In the small sitting area at the front of our library's juvenile section, mothers tend to set up shop, commandeering tables for themselves and the finds their little ones will make in our collection. One by one, as if bringing her flowers, the children bear their treasures back to Mother's bower—books about the horses they'll own some day or the football team they'll quarterback once they get a little bigger—then set out again in search of more. Before long the family table begins to look like a landscape out of Dr. Seuss, colorful mountain chains and archipelagoes of children's books stretching across its surface.
In the mornings especially, it is not uncommon for several tables to groan beneath such loads, the mothers sitting at them exchanging trade-craft, enjoying themselves, even as their children actively add to the burden Mommy will be expected to carry home. On one such morning not too long ago, two mothers had been sitting like this for a while, chatting happily, when one of them announced it was time for her clan to leave. In an instant, the children in the room sorted themselves out into those that were going (outraged, appalled—How could we possibly leave before I finish this computer game, find that final Weather Fairy book!?) and those that would remain (quiet, demure, fearful lest the slightest misstep jeopardize their favored status)—the only exception to this general bifurcation being two toddlers too young to comprehend any parental injunction more complicated than a pair of arms lifting them bodily into the air.
For the better part of the morning, these toddlers had wandered about the room in their overstuffed snowsuits like two miniature golem, bumping up now and then against whatever loomed into their path. Now normally you can tell which child goes with which mother by the way commands are delivered—swift, sure, and unaffectedly loving with the mother's own, conventionally gentle and understanding with the neighbor's brood—but toddlers present more of a challenge, receiving similar out-sized, enthusiastic responses from everyone present regardless of maternity. I had been working absently on this problem, trying to figure out the toddlers' identities, when the one mother's announcement of her intention to leave distracted me, redirecting my attention onto the ensuing fandango.
And it was then, just as it seemed the first mother had successfully corralled her children, located all missing hats, coats, dolls, dump trucks, and action figures, that a confused bubbly cry rang out from somewhere down around our knees. Having bumped into everything else over the course of the morning, the toddlers had finally managed to bump into each other ... and were clearly amazed! To find another being like themselves, the same size as themselves, in this world otherwise inhabited only by giants ... it was too good to be true! They hugged. They fell awkwardly apart. After a moment's search, each found the other again in his field of vision, giggled aloud, reached for another hug or at least a handful of snowsuit.
For a moment, everything else in the room grew still, all of us too affected by the little tableau taking place at our feet to say or do anything. And then the mothers, reasserting their time-honored rights, bent down and, gently separating the two toddlers, restored the world to its status quo ante. The other children began to talk again, move about as if nothing had happened, the mothers said their good-byes, and then, with little more than a whimper from the computer-deprived five year old, the two families finally parted.
But for some reason an image of that diminutive encounter stayed with me, lodging in my mind like a grain of sand trying to become something else. About a day or two later, the reason for this persistence suddenly became clear: the meeting of those two tiny souls illustrated perfectly something I see every day at the library: the absolute joy people experience when they discover other people like themselves, people with the same taste in history books or cookbooks or detective novels or romance novels or computer games or DVDs or what-have-you. It happens all the time at the Talbot County Free Library, in the stacks, at the check-out desk, back in the juvenile section; people come here to find a particular book, and, instead, find each other. The library's just one of those places where we discover the friends, the companions, that will abide with us on life's journey.