Bridges Not Walls
Checking Out From The Human Library
Fairfield University student Margaret Moore and librarian Barbara Ghilardi collaborate on lending Moore as a human “book” to share her story with others.
When the student is ready the book will come, and I met the book that has planted another thorny rose in my heart—at The Human Library. What is the Human Library? It’s the simple but powerful movement for change sweeping the globe to hundreds of venues in over 70 countries since its beginnings in Denmark in 2000.
Real people with real stories to tell volunteer to become “human books.” You can check them out for compassionate conversation. To learn. To connect. To talk about the hard stuff and those things that truly matter. “How are we to understand each other, if we do not have the opportunity to talk to each other?” asks the Human Library founder, Ronni Abergel.
When one of Fairfield University’s librarians at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library, Barbara Ghilardi, discovered the Human Library, she and her colleagues recognized a way to build bridges, and “help bring people together.” They brought the public happening to the school’s library in 2016 with a sequel last fall featuring 41 people on loan to some 500 readers. “We can see a part of us in someone else to find we’re encountering ourselves,” Ghilardi says. “Readers begin to learn they can talk and listen and that they might find common ground. Our books feel they’ve been understood and heard.”
As an incurable bibliophile who’s fallen in literary love with every library I’ve ever known—I couldn’t resist. Books have always sustained me.
I “borrowed” Margaret Moore. Margaret is a young Fairfield University student and writer now famous to the friends who love her, and those privileged to meet this unconquerable soul as unforgettable as any hero from literature. Her book in progress, Breathless, is about her life.
Moore made me think about my own struggles. Almost four decades ago, I lost my first born child, Jonathon—just 68 days old—to a rare form of cancer. He died in my arms, and I still grieve. I have spent a lifetime, it seems, studying and struggling to find some faith, hope, meaning. I’ve travelled many miles of print in my spiritual quest, and know I would have been drowned in all the sorrows of the world but for my beloved books.
At a library table, Meg spoke to me in a mechanical voice like Stephen Hawking, because due to lack of oxygen at birth and resulting cerebral palsy, she must navigate the world from a wheelchair—speaking and living with the aid of machines. She’s writing her memoir, and had decided to become a human book, too.
On social media, you can see her as a baby and a child; as a Girl Scout and in an evening dress; at chapel, on a running track, parasailing or zip lining—and speaking to audiences about tearing down walls, and telling of her triumph. Her club, Project Yes You Can, challenges us to overcome our own obstacles through service.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about how much a disabled person can really do,” Moore explains. She wants to “break stereotypes,” and for us “to learn how much people can do … and that regardless of whether they have a disability, they can achieve anything they set their minds to.”
Meg’s book will be her bridge of love to the world. Her story about how to be brave for life, and to live with grace, hope, and fearless spirit.
I know her life has meaning to teach us, as there is meaning and purpose for all our lives— “put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love,” as William Blake writes.
“We each stand alone at the heart of the world, pierced by a ray of sunlight,” wrote poet Salvatore Quasimodo, “and suddenly it is evening.” But we need not stand alone, or be afraid. In the light that is ours, from the heart of our world: we can reach out to one another.
Some travel the world in search of story, but I have learned there is a deep anthology, and a world of stories from the human library all around us. And this stranger I still hardly know has taken hold of my heart. The Human Library will return to Fairfield University on November 8.
After a lifetime of words writer Brenda Ueland concluded, “This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.” It is why we write; it is why we read. To overcome the walls which keep us apart.