On Bended Knee

The Keewaydin Park Library Experience

My first experience in a library was one of awe and humility. I stood there – fixed in my footsteps, silently looking around at thousands of books. My eyes wandering over the rigid soldiers in all shapes and sizes, lined up shoulder to shoulder in elegant bindings to guard the many accounts of the past. Both truth and fiction sat patiently, staring back at me. I had discovered a connection to something larger than myself. I was like the sinner on bended knee in gratitude to her creator. At the tender age of eight, I did not fully comprehend what it meant to be caught in such a moment, though I knew I had entered a place of true greatness.

Certainly at such a young age my grasp of history was limited. I had not learned until adulthood that 30,000 clay tablets were discovered in ancient Mesopotamia; these 5,000 year-old tablets represented one of history’s earliest library concepts. What I was aware of, however, was how I felt standing there in that little, reverent Keewaydin Park Library somewhere outside of Kennewick, Washington. I felt more at home for that brief moment, than I had anywhere else up to that point in my young life. And I carry that appreciation with me still today.

Understanding the survival of public libraries, a struggle that dates back as far as the middle of the second century B.C., compels me to treasure our contemporary book depositories all the more. This could be why my favorite libraries are those that smell like an old bookstore. Such libraries aspire to celebrate age and the ability to unveil centuries of hidden mystery rather than mask it with the scent of modernity or newness.

Walking the aisles of books, I allow my nostrils to fill with nostalgia of libraries past, just as I did as a child. I offer thanks to the ancient Egyptians and their papyrus scrolls from 1300 B.C., paying tribute to all those who persevered throughout history to bring us the libraries of today. I can’t help but breathe in every facet of what a library has to offer and steal private, intimate moments to appreciate their existence. I run my fingertips over the beautiful spines and touch the pages of books that have had relationships with countless others before me.

I cannot pass through a library without being reminded of my childhood experience; a transcendence that lives with me still today. Coveting time not afforded in a single human existence, I mourn the printed brilliance that will remain unchartered. While I question which book to begin with, I wonder which will be the last one I will ever hold. And yet there is such comfort within the walls of a library. I can still be found sitting on the floor, just as I did when I was eight years old, hiding among the safety of the books and looking up at the miles of voices begging to be heard.