Growing up as an Air Force dependent, I recall an unexpectedly egalitarian community. That's not to say that rank wasn't important - our home on base housing grew in direct correlation to my father's rank as an officer. And we had to say "sir" and "ma'am" a lot. But beyond that, issues of race, income, and socioeconomic background were simply unimportant. My friends were all the children of men serving in the Air Force. We were an extremely homogenous diverse group. Looking back, I suppose I received a skewed view of American society - both because I spent large amounts of my childhood outside the U.S. and because I grew up in communities where we truly looked after one another.
It has been many decades since I left behind the life of a military dependent to forge a more traditional one. But remnants of that world clearly remain, as evidenced by my angst this week over a meeting I attended at my local library branch. Along with county governments across the country, Arlington's budget is being cut across the board, with the library being asked to cut seven percent of its current budget.
The meeting I attended was at Cherrydale Library, a small branch in our affluent neighborhood - a lovely library that is small, friendly, safe and comfortable. My daughter attended weekly story times there throughout her preschool and early elementary school years. It is still my branch of choice. Based on data related to usage and need, the director of the county's libraries has recommended that it be closed three days a week starting next year.
The outcry was immediate and, frankly, wonderful. It's a boost to the spirits when people feel such loyalty to a library and harbor such strong feelings about a county institution. As the daughter of a librarian, I am proud of my neighbors. However...the meeting left me feeling anything but proud. After the library head explained her position, the arguments from community members boiled down to, "Not my library." They argued that cuts to library hours should be applied equally to all branches, even those in neighborhoods with much less wealth than ours. One woman had the audacity to suggest that "illegal aliens" no longer be served by the system.
Perhaps it's my sense that there are truly people in our county who don't just rely on the libraries for a cozy reading nook, but as the only place in their lives to find books. Perhaps it's that I believe we must -- as a county and as a nation - agree to develop a new paradigm in our new economy. One that values ensuring that all of us have enough rather than the "me, mine" attitude of the past decade. Our current economic situation offers each of us an opportunity to realign our values, to stop buying more than we can sustain, and to look out for those who have so much less than they need to survive.
There are many ways to sacrifice, and even more ways to "heal the world" which is a Jewish concept that I love. Some sacrifices are forced on us by dwindling county budgets. But isn't the best response to say, "Let's take care of those who need it most?"