Sometimes I just need the library. Like having a craving for a specific food, sometimes only the library will do. Occasionally a bookstore, but mostly the library. I love libraries. When I was in college, we had a 4-story library on campus with wide floor-to-ceiling windows in each corner on every floor. I spent hours in those corners when I lived on campus. It soothed my overwhelmed psyche just to be with the books, to feel so close to the sky, and just to be quiet. The dorm was anything but quiet, but that was okay, cuz I could go to the library.
We have a beautiful big library in my little town. It’s quiet and it smells good, and sometimes the sun is streaming in the windows and it’s warm and bright. And of course, there are the books. Rows and rows of them; more than I ever would be able to or would want to read. It humbles me always, to be in the presence of all those thoughts and words.
I am reminded that there’s A LOT I don’t know. I’m reminded that the world is big, and is filled with every kind of thing imaginable. Mostly I think all those precise rows help me to believe that there is order in the world, and that it’s as evident as the Dewey Decimal System. Cuz mostly I don’t feel that way — I’m not sure that anything makes sense sometimes — but look at all these books! People wrote down all kinds of ideas and thoughts about things they wanted to make sense of, and they’re offering their thoughts and their sense of the world to me.
Nearly 150 years ago, Dostoyevsky wrote:
My younger brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it may seem absurd, but it is right nonetheless, for everything, like the ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else: touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world.
Nowadays we call that the Butterfly Effect and it is central to chaos theory, which, in effect, comes down to: “simple laws can generate extremely complex behavior, and deterministic systems can behave randomly.” Or, a butterfly flapping her wings in Australia can affect the weather in Canada.
Dostoyevsky apparently thought that if we could just see how everything fits together–that the whole earth and all of its inhabitants are all part of a single whole–that it would change human nature. An optimist. Or maybe he knew that the all-embracing love would not be enough; or that we as a species would not be capable of that kind of love. Perhaps he was heart-broken because he could see the future and he knew we weren’t ready for it.
I don’t know, but to me it is heartbreaking in that I think we’ve moved farther away from that love than ever before in the history of our country, certainly; and in the world as well. That just seems so sad.
We are creatures capable of understanding the beauty and structure of the very smallest things and the mind-bendingly biggest things. We understand our world from the quantum level up to the enormity of the universe.
But we still don’t understand ourselves.
And that renders all the rest of it meaningless.