Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moral quandary

I -- … That is, I --  … Better to just come right out and say it.  Deep breath.  …  I … --   … -- I --
=>        ihaveanoverduelibrarybookkthxbai

(Pause for meditation and spiritual retreat.)
Let’s try that again.

I, Dr J, being of sound mind and in full possession of my faculties, and not writing under any external duress,  do here avow and aver, that on this very desk before me now, there lies an overdue library book.  The facts are not in dispute:  It was due yesterday.   And yet, acting of my own Free Will, that very faculty whereby our Maker distinguishes us from the paramecia, I intend to retain it, all day long, as the big hand and the little hand  sweep the clockface on their appointed rounds;  and not to return it until tomorrow.

You laugh, you scoff.  But library etiquette was drilled into us at a tender age -- it was, in a sense, our first introduction to the larger public morality, outstretching and overarching the little lessons of the home.   Materially, the library fine (a dollar a day) is nothing -- I can easily afford it, and indeed am happy to contribute to our fine and friendly local library.   Yet such fines were our first hint that society at large would hold us responsible for our transgressions.
I log on to my account, and check “Items Out”.  And there it is:  The title, hitherto a soothing blue, now glows an angry red. O-VER-DUE !!!

I picture attending a meeting of ODLBA.

Hi, I’m Tim, and I am a library-abuser.  I harbor a book that has been overdue for thirty-five years.

I’m Bob.  Tim -- that’s nothing.  I have a library book that has been overdue since 1066.  My ancestors brought it over on the Mayflower, and it has been passed down as a family heirloom ever since.

(Confusion among the attendees.)  1066 ?

Bob:  Yes.  It came over with the Conquerer -- and I suspect it had been overdue already for several centuries even then.

Roy (sobbing):  I harbor over sixty-seven thousand overdue library books.  I had to build an addition on the house, to store them all.

I picture St. Peter, when I shall face him at last, having suffered centuries in Purgatory to abye my many sins, stroking his beard before he finally lets me in:  “Dr J, there is still the little matter of that bunny book you borrowed back in kindergarten, and never returned.”
“I--  I lost it…”
Absolvo te.”

[For a denunciation of the tardy book-returner in wrathful Latin, click here.]

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