The Other I

July 3, 2010

Souvenir of sin

Filed under: Just Stuff,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 7:43 pm

Driving along Rt. 80 through Pennsylvania last week, I listened to a National Public Radio report on National Library Week.  The reporter was discussing the current funding difficulties of our libraries, which led him to experience a public pang of guilt about a book in his possession.  It was five years over-due from his local library.

He mentioned this illicit possession to a head librarian and asked for advice.  She recommended that he contact X, which he did, who castigated him for the condition of the book.  He claimed it was in that condition five years ago.  X was unimpressed, but agreed to take the book back nonetheless.  He asked if he was going to have to pay the fine, and if so, how much it would be.  As I recall, it had accrued to about $350, but X was willing to let the long-term borrower escape with a tongue-lashing.

It reminded me of a greatly treasured book on my own shelves, a book given to me by my father shortly before he died.  It is The Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith, D.D., 4th edition published in 1904.

The outstanding characteristic of this book for me, however, is not its content, interesting and well-written as it is.  It is the fact that it had been signed out of the Akron Public Library, and was due after 28 days on May 19, 1942.  Dad said he hadn’t returned it because he hadn’t finished reading it yet.

I’m not sure exactly at what point an overdue book crosses the line to being a stolen book, but I would suspect that this particular copy of The Historical Geography of the Holy Land probably qualifies as stolen property.  So I googled the author and looked the book up on Amazon.  The library had officially noted that all the maps are missing in this copy, and so I suspect its value is well below the $16.94 being asked for a used copy published in 1894.

Still, I grew up in a family that graded various sins carefully, and stealing was not dismissed lightly.  You might think that our grading scale lacked a certain moral sophistication – eating meat on Friday could condemn one to eternal hell fire while telling a small lie merely merited some uncomfortable time in purgatory before going onto heaven.  Still, I still think that stealing, by and large, should be avoided under most circumstances.

But this dusty book with the missing maps means a lot to me.  It’s a reminder that even the most loved among us are sinners.  And that, somehow, delights me.  It sets me free.  And gives me greater hope for all of us.

Perhaps I will send a donation to the Akron Public Library.

But I’m keeping my overdue – err, stolen –  book.

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