I was in the library between meetings last Sunday. I went to get books for Bryce. I’m pretty sure we or he’s read all the books in our home that aren’t in my or Dawn’s library. Though we never restrict him from any book in the house, he prefers books with pictures to pastoral theology or media studies. He’s seven. I’m giving him time.
At the Harold Washington Library Center, when you rise on the main escalator, you can look up and see a curiously marvelous installation. There are thousands of dog tags from veterans of the Vietnam War. I didn’t read the description on the wall, but I did stand on the landing for a few beats and imagine how many tags were there. I wondered about those warriors. I was thankful and conflicted. I thought about the protests of that war and the images I’ve seen of the war and the protests.
While I was there, no one else looked up at the ceiling. I’m not sure how many people saw the breath-taking identifications. It dawned on me that most people could come and go and not see overhead.
We had been to the Harold Washington Library before, but you were too young remember. So when we walked in from the State Street entrance, you looked around and your eyes trained up, especially when we walked into the round atrium that, as a space, feeds the soul.
We went to the children’s library, to get books and to read. You pointed out the security, the police, like you always do, and the matronly officer who I wanted to call auntie spoke with a smile that you exchanged for one brighter than her own large grin. You walked around pulling titles, saying “This one” and “That one, daddy.” We sat on a multi-colored bench, the one like the old benches that you used to be in parks on the south side when I was a boy, before the city built shelters on corners, when churches like our family’s bought advertisements to tell people waiting on 95th or 87th or Halsted to come and worship.
After we read our first book, we went downstairs and thumbed through the four books we checked out because we would really read them later. You were excellent in quieting down and listening to three authors read excerpts from their fiction, listening and only occasionally murmuring, as if each of them was pulling you next to them, lowering their voices, and, for a few minutes, reading to you.
At HWLC for Story Week
If you are interested, the Harold Washington Library Center will host several authors this month, one event being in connection with the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department. Among the programs remaining are an event featuring Joyce Carol Oates, discussions with Jennifer Egan, Audrey Niffenegger and Regina Taylor, as well as readings and conversation with, again, Audrey Niffenegger, Karen Tei Yamashita, Gerard Woodward, and Alexis Pride. Visit chicagopubliclibrary.org for more information.