Blessings in the Library

(if you are viewing this via email, the website has a recording of this poem and commentary; click the title above)

[Note: this was partly a writing exercise, for which I requested and received(!) encouraging feedback on Facebook]

“Can you show me how to write a letter where people can read it?”

The patron seemed to be mentally competent, so I sat her down at a computer and launched Word with a blank new page.

The cursor blinking in the upper left didn’t mean anything to her. “Where do I start writing?”

“See this thing blinking here? It shows you where you are on the page. Just start typing.”

She started pecking with two fingers. “I don’t spell very well. Can you help me with that?”

“I’ll come back and check on you in a couple of minutes. And I’ll help you with spelling.” I returned to the reference desk.

A few minutes later, I checked in on her. She had typed about three lines, all upper case, and with no space between many of the words.

“Do you really want to write that in all capital letters?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. How about if we put spaces between these words?”

“Do words need spaces between them?”

“Yeah, most of the time. You can move the cursor around with the mouse or with these arrows. Yep, just like that. And you can start a new paragraph by pushing this key. You’re doing great.”

I headed back to the reference desk. “Amazing,” I thought. The patron was doing exactly what I have urged highly educated people to do when they have a hangup with writing: she was writing the words she’d say if she were speaking to someone. But in all caps…. Oh well.

An hour passed. The patron called me over. “I’m finished. Can you take a look?”

She had me sit in front of the computer, and pulled up a chair to sit beside me.

“You changed it all to lower case! That looks better. Shall I read it and make some corrections?”

“Please do.”

I read out loud, just loud enough for her to hear me, and corrected some spelling and punctuation as we went along. “I’m not going to correct everything, okay?” It needed to be her voice, not the voice of an old white guy with more education than brains.

This was the patron’s account of a traumatic event. She needed it for a court appearance. Now and then, I’d get to a part where I felt it necessary to say, “I’m going to read this part under my breath.” I think she understood why I was doing that, although she clearly didn’t require as much privacy as I do.

Close to the end, she wrote something along these lines: “I wasn’t going to let them do this to me… not after God had turned my life around.”

Having corrected as much as I felt was appropriate, I printed and stapled two copies for her to take.

“God bless you,” said the patron. I could tell she meant it. “And God bless you,” I answered.

— Brad Hepp, 10/21/2023

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