When I hired on at the Salt Lake City Public Library, I was hired for the morning schedule. But my department has been short handed lately, and I have been more than willing to help out covering some evenings. It is a different feel at the library at night, a little different crowd which haunts the shelves in the evenings. Its been kind of refreshing becoming familiar with a different batch of regulars.
Last night, as I was wandering the floor and picking up books left on the tables and chairs, I was approached by an unfamiliar face. He politely introduced himself, and with concern pointed over to another patron.
“That man over there,” he insisted, “is making a racket. I can’t concentrate.” I recognized the culprit as one of our eccentric regulars, a plain looking man in perhaps his late fifties. I’d always thought he looked vaguely familiar, but never bothered to determine from where. He frequents the library in the evenings, perpetually mumbling to himself as he pulls seemingly random books from the stacks. Occasionally he gets agitated and becomes a little loud. When that happens, we discreetly calm him down, and he never presents a problem. Last night his ramblings had been within a volume acceptable by our library’s standards.
When I expressed this to the concerned patron, he became indignant. “You aren’t going to do anything about him?” He demanded incredulously. He wasn’t interested in moving to another of the couple hundred seats around the library. He just wanted the offender removed. When I confirmed that I indeed would not take action, he demanded my name so that he could report me. “This is outrageous! I’m leaving and never coming back here again. This is why the taxpayers, whose taxes pay your salary, get upset; the library is becoming a refuge for crazies and the homeless.”
I told him I was sorry he felt that way, and that he was more than welcome to share his concerns with administration.
As I went about my responsibilities, I couldn’t stop thinking about the exchange. The more I thought, the more exasperated I became. This isn’t the first time I’d seen the library criticized for tolerating the “crazies and homeless.” Those crazies and homeless are people too, citizens and fellow brothers and sisters. They may have problems more visible than the “average” person, but that doesn’t mean their problems justify ostracism. They too deserve to be accepted as human beings. Conservatives like to talk about being self-reliant; how are these people supposed to become self-reliant and lift themselves up if they are banned from the very places where they can learn? The arrogance, the gall of this person to insist that simply because this person wasn’t “normal” that he had no right to community resources, such as a library!
When I returned to the reference desk, I related the experience to my coworker. Once again, I got an incredulous response.
“He wanted us to throw Kim out?”
This “disruptive” patron was none other than Kim Peek—the Rain Man.
I wonder What might this man have done had he been told that this was no homeless schmuck, but a brilliant (if challenged) man who has travelled the world? That he might be labeled by some as a “crazie,” but that he was still a functional member of society who posed no threat to anyone—on the contrary, who was seen by not a few as an inspirational figure? Would he still want him tossed, or might he show Kim a little compassion and empathy? Too bad we will probably never find out, that this man will not have his prejudices challenged.
How sad that so many in society are so willing to judge and exclude others. If they act strangely, they must be homeless or crazy. If they are poor, they must be lazy or immoral. If they have an addiction or suffer emotional illness, they are obviously weak-willed and corrupted. We don’t want that around our families or communities. Banish them, so they don’t inconvenience us with their existence.
Somehow, I don’t think this is what the Savior would do. I remember him gladly accepting, even seeking out, the outsiders, the poor and disenfranchised. He did not seek to further disenfranchise others. Perhaps if we sought to empathize with and serve these purported “crazies and homeless, as He did, we could work the same sort of miracles among them as did He. At the very least, we could ease a lot of suffering and pain.
I’m glad to be working for an institution that consciously chooses to pursue a policy of liberal acceptance and inclusiveness. It just makes me love my job that much more.