The Library

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was a teacher, a teacher who loved to teach and who loved to learn and to help people to learn and change. And one day on his day off, he decided to take a walk.

He lived in the north of the city and he decided to take a walk down south, at just the appropriate speed, to walk right through the city and to come to the old city in the south … deep into areas that he had visited years ago, but hadn’t returned to them in a long long time because the north of the city seemed so interesting and it engaged so much of his attention. And as he was slowly walking deeper through the streets in the south, some of which he was walking for the first time, he came to an old old building with classical architecture and he saw the sign, and it said ‘Library of the Ages’, so he decided to … go inside … that’s right, he decided to go inside to learn something, because it’s good to learn, isn’t it? And when you go inside a library, you can start to become curious about what you might learn.

And it was a long long time ago before Google and the Internet and all of that stuff, so if you wanted to learn you had to … go into the library. And even now, with the world of Google, it’s still sometimes good to learn things the old-fashioned way and to keep the knowledge in your own head. Because when you have the knowledge in your own head, that means that you can begin to make connections… begin to make connections between old knowledge and new knowledge that you might not yet even understand, connections that might surprise you, or you mightn’t be surprised immediately, or you might just surprise yourself much later and whatever you choose, that’s ok. Because making connections between old memories and new resources in the library is so important for learning and for change.

And when the teacher went inside the library, he was surprised because the inside of the library was so much bigger than it had looked from the outside. There was so much to learn, so many resources that he hadn’t really known about … inside the library. And he was glad that he had decided to go inside to learn as much as possible. The teacher noticed that the library was quite different … and if you asked him how it was different, he might just reply … you need to go inside yourself to really begin to understand what I mean.

There were so many books inside, and all of those wonderful resources were arranged on shelves in rooms along a long hallway. This long long hall inside the library was fairly dim-lit as libraries tend to be, with that characteristic smell of books, and that musty taste on the air, and on each side of the hall there were rooms.

So he started walking down the hall and he walked into a room on his left and he looked around and all the books were shiny and new. He looked at a few of the titles and he thought that he recognised them. They all seemed quite familiar, so the teacher thought “I know all this”, and he went out of that room because he was looking for something much older … and he walked a little bit deeper into the library, deeper down that hall.

Then he noticed another room that stood out for some reason and he went into that room and saw that all the books were a little bit older, just a little bit more creased and dog-worn, and the smell was just that little bit different because books really do smell differently as they get older, don’t they. And he looked at a few of the books and he recognised some of them, and others he sort of recognised, as if they were things or books that he had once read and known but couldn’t quite remember anymore.

And he went out of that room and started to walk deeper into the library, down that long hall, until he came quite deep, a long way deep into the library, and realised that in each room that he had passed, the books were getting older and older, dustier and dustier, and that smell of old books was getting stronger and stronger. And the teacher thought, “is it strange to have a library that is organised chronologically, organised by time, so as you go deeper into the library, further along the hall, you find yourself seeing older and older books, further back in time.” It seems an interesting way to organise a library, and perhaps it’s the most useful way, and perhaps there are other ways to organise a library, for example by having to decide which books are most important and useful and relevant now and then figuring out how to make the most important books prominent in some way.

But we’re not librarians, and the teacher was in that library, not the library of our imagination, so he is the one who will decide how this story proceeds, and we can just stay in our own stories. And that teacher decided to go into a room that wasn’t quite at the very depth of the hall, but was very deep, so he went inside the room, and he looked around, and at random he pulled one of the books off the shelves. He opened it up and it was a children’s book and when he looked around the room, he noticed that all of the books in that room were children’s books and all quite dusty as if no-one had looked at or enjoyed some of these books in a long long time.

He began to look at the book and it was full of lovely pictures for children, and he read on the first page the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a teacher”, and he thought to himself, “that’s funny, you’re a teacher, wouldn’t it be funny if this book is all about you?”

So he looked at the book and he was looking at one of the pages, and there was a very small cute picture in the corner of a kids party. It was a small picture in black and white – just a simple sketch but evocative and memorable in some way. There was a little child there and the child was playing with friends and in front of the child was a birthday cake and in the background there was an old record player playing music. The teacher looked at the picture in the book and he smiled because it was funny. It reminded him of something and he wasn’t quite sure what it reminded him of.

Until suddenly there was a voice behind him that said “it’s good to remember the good times, isn’t it?”

He twirled around quickly and saw standing before him an older woman who was obviously a librarian. You know librarians. They have that look about them–they are always watching out, seeing things that other people don’t notice, and they know so much about books and how to learn.

“Yes,” said the teacher. “it does remind me of some good times, actually. It reminds me of a birthday party long long ago when I was just a kid, maybe just 7 years old. I had pretty much forgotten about it until now. It was a lovely party.”

As the teacher began to remember the party, other pictures started coming to mind and he began to remember the sounds of the party – the music playing and the people’s voices.”

The librarian looked at him and said, “Yes, sometimes a picture can really help a person to imagine that you’re right back at that time, seeing that scene out of your own eyes.”

And the teacher began to hear the words that people were saying and he could even smell the food and taste the amazing chocolate birthday cake. It was just wonderful. He could hear the music playing in that old record player.

And as he remembered back, the librarian helped him to remember in even more detail by asking simple questions like, “and is that picture that you see big, and is it vivid?” and “what would happen if you changed that picture into a movie?”

And as he remembered this happy memory, he just felt wonderful, more and more wonderful as he was able to  make that happier memory even better.

When he went home, he kept thinking about it and just felt great. And when he awoke the next day, he decided to go back to the library again. Because it was still his day off – teachers have lots of days off, you know. In fact, this was his summer vacation.

So once again, he walked deep down into the centre of the old city in the south, and once again, he decided to go inside. And he walked down, down down deep inside the library, even deeper until he came to that same room and when he saw the room, he was able to go inside and he went back to the same book, and he went back to the same page in that book and he noticed something really surprising.

Because the book was not what he remembered. The page looked different, quite different. When he had seen it the last time, there was just a small picture in black and white – just a simple sketch – he was almost sure of it. Yet today, it had become a big picture and was in full vivid colour. And the perspective had changed somehow because the child wasn’t in the picture. It was if the whole happy scene was been seen out of the child’s own eyes. And as he looked at it, the whole picture became alive and it was almost as if he was back in that event again. He could hear that music and feel so good.

He was also thinking to himself–this is not possible, is it? How could the pages in the book have changed? He thought, “I’m just imagining this”, and then he heard a noise behind him and there stood the librarian and she looked at him and she said, “You’re only imagining it, are you? Well, libraries are good places for imagining things, you know, and your mind is a powerful thing when you … learn to use it.” And she wandered off.

He was left alone again, wondering what did she mean when she said “your mind is a powerful thing when you learn to use it.” He walked out of the room, still feeling great and starting to become curious about what else might happen in this strange and wonderful place. He walked a long way back up along the long hallway up towards the door of the library. And as he passed one door, he felt a strong impulse to go inside that room. So he did go inside that room and it was full of books, books that looked a little newer than the children’s book that he had seen, yet still quite dusty as if no-one had read them or cleaned them out in a long time.

At random, yet somehow knowing what he was going to find, he chose a book from one of the shelves and again, the picture and the words in the book reminded him very much of something that had happened in his own life. For the pictures were much too bright and big and vivid for his taste … the angry face of a beautiful young woman. And in words too harsh was described a breakup of a teacher from his fiancé. Just like in his own life, when a few short years ago it seemed, yet it was really quite a bit longer than that. He couldn’t ever seem to forget it and he couldn’t seem to move beyond that time.

And he thought to himself, “I just wish I could tear that whole chapter out of the book.” because each time that he thought of his own memory, it brought him such pain and heartache, even though it was a long long time ago.

And he didn’t realise that he had said these words out loud, yet there again, behind him stood the librarian and she said, “you can’t tear out a chapter from a book. That chapter is part of the book. And each book in the library is useful in certain ways.”

He looked around and said, “but this chapter reminds me of something so sad – every time I remember it, it just brings back the horrible words and feelings and I just wish that I could tear it out.”

And the librarian looked at him and said, “well, you can’t tear it out, but your mind is a powerful thing when you .. learn to use it… perhaps you understand already that the only one who can really help you to learn and to change is … you. And you know how to change it … now … don’t you… when you … really begin to use the resources of the library?”

And the teacher began to look at the book and he noticed that the terrible picture of that horrible time was a big and bright picture with vivid colours, and he could see the angry angry face of the woman just before she walked away for the last time … as if he were looking out of his own eyes … and he could hear the words of their quarrel sounding in his head again … and he felt so terrible.”

And the teacher thought to himself, “you changed the other picture somehow, didn’t you? Perhaps somehow you can change this picture, too.”

“Well,” said the librarian. “Perhaps you might like to compare it with the picture on the opposite page.”

The teacher looked at the picture on the opposite page and it reminded him of another incident in his own life around the same time that he had almost forgotten about–a dispute that had seemed important at the time, yet it seemed ok to forget about it quickly. And that picture was very different – it was smaller and in black and white and down in the corner of the page. And what was particularly interesting was that he could see himself in the picture, or at least someone who looked remarkably like him.

“It’s completely different,” he said.

“That’s right,” said the librarian. It is quite a different representation, isn’t it, and maybe that’s the difference that made the difference. So if you like, just go ahead now and close your eyes and imagine that picture that has made you unhappy until now is different. Because when you close your eyes… yes just like that… perhaps you don’t need to look out of your own eyes – instead you can imagine seeing yourself in that picture, and notice how the feelings begin to change … now … and if you change that picture from full colour into black and white, just let the colours melt away … and shrink it right down … so small that it only occupies a small unimportant location in the corner of the page … and let those sounds, those words that were with the picture … make them slower and quieter until they just float away peacefully … make them distant as if they are coming from a long long way away.”

And the teacher did all of that, and he opened his eyes, not daring to look at the book for a long time. And when he did look at the book, he couldn’t even remember what the page had looked like before or whether it really had changed or not, but he realised that his feelings had totally changed. He realised that that event was over, and it was time for him to put it in the past and to just move forward. But he learned something even more important–he learned that some things can not be destroyed or taken away, but they can be changed by learning to perceive them in a different way.

And as he left the library, he asked at the front desk if he could speak to the old librarian who had helped him. The young lady looked at him strangely and said, “I’m sorry, Sir, there is no-one who works here who looks like that.

The teacher said, “but that’s not possible – I saw her just a few minutes ago.”

The young librarian smiled at him and said, “It’s funny, isn’t it? People can get so lost in their thoughts here that some things are possible in the library that you might not have thought were possible … but what I love is that when you go out into the real world, the real world outside may be the same, but when you learn from the resources in the library, you change, and your perception of that outside world will never be the same. It’s as if you can create a new map for the world with the resources of the library. The library is such a wonderful place to learn and change. And I always look at each person as they pass and think, ‘I wonder what you will learn today.'”

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