This I Believe

Jack - Denver, Colorado
Entered on July 5, 2007

I believe in standing in the stacks.

Let me explain.

In the early 1990s, while I was a pimply-faced middle-schooler, my wife was a not-so-pimply faced high-schooler over a thousand miles away. She took a job as a concessions attendant in a local theatre and quickly developed quite a crush on her new boss. He was a short, hairy man with an intense gaze who gave the teenage girls that worked for him speeches in the box office, about literature, art, science, war, passion and creativity. His enthusiasm for his time on earth was contagious, and my wife’s life was changed forever. This man set her on a course that lead to working in performing and visual arts, and eventually as a web designer and graphic artist in a public library.

A very short time after they parted ways, this man became a human resources director for a small chain of independent bookstores, and one day, a few years later, a no-longer-so-pimply faced boy entered his office for a job interview. The man had one question for applicants: “Tell me about your favorite book,” he’d say and lean back in his leather chair, placing his thumb and forefinger on his chin and stroke his beard. The applicant listed a few books for the man, but concluded by saying that “all books are the same, really; there’s really only one story ever told.” The boy was trying to express something that he didn’t understand, but desperately wanted to. The man hired him on the spot, and over the course of the next five years, this man and his equally inspiring roommate set the young man on a path to following his love of writing and reading, and eventually a career as a librarian.

I believe this man and his friend were standing in the stacks, directing people to the books they are writing about themselves without knowing it. I believe these people set the course of events in our world far more than the powerful, the rich, the faithful, or the ambitious ever could. They can work in theaters or bookstores, or be dishwashers or janitors. The people in the stacks uncover secrets for us, lead us to ourselves, empower us so that we may read our beliefs in our world, and follow them. And I believe that if we follow these people, we follow our true selves, and ultimately, we too learn to stand in the stacks. We learn to write our lives, as well as read them. We learn to lead our beliefs, as well as follow them.

I believe in the moment when our three year old son, browsing our stacks at home, just happened to take a copy of Sophocles this man had given me to my wife, and somehow accidentally pointed to a hand-written name on the inside cover. I believe in how she recognized that name. And I believe in her coming to me and asking, “Where did you get this book?”

This I believe.