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The Paths We Take


Yes, the year of 2020, the year of the pandemic, is drawing to a close. Can I get a Hallelujah?! Everywhere you look, you find famed personalities and pundits weighing in regarding the overwhelming nature of 2020.

There are humorous thoughts—such as Who could have predicted that the value of toilet paper and sweat pants would rise exponentially? Or funny questions—such as If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? The reply: a colonoscopy prep. We can also find more faith-based thoughts, including prayers for change and cures. Most of all, there is one solemn thought that repeats in most of our heads: How can one virus continue to affect our lives in so many ways?

Truth be told, I have been thinking about all of this and more as we say goodbye to 2020 and round the corner into 2021. It turns out that this is time for a more personal farewell, too. After 10 years working in Outreach Services, I am stepping away from my position at the library. Thinking back on the day I interviewed for the job, I have to laugh at how little I really knew. Still I came equipped with a desire to help others and bring new ideas to the table. Thankfully, the library Director, Charlotte Canelli, encouraged me to craft new programs ranging from book clubs to journaling, poetry workshops to readings, essay contests to First Steps book bags for newborns. I learned much along the way, and I have met the most amazing patrons and volunteers.

While goodbyes can be scary, they can also be an opportunity to change one’s course. I am reminded of the role of goodbyes in literature and movies. Whether it comes at the end of a relationship, a move, a forever goodbye, or the pursuit of a dream, we are surrounded by great examples. In Charlotte’s Web for example, the spider, Charlotte, must ultimately say goodbye to her pig friend, Wilbur, and she does so beautifully: “You have been my friend, replied Charlotte. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” In his romance novel, Message in a Bottle, Nicholas Sparks pens, “This is not goodbye, my darling, this is a thank you.” (Please pass the tissues now.) We can also turn to the classic Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens to find, “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” Perhaps the most famous goodbye is Rhett Butler’s, as he turns from Scarlett O’Hara to say “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And Scarlett’s reply, “I’ll go home and I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day!”

For all of us, tomorrow really is another day. Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot realizes this as well. In her non-fiction book, Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free she explores the ways “we leave one thing and move on to the next; how we anticipate, define, and reflect on our departures; our epiphanies that something is over and done with.” I would like to think that a departure might lead to a few new epiphanies along the way. Here’s hoping!

Perhaps the wisdom of a child may help us to grasp the nuance of a goodbye, however. Oh No! Time to Go!: A Book of Goodbyes is a picture book written and illustrated by Rebecca Doughty. In this sweet story, a young boy learns about all kinds of goodbyes, some with different accents, some with lots of flair. The hardest lesson comes when he must say goodbye to a friend and neighbor. How do we cope when someone we care about moves on?

Typically, I have kept my life as a children’s author separate from my role in Outreach Services. That said, this next step will provide the chance for me to pursue several writing dreams. As I think about the art of saying farewell to such a fabulous community, I am reminded that I have addressed this very topic in my own writing.

In my children’s book, Double Happiness, illustrated by Alina Chau, a brother and sister must move far away from their home in San Francisco where they fall asleep each night to the familiar sound of the trolley cars. To adjust to this big change, they start filling “happiness boxes” with treasures they discover along the way. Certainly, as I pack up my desk and the many memories around it, I carry the joy of the people with whom I’ve had the privilege of interacting.

I also coauthored a book entitled Toasts!: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion with famed anthologist, June Cotner. We find these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson there:

Do not go where the path may lead.

go instead where there is not a path and leave a trail.

Finally, I leave you with encouragement from another book I coauthored with June Cotner, Family Celebrations: Poems, Toasts, and Traditions for Every Occasion:


Be full of compassion.
Be awake. See clearly
what the world waits to give you
and that which you will surely take.
Notice color, tone, and the glint
of a leaf in the early sun.
Be the one to discover
where the grassy trail leads
between the gentle sweep of willow trees.
Be ever eager to share the view
from where the overgrowth stops
and you can see back
across the path you have taken.

-Maureen Tolman Flannery

I am trusting, dear friends, that together will both “see back” across the paths we have taken and, more than anything, I look forward to when our paths cross again.

Nancy Ling is the Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the December 10, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.


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