The Library Trap
For a person like yours truly the Dallas Public Library has a dangerous system. Suppose you check out a book. It will be due in three weeks. But after only eighteen days or so, if no one else has requested the book, the Dallas library will automatically renew it for you. You don’t have to ask; it happens automatically. On top of that, your book can be renewed up to 99 times. You check it out, and you may have nearly 300 weeks before you have to bring it back.
Recently our library (along with much of the city government) suffered a ransomeware attack. We couldn’t renew books; we couldn’t use the online catalogue; they sent us emails asking us not to return books until the situation was resolved. After a couple of months, it was.
So I got notices that six books I had requested were now waiting for me at my local branch. I went there with three books to return—the reader might notice that this ratio, pick up six but return three, indicates neither a secure grasp on the finitude of time nor the finitude of shelf space. After I checked out my books, the clerk noted that I had about 23 books overdue. The auto-renewal function had been messed up by the ransomeware attack.
She looked up and stared at me. With serious voice she asked, “Do you still have all of these?”
I could appreciate her wonderment. For a couple of them, there were only 40 renewals left, meaning they had been renewed already almost 60 times. Sixty renewals equals 180 weeks that I have had those books. Indeed, I got them B.C., before Covid. Why do I still have them? We might need a psychiatrist to answer that question.
But her question was easier. “Yes, I still have them.”
So they were renewed. And here we go again.
The earth spins 365 times, and we add one to our age. There’s not much difference between one summer and the last, one winter and the next. It’s clear this is not 1993 (I’m writing on a computer at home) nor is it 2053 (I’m writing on a computer at home). But it’s not so clear that it’s not 2022 or 2024.
The earth spins on, our days tick by, and yet, sometimes, there is a very important day. We say a vow that ends “until we are parted by death.” We hold a new baby. We kneel at a casket. We sign a mortgage. We pay off a mortgage. Ordinary things that lots of people do, and yet for us each of them is done on a special day.
We act as if there will always be another day, and yet we know (if we think about it) that it is important that there come a day for us that has no successor. I don’t know what those guys are thinking about who are trying to find a cure for mortality. Mortality, of course, is not a disease; it is a definition. I cannot imagine a world in which no one dies. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Which means that someday I’ll have to return all those books. But for now, it looks like I have at least 120 weeks, the pleasant illusion that this can go on forever.
Out & About. This weekend I am to preach at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City: Sat, July 15, at 5:30 p.m., and Sun, July 16, at 8 and 10 a.m.
The next “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will be at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas, on Sun, Sept 10, at 5 p.m. We will discuss Christopher Beha’s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts.
On the Web. The estimable Mark Noll has an essay on the importance of Methodism in the formation of the American people, and the complexities of focusing on personal conversion alone. It offers “the sobering lessons of early American Methodism.” You’ll find it in the also estimable quarterly Comment. Methodists in a sense made America, and I now have a better sense of how: https://comment.org/spiritual-renewal-and-social-transformation/