In the Silence

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My roommate and I rush out of the cold wind and into the safety of the building. We turn left and walk down a hall, open a door. We make a 180° turn and begin the last leg of our journey. A professor smiles at me. I halfheartedly return his greeting, but the sober nature of my trip doesn’t allow it to reach my eyes. I suspect he knows why.

I follow my roommate past a couple offices. One is empty. The other contains a professor dialoguing with a student. I reach my destination. Several other students are already milling about. Some are kneeling at the lower bookshelves. Others stand back and survey the scene. I enter. I take a place by the desk, leaning gently against the chair that has lacked a professor for far too long. I swallow.

In that holy silence, a friend points out a letter posted above the desk. I read it, blinking back tears. The room holds steady. No one says more than a few words. We look at each other, share a moment of deep, silent conversation, and return to our search. Every so often, someone leans forward, takes a book, and runs a finger down its side, sliding it from its place on the shelf. After several moments of considering, I do the same.

Again and again, over and over, one or another of us reach out, touch a book, flip through the pages. We smile softly at the handwritten notes. After a few seconds of deciding, I take another for my stack. I place a different one back on the shelf. Book after book, held again. Pages are flipped through, memories flash by, time stands still.

Occasionally, the silence is broken by someone shuffling in or out, by quiet greetings or murmurs of comfort. A professor stops in to check on us. We respond only as is necessary for courtesy. He watches us for a few moments, then leaves. Still we stand in the silence. The room isn’t very large, but there is plenty of room.

There, in the silence, we delay. A hand on an elbow, a broken smile, a shaky breath. We are grieving. Yet we are celebrating. We are growing together, moving forward as a tight community. No one wants to leave the office. Though Dr. Libby has gone home to Heaven, we remain clustered in her office, breathing in the air, glancing out the window, resting in the community.

I stare at the bookshelves a while longer. I find several books on poetry. I didn’t realize she owned so much. I take a few in my hands, flip through the pages, and feel the weight of centuries of poets. I add some of those to the novels I’ve collected. I find a commentary on a book of the Bible. She has several commentaries on it. I take one, mentally noting that she must have loved that letter written so long ago. My roommate hands me a few more poetry books. I cradle them tenderly.

Finally, I decide my selection is complete. I step to the side, kneel, and begin adhering labels to each book. Someone has kindly provided them. They read, “In Loving Remembrance / From the Library of Dr. Bonnie Libby.” I swallow another wave of tears. After each book has been lovingly labeled, I gather my books. My roommate helps me. I didn’t realize I had taken so many. But each was carefully chosen. And there are still plenty for the others.

Nodding quietly to our fellow lit majors, we exit the room. Back down the hall, out the door, 180° turn, up another hall, right turn now, and back into the cold, wet January day. We’ve passed a few of our peers on the way. Some look away, giving us privacy. Others engage us in conversation, lightening our weary souls. About halfway back to our dorm, we give in to the tears. Our aching hearts break at the weight of books that are suddenly ours, books that belonged to a woman of God whom we greatly loved and who greatly loved us. Books that had become ours because she went Home and left them here. Books that had been given to the professors and literature majors by her amazingly gracious family. Books that should not be sitting on my desk right now, but by some strange mix of grief and grace, they are.

What a gift it is to be given something in memory of a beloved friend or mentor! What an undeserved blessing! This is not the only gift I have recently received. Dr. Libby’s books are sitting on my desk, and soon they will be joined by a golf ball that was once rescued by the late Charles Wingfield, my much beloved pastor. Though these beloved friends have gone Home, we have been granted stones of remembrance in a way. Let us not mark the graves of Dr. Libby and Charles with questions of where God has gone. Rather, let us set a stone of remembrance beside their graves, that some day we might look back and know that the LORD has done a great thing, and that someday we too will be Home.

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