By Andrew Taylor-Troutman
I am a huge fan of little libraries—the wooden boxes found outside schools, businesses, homes, even along wooded trails. My buddy, David, built one in our Chapel Hill neighborhood, and I leave books there, which I feel gives me permission to take the occasional book from others I happen upon. The spirit of the little library is to pay it forward and share a gift with someone else, possibly a complete stranger.
While shopping in the new year, I paused at the little library in the Carr Mill parking lot in Carrboro. My eye caught a familiar paperback bearing the smiling face of a young Dalai Lama. I’d read “The Art of Happiness” in graduate school more than a decade ago. I flipped open the book and found a personal inscription on the title page: “To Samuel. Love, Mom.” I felt a bolt of anger straighten my spine! How could this son give away a present from his mother? What an ungrateful jerk!
I considered my forceful reaction. Was it possible that I was over-identifying with this situation? I am a parent, including a child with the same name.
I remembered that the Dalai Lama speaks of finding one’s happiness through acts of compassion toward others. This is counter-cultural in America, especially as we are told that we need to buy stuff to make us happy.
Underneath the dedication in the book, this mother had copied wisdom from the book: “A life’s work, one day at a time, is to be happy.” I resonated with that: What if her son Samuel was my age? What if he wished to honor his mom by passing along this wisdom? After all, this was the true spirit of the little library. Maybe he was paying tribute to her.
I returned the book, but not before breathing compassion to Samuel, his mom, and the next person to come to this little library, possibly to leave with the Dalai Lama’s book. That day, while I left empty-handed, I felt as though I’d taken something with me. Let’s call it happiness.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the author of several books. He serves as pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church.
-Andrew Taylor-Troutman ( email@example.com )