I don't know about you, but it wasn't till I'd finished school that I realized just how big a fish I'd allowed to get away. All those incredible teachers at my beck and call, all those dedicated men and women wanting to share with me the wisdom of the ages ... and how did I spend my time? Well, I can remember long spells spent standing in front of a mirror perfecting my ability to blow smoke rings.
Somehow, somewhere, I had gotten the notion that education was something that happened to you, something parents and teachers were required to give you, and all the lucky student really had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride. And then one day they shoved a piece of fake sheepskin in my hand, told me I was ready to meet the challenges of the world, and gently nudged me toward the door ...
It was only then that I began to read in earnest.
But I also promised myself that when I retired, I would go back to school, avail myself of all that I had missed the first time around. Instead of spending my time acquiring vices and chasing skirts, I was going to think. I was going to give my mind free rein, send it riding off after whatever interested it, let it learn and grow, let it become. Oh what a marvelous journey that was going to be!
Well I'm 57 years old now, and from the looks of the balance sheet, it's clear my creditors aren't planning on letting me retire till I'm 135. Which may go some way toward explaining why I'm so thankful for the library.
Do you remember what it was like to have a great teacher, a man or woman who challenged you mentally, who pulled more from you than you thought you really knew, in the process making you feel as if you were their equal, that they gained as much as you from the to and fro of your debate?
Earlier this year, Sue Ellen Thompson taught a three-class course on the Confessional Poets at the Talbot County Free Library. The classes were held in the evening, after work, and pretty much every night I showed up tired, feeling my years ... and left an hour and a half later a kid again, Sue Ellen's love of language and meaning carrying me along, buoying me up. Then, this spring, on my day off, I dragged myself back into the library to hear Mark Croatti's talk on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, and within minutes found myself debating the future of the world with all the intensity and ardor of an idealistic teenager.
These are the sort of teachers one encounters at the Talbot County Free Library. You walk away from their classes feeling bigger than you had before, more alive, more alert to the world and its possibilities. I can believe such programs add years to one's life.
There's a simple throw-away line that gets tacked onto all program descriptions the library publishes in its newsletters and brochures. Considering the sort of classes, the sort of teachers, the place has to offer, it's actually a fairly astonishing piece of boilerplate: “All library programs are free and open to the public.”