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Life Lifter: "As a book caretaker, you become a full man."
I know it's a luxury of my life that I get to think this, and yet I sometimes find myself wondering what I'm really doing here. Here in my life, I mean. Reading my kid a picture book about the rain forest the other day sent me into a mental tailspin. The rainforests! Are getting destroyed! What am I doing about it? Nothing! I don't volunteer, I don't donate large sums of money, I don't save the children (except my own, of course, when they teeter off the playground equipment). I don't even use cloth diapers! I'm part of the problem! Of course (and here come the excuses of which we all have so many) what could I do that would really make an impact without turning my life upside down, or maybe it needs to be turned upside? (And don't say use cloth diapers.)
So it was like something chimed in my chest when I read this BBC News story about Hernando Guanlao, a 60-something book lover in Manila who turned his private book collection into a lending library for his community. Twelve years ago, his parents died and Guanlao was looking for a way to honor their memory. Since he had shared with them a love of reading, he decided to put his books -- 100 or so -- outside his house, encouraging people to borrow them on an honor system. Over a decade later, his collection has swelled to the thousands, providing reading material to a community in which few people can afford to buy books and there is not a public lending library. Guanlao told the BBC, "It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That's why it multiplies like that. The books are telling me they want to be read... they want to be passed around."
Books now overtake nearly all of Guanlao's home -- and life, since he quit his job in order to run the library, living off his savings. And this, as you may guess, was what spoke to me so eloquently. Here is a man who has found a way to combine a wish to help others with his personal passion, and it's changed not just his community's life, but his own. There was of course risk here -- he may well have lost all his books, in a place where books are expensive. And yet, as he told the BBC, "You don't do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box. A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man." Words which should be inscribed on every overstuffed bookcase everywhere, probably. (Read the full article to learn Guanlao's plans for even more intrepid and creative book-sharing.)
Guanlao offers another gift, too, even to those of us too remote to visit his library: a reminder that sometimes, when you're least expecting it, a need dovetails with your passion, and your life's mission finds you.
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