Alone in the Stacks

 

The stacks at the Burke felt like a respite from the hectic outside world- every class period, every meeting I was in, every personal interaction started with a sly smile- each “how are you?” was performative in the way that everyone knows: that such a simple question cannot be answered in the midst of this pandemic.

When I was hired at the Burke, I worried about the loneliness I might feel in the stacks, not surrounded by peers who had made the Burke a special place previously. But quickly I was proved wrong. I adjusted to being in the Burke alone and found joy in being surrounded by the texts that have made being in seminary an exciting journey.

In late December I started shelf-reading, making sure all books were in the correct location, as a part of my role as a student worker. I was finishing up my courses, one of which was on the topic of Self-Inquiry. It just so happened that the section we were reading was where the philosophical theology books were shelved, where I found texts by Husserl, and Merlau-Ponty, and Franz Fanon, all of whom I had read in my course. It was exciting to find these texts, feeling like my classroom work was connected to the Burke in an intimate way.

Photo of a book page, chapter by Sherlyn Abdoo titled, "Fire Transfigured in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets," beginning with the line from Eliot, "the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living" (from "Little Gidding")
Photo by Hannah Ervin, showing a book open to the beginning of a chapter by Sherlyn Abdoo titled, “Fire Transfigured in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,” beginning with the line from Eliot, “the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living” (from “Little Gidding”)

As I shelf-read, I often look out the window into the quad, inspecting the ongoing construction. It is weird to watch the Union community change so distinctly amidst a time where there are few students on campus. While I watch its evolution, I am often the only one in the stacks witnessing its change from this point of view. The changes happening at Union are not visible to much of the community — how will this kind of change impact those who return to a place they don’t recognize?

When connection feels so fraught, and intimacy is so hard to engage with, I found solace in the books I was shelf-reading. They represent a community bigger than me.

Photograph by Hannah Ervin, of a window seen from inside the Burke Library book shelving area, looking out onto the Union Theological Seminary quadrangle ("the quad") with visible construction scaffolding along the exterior walls
Photograph by Hannah Ervin, of a window seen from inside the Burke Library book shelving area, looking out onto the Union Theological Seminary quadrangle (“the quad”) with visible construction scaffolding along the exterior walls

 

2 thoughts on “Alone in the Stacks

  1. If you are one of these 2 people: Never tried any digital productivity system​. You have you ever felt like things are simply getting too much? Well, you are not alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.