A Patron's Wisdom at the Library

by Bill Peak

I can't remember the first time Andy came in to the library. Was he already using a walker then? I don't know, I don't think so, but it's been so long now I can't be sure. I know he was already disabled. That's probably what most people notice first about Andy, the fact that—though he is still a relatively young 63—he has trouble walking around, indeed walks like an old man. But then you notice the smile. Despite the fact he's handicapped, despite the walker, Andy's always going somewhere, always getting on with his life ... and, as if, like you, he can't quite believe this has happened to him, he almost always has a sort of wry smile on his face. Andy takes things one at a time. Despite his setbacks, he finds humor in life and also, I believe, from time to time, a little joy.

He was riding a bicycle when it happened, riding along the side of the road, enjoying the day, the wind on his face, the scenery floating by at that gentle pace only two wheels, some pedals, and a chain can provide. And then, like something out of “Jurassic Park,” a car roared up behind him, struck Andy in the back and tossed him into the air. Tossed him into another universe really, an entirely different and utterly altered world.

The driver of course was high, drugs or booze, I can't remember which, but it was something. Something dumb, something stupid. It's so often the stupid things that get us, the slip on the ice, the burner left on, the mortgage payment going unstamped into the mail. It's bad enough that life must contain suffering, but when it's something stupid that causes the suffering ... well, we want to throw up our hands and cry. And the fact the guy didn't have any insurance (of course), paid not a dime toward Andy's rehabilitation ... well, sometimes that can get to Andy too. Though he's not a native Eastern Shoreman, like a native Eastern Shoreman Andy has an eye for the failings of our modern world, and he can rail against the injustice of it all with the best of them.

But he never does so long. He pushes his walker over to where I sit at the Reference Desk, tells me the latest outrage (he has cataracts now, his wrists have developed arthritis from scooting that walker along all these years, his sister is ill ... his sister has died), but then there's something in Andy that can't quite give up on life. Proof of that? He's not complaining to a bartender about his problems, he's complaining to the guy working the library's Reference Desk. Because his real reason for being there is he wants help looking up something about plains Indians, or finding that Time-Life book about Tito and the partisans in World War II. Andy's still interested in life, still thinking, still growing.

Not too long ago I found him sitting out in the library's lounge area reading The Star Democrat. I knelt by his chair and we talked for a while. There was the usual catalogue of setbacks—Andy's body sometimes seems to be rebelling against him one nerve ending at a time—but once he'd updated me on the latest indignities conferred by that idiot driver, he cocked a smile at me and said, “Yeah, but football season's about to begin ... greatest time of the year.”

Andy is one of my heroes. Most of us, sooner or later, will get to know the doubtful pleasures of relying upon a walker to get around, the agonies of inflamed joints, the sadness of watching the world grow dim as cataracts crowd one's eyes. I just hope when my time comes I'm as wise as Andy, that I find my consolation not in a jar of beer, but in the Talbot County Free Library.