from Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong

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It had felt important to declare herself as only herself. To try, for awhile, to not be wrapped up inside her books. P 79

I’ve just come off the week from hell. One glance at my engagement calendar and you would be met with two items scrawled into each square. Culminating in a gathering at the Library on what turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon.

In the fall of 2015 a tragedy struck our community and now the Library was hosting an event so that the family could express their gratitude for all the love and support that had been given to them. I was asked to deliver the opening welcome, followed by the family, then my director would make the closing remarks. I spent the morning trying to write. First the cat projectile vomited, which lead me to my shelf of poetry books, which sparked a thought about another poetry book I remembered downstairs, but then when I looked at those shelves I found a book we bought before moving here—Wanda Urbanska’s, Moving to a Small Town. (I felt like I was living my own special brand of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.) Serendipity led me to page through this book that helped us dream of a move to Vermont, finding passages that I could read aloud to the crowd who had gathered to commemorate a loss. Yet the point I really wanted to make is that we need to try honor him by picking up the pieces and creating something new. Community is the constant.

After my welcome, the mom stood at the podium and spoke about my relationship with her son. In my job as librarian I provided a place for him to do his volunteer hours, made reading recommendations, and brought books from my own personal library to pass along. I had a special dedication to him, but really it’s to all of my patrons. The books define me, sure, but there are days it feels like a smothering. Sometimes it feels like they’ve toppled over and are crushing me underneath the collapsed pile.

At the end of the event I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in many years, a teacher from the elementary school. She commented on my speech, confirming that I had struck just the right tone: a balance of acknowledging, honoring and moving forward. She ended our conversation with what to me sounded like a blessing—“You are a force,” she quietly declared. I had never been told that before and I sucked on that knowledge like a lollipop you get from the bank.

Last Thursday, I drove out to an artist’s studio for a one-on-one photography class. I got lost, felt guilty for being late and walked headlong into a challenging situation. It was clear within the first 5 minutes that I have some unlearning ahead of me. I am self taught, and now I have someone trying to teach me how to unlock the code that is my camera. Up to this point I could just reach for it, but I know I rely too much on the automatic setting. I am certain that there are calculations and calibrations which will me me a better photographer in the end. But it’s painful to step away from the familiar, the instinctual. It feels like the math is overtaking the magic.

As I write this I see that this week has been trying to teach me the same lesson: acknowledge, honor and move forward. I need those books, that point and shoot camera; they are part of my identity. But it’s good to stretch and grow, to imagine myself a different woman than I am today. Perhaps I can choose what defines me and the words I can embody.

Remember, I am a force.

3 thoughts on “from Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong

  1. Beth,

    I have always thought this about you. It is only now, with so much behind you and so very much ahead of you, that you too are recognizing what is within.
    Go with your force always!

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