I try to be circumspect in how I discuss my co-workers, not so much generally, but in the specific. The foibles of a basically decent co-worker are certainly fodder for this blog, but not if they can't be separated some from the actual person, and tempered by that person's virtues even as that person is disguised. Curiously, it is always a delight and surprise to me, but some of my co-workers read this blog, and I have no wish to wound or to expose them.
But some don't read this blog. And some are not quite in that "basically decent" category.
While I suspect it is an immutable law of humanity that all people have some virtues, some people have cut wrecking paths through life. Occasionally those wrecking paths are run right through my work world. They have burned and scarred ground in the history of my library. And while these people are great for stories and staff unity, for the bizarre carnival colorings of our world, we should not lose sight that they are destroyers, and by their very nature have eschewed our protection. On the contrary, if we have any job it is to watch these people, keep them in check, and speak truth to them. Patching the wounds people like this inflict on the public and sometimes on my colleagues, for instance, is as much my job as is registering library cards. And speaking about a person like this with more clarity and lack of forgiveness than of a co-worker who is trying, is, to my mind, not just fair, but right.
And so I come to report today that one of these people is leaving us, retiring. I can see her now through the window I am sitting near, as I am typing, on my dinner break. My association with her is long and I still feel a certain kind of affection for her, a slight touch of sympathy. I am surprised it has survived, though there have been many times in our history where it has gone dark altogether. Like I said, small virtues, a sense of humor, playfulness even, can be readily apparent in her. Also like I said, all have some virtues, but a few flowers poking up through burnt and ruined ground makes for some heartbreaking poignancy while still remaining a long way from healing that ground. She has committed no great or singular crimes that I know of. Whatever evil is there is truly mundane and almost easy to forget, especially in these quieter days, when her fangs have dulled and her effect has been quieted by poor health, a mellowing of age and a diffusion of her personality in a changed Library dynamic. It would not be so hard to take the small virtues, the sins made comical by softening time, and the fact that it is over, that in a way it has been over for awhile, to say an almost nostalgic goodbye. There goes one of our own. There goes someone who has been part of what defined this place for thirty years. There goes someone around whom so much spent drama was once spun. There goes someone who we will never really be able to explain to the workers to come. There is no way to convey that persecuted, Eeyore gruffness of hers, that intensely unwelcoming approach to the patrons, that profound unhelpfulness. Who would believe it? The newer people already don't really understand who she is, not now that there are worse people, worse in a modern way, failing all of us and this place in a way that is contemporary. She is history. Couldn't we just wave as she drifts off into the horizon, shed a (metaphorical) tear for lost youth, different times, and long faded grievance?
She hurt a lot of people. She hurt a lot of people. Maybe none so much that anyone carries so much of a wound anymore. There is that. But. People cried in the bathroom after encounters with her. They were locked in months long pitched battles about nothing, that they could not choose not to fight. She alone in her time filed more grievances than all the other people in my library system put together over that same time period. Thousands of patrons had their days ruined by that needlessly grudging, antagonistic, unhelpful woman. Some feared her. And none of it, not for a second, was for something constructive. It was always to serve some unresolved horror in herself, to protect her from any change, any self examination, and any reckoning.
Do I want her to read this? No. Do I want to hurt her? No. Would I be delighted at her self reflection, apology, and pursuit of redemption? I would be amazed and dazzled. But I do not believe it is coming. And to you great cultural purveyors of forgiveness I say this:
I sit here of sound mind and heart. My spirit is calm and without rancor and whole. Forgiveness is beautiful and powerful and profound, but forgiveness is only disrespected when bestowed unsought and unasked. And contrary to all you may have heard, wrongly given, it does not ennoble and heal the heart from which it issues, rather it degrades it because it plays too light with truth, and no heart can be sound without truth. The uncountable, dazzling thousands of stabs of pain my co-worker has inflicted stand in the small fabrics of history forever, and though I suppose it is possible for every one of them to heal in their victim's hearts, there is no chance of absolution without her, and the book of these deeds belongs open, forever.
My co-worker is leaving. The time when that would have engendered a profound relief and joy is passed. Now the newer people can merely see it is a good thing, and the veterans are merely... amazed. I don't believe I have ever had a colleague leave the Library without my feeling at least some touch of sadness. I have traveled a long way with this one and that touch is not so small here. But as long as there is a single star in the sky it will stand testament to the grief you have sown in this world, just as it will stand testament to the joy.