Earlier this week I got to be a book. Yes, a book!
I had my very own shiny dust jacket, with my photo on the back and a short blurb describing my contents. Though there were no advance reviews, still I was checked out, browsed, dipped into, and seriously pondered by several readers. By the end of the evening, I felt a bit ragged, and very hungry.
It’s hard work being a book. I had no idea whether my readers would want to start at the beginning (how I got started with mindfulness and storytelling), flip to the middle (what I’m doing now), or wade into the lengthy chapter on “Narrative and Transformation.” They did all three. I spoke about my theories of story-catching, my belief in weaving family and community relationships through storytelling, and the power of story to inspire meaningful dialogue. I also told a short folktale. (That was in the appendix.)
I’ve read about The Human Library, but this was the first time I had a chance to participate, either as a reader or as a “book.” The evening was part of a residency at Royal Roads University outside of Victoria. Assistant Professor, Dr. Hilary Leighton introduced all the books (about twenty). They included remarkable members of several faculties. Most of them hold doctorates and are involved in fascinating research.
Dr. Geoff Bird of the Faculty of Tourism described his work on sites of war remembrance and the research that will take him to the Northwest Territories to the small community of Delené, where plutonium was mined in the 1940s, as part of the Manhattan Project. Robert Kull, associate faculty in the School of Environment and Sustainability spoke about his year in Patagonia and his passion for solitude.
I was the last person to be introduced. I said, “This group of ‘books’ is definitely not a representative cross-section of the population, but by engaging in this experiment, maybe it will help us remember that the person sitting next to us on the bus, or waiting in line at the café or grocery store, is also the keeper of all kinds of knowledge and ideas.”
I described meeting a young woman at the bus stop in Horseshoe Bay earlier this summer. After she had checked the bus schedule and shared with me when the next bus was coming, we waited in silence. I had the thought, "This is an opportunity to connect." So I threw out an easy question, “How’s your summer going?” It turned out that she was visiting nieces in the city, lived in Port Alberni, but grew up in Bella Bella on the north coast of BC.
When the bus came we sat down together and I received a wonderful introduction to the geography, both human and physical, of a place that I had heard about, but never visited. I knew that my first French teacher, Maguy Duchesne, had spent a year working there, before going on to teach in the community of Masset on Haida Gwai.
My new friend pulled out her phone and showed me aerial footage of Bella Bella, as well as a short video of humpback whales, leaping out of the water in the harbour. I learned that the community centre had burned down, but a temporary one was in use. We spoke about the elders in our lives and our desire to offer support and receive their wisdom.
We exchanged business cards and a quick hug when we got off the bus in downtown Vancouver. I felt so grateful to have met her, and to have learned where she came from.
The human library is all around us. All we have to do is connect.