In the human library

Yesterday afternoon I was part of a “human library” at my granddaughters’ school. In two sessions of 15 minutes each, the Grade 11 students assigned to me — I’ll call them Emily and Rose — asked me questions and then took my “portrait” (a.k.a cell phone photo).

The girls were lovely. Not surprisingly, both wanted to know about being a writer — how did it happen and where did the stories come from? Emily also asked if I had a piece of advice or what I might say to a younger me. I told her about moving provinces and changing schools for Grade 12 and how homesick I’d been for my previous school and how lonely and self-conscious I was at first. What complicated that circumstance was that since two schools had amalgamated that summer, the students in each half knew each other and, I suppose, assumed I belonged to the other group. I told her I remember walking the hallway between classes by myself, thinking everyone must notice and consider me a loser (or whatever the term was then) for having no friends. Since I know better today, I said, my advice would be that people don’t notice as much as you think they do, but I would also say to that younger me, “It will all work out.” Which it did; eventually I made some friends.

Rose asked about a present challenge. Learning to live alone again, I said. My specific story this time was as recent as the day before, when I took the ferry to Vancouver Island. Simple enough, yes, but I’d never done it myself. New driving situations make me nervous. First, I couldn’t find my lane, and went to the going-to-Nanaimo section instead of going-to-Schwartz Bay. I anxiously circled about until I got to where I was supposed to be. Then when we arrived and I went down to the vehicle deck, I was disoriented in that field of tightly packed vehicles and couldn’t find my car anywhere. Until I finally did. IPhone Maps directed me to my destination on the Island and I had a wonderful visit with friends. On my return, I knew better what to do at the ferry. Small things perhaps, I told my sweet interlocutor, but we never stop learning. And when we stretch ourselves in spite of fear and the stretch is successful, it boosts our confidence.

As for my younger self, I’d mused to Emily that I would love to meet her. Back home, Human Library done, I thought further about such an encounter, not just Older Me looking at Younger Me but her seeing who she would become. Would she be surprised? Would we be satisfied with one another? Though we were slightly wary at first, it was strangely joyous to imagine our conversation.