By Andrea K. Hammer
Our local train station, a microcosm of the larger community, is a study in contrasts. Whirring wheels slide into the depot for the first pickup of ambitious but sleepy riders. As the day unfolds, cars speed into the parking lot–hunting for premium spaces–or depositing family members and friends on the station platform.
Some jump onto the curb, without even the slightest look back. Others take a moment to pop out for a warm embrace before the day’s demands send them in different directions.
Inside the station, some bark gruffly, exhaling life’s accumulated frustrations of the day, week and year. Others pause to exchange a few words, a brief story or even a helpful referral–trying to connect despite acquired layers of armor and misleading or surface differences.
“Give a Book, Take a Book”
Before rushing off for the day’s appointments, a few reach out to each other anonymously. They pause at a small book shelf, searching for a good read. Following a handwritten invitation to “give a book, take a book,” curious onlookers kneel down to peruse the freely offered gifts.
On some days, the two shelves are packed with colorful children’s books, tattered romance novels, nonfiction works and even a few surprising literary pieces. Sometimes, the slim pickings reveal a discarded cast-off flung harshly on its broken back.
Despite a fondness for clean, crisp pages, some are drawn to the used books like magnets. They wonder: What stories could previous owners be willing to part with or feel compelled to share?
Even though overflowing bookcases at home beg for thinning, some struggle to relinquish these lifelong markers during a promised collection. Running out the door, they hastily grab a fluffy nibble from a once-admired author to deposit on the community shelf.
Now, in good conscience, they can make a fair exchange and collect a new prize.
Two trains, heading in opposite directions, pull into the station. Reluctantly moving away from the shelf with a new tale in hand, they think about reciprocity and the ways we connect directly or indirectly through our life stories.
Stepping onto the train and watching a considerate traveler remove packages to make a seat available, their hearts skip an unexpected beat. The simple book-shelf model surprisingly reverberates throughout the day–until the evening train rolls rhythmically back into the station, marking another story-filled day.
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