decree the number of hours that can be devoted to that task. You decide whether to expand the library’s reach, its power to educate and inform, its ability to nourish and sustain the quality of life we enjoy in Cabarrus County.
Support our libraries and their staff. Extend their hours. Tell a story of your own – of generosity and good will in a fragile time.