On a sleety day in rural Woodbury, the bright spot in my afternoon is the woman who walks to the library — a mile or so on slushy backroads because she and her partner have no vehicle. The truck died.
She checks out books, we talk about men and raising kids, the cost of living in Vermont. I’ve been working in rural libraries and schools long enough now that I quickly know who’s hard up versus who’s driving that old Subaru because an old Subaru might make them look a little less affluent. In the sogginess of March, my library visitor is sharp and funny, with an amusing eye for details. Sitting there, in the warm library, after a few hours of relative quiet to catch up on work, I winch, thinking of how carless-ness, unemployment, and rural Vermont can crowd up against a person.
When I leave, I drive her down the road to Hardwick, the two of us, talking, talking. It’s after 5, and while dusk isn’t far off, the day still holds light. She’s pragmatic about her chances for a ride back up the road. I never know. Then, just before she gets out, she asks for two dollars, for him, the boyfriend.
… understanding, and action proceeding from understanding and guided by it, is the one weapon against the world’s bombardment, the one medicine, the one instrument by which liberty, health, and joy may be shaped or shaped towards, in the individual, and in the race.