O Death, where is your sting?

Every Friday I host the book giveaway on Hastings street at 2:30. It’s been a long tradition of the Carnegie library, and it’s a real highlight of my work. It’s also “rain or shine” so most Friday mornings I’m scouting the weather, wondering if I’ll have to bust out the tent and brave a rainstorm!

All of the materials are donated, rather than discarded library items. Everything from books, DVDs, VHS, magazines, once in awhile some vinyl or cassettes, calendars, journals, etc. As a result, there is a pretty dedicated crew waiting for myself and an assistant to arrive. Obviously, some of the folks are selling their finds up the street at the Street Market, but I figure that eventually the books will get into the hands of someone who might read them.  And… as long as they aren’t stealing directly from the Library, I don’t actually care what happens to the material.

Some days it’s a battle and I have to scold grown men (and sometimes women) to move along and allow other people to browse when I know they’ve been hoarding stuff. At the same time, it’s not my job to discipline people, and everything technically was “free.” It’s more that other patrons have a keen sense of fairness and want their chance to browse. I’ve even witnessed one guy chase a hoarder down the alley, and a few punches have been thrown in the past! My latest strategy is to bring out four boxes for the mob scene, and once it mellows I’ll bring out another tote for more casual perusing.

It’s the honest, raw interactions on the street that I cherish the most. Even though the Carnegie Centre is pretty accessible, there is still a strict no alcohol / no drugs policy which can be a barrier for some street entrenched people. So, while I do aim to promote library services and encourage people to get cards, I’m also happy just chatting folks up about the books on-hand and their interests. I love the randomness like when I get introduced to someone’s pet rat, or find myself accepting strange gifts like a wedge of tangerine direct from the most intense woman’s sweaty palm… and eating it without a second thought… until later, when I wonder about my own sanity.

The conversations that emerge are some of the most bizarre, wonderful, magical interactions I have ever had. Countless times someone has picked up the “exact” book that they need, that they had been seeking, which triggers the sharing of a life story. At first glance you see a young bedraggled man just shaking and stuttering, he is seemingly drug-induced, but if he can focus on you, it is revealed that he is an avid reader of Classics and Literature. As a child he would read anything just to ignore the violence around him, and the speech impediment that alienated him. You cannot take anyone at face value… both the good, and the bad.

Last week I was speaking with a woman as we were wrapping up, and somehow we get into the topic of dreams and visions. Her daughter could be described as a mystic considering the many times she had predicated strange happenings or received some spiritual gift. One time, they were at the funeral of a young cousin who had over-dosed. It was a terrible mistake of taking what he thought was a sleeping pill, purchased on the street, to discover that it was comparable to Fentanyl… deadly.

At the funeral the grandmother placed a care package in the coffin. She was heart-broken. Several months later, the daughter had a dream. Her cousin was there in vivid colour, he wanted to celebrate and have a drink! The daughter hesitated, but then found out that her cousin had finally received the package!  He was so delighted by the letter, the socks, the hoodie, the bottle of his favourite booze. It was a wonderful dream.

The next day, the daughter knew she had to call her grandmother. She explained the dream in detail, and was met with silence. She panicked, thinking that it had been too soon, the grief was still too raw. But then, through her tears the grandmother managed to call back and explain that the dream was the greatest gift, and how over-joyed she was.  The contents of the package were correct, and she had told no one what was inside. The vision brought her deep peace… her message of love had been received.

It’s actually quite regularly that I hear supernatural stories, either connected with death, or near-death experiences in this neighbourhood. I don’t think that is a coincidence. There is obviously a lot of tragedy, strange things keep happening, things I did not need to know, and I wonder how can people process all this violence… Some cannot, or at least do not process it in a healthy way. But then I hear glimmers of light, and visions of the unexplainable, and I know everything will be O.K.

O death, where is your sting?

Caravaggio

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