And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress

 

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

The Borders bookstore where I’ve worked the past four years will be closing soon, and it has been a very difficult first week of liquidation sales. Our store has wonderful employees who are close like family, and we feel as if we are in mourning. But there’s no time to grieve because customers have descended upon us like locusts, tearing our store apart in search of bargains. We are working as many hours as allowed by the liquidators, yet can’t keep up with the mess. What’s most painful is that the days we all loved are over. No more taking the time to help someone find a book, offering a suggestion or, what I loved most, my weekly children’s story time.

I had a big crowd at story time last week. After I announced it was the last one, the parents thanked me, then stood and applauded. The tears I’d been shedding quietly and alone at home during my sleepless nights finally came to the store. We were all sad, and no one wanted to leave.

Yesterday I discovered a young girl in the children’s area — my beloved area of the store — carefully going through the children’s chapter books and sorting them, alphabetizing them, trying to put them back in order. I watched her for a few minutes, not sure what she was doing at first. But when it was clear, I was truly touched. I had given up on that area and had, myself, put the books in any order, just to have them off the floor. I went to get some leftover giveaway books and a store employee lanyard for her. When I returned, the young girl’s mother was sitting on the floor waiting patiently as her daughter continued to work. I told her what a wonderful daughter she’s raising and how deeply moved I was by her efforts, and presented her with my small tokens. The girl put on the lanyard and continued working, eventually finishing that area and moving onto another.

I felt like I had witnessed a small miracle. I am not a religious person, but I thought of the phrase “and a little child shall lead them.” That little girl inspired me to take more care with the books I needed to shelve. That small bit of normalcy helped me feel much less stressed. Now every time I’m in the children’s area, I remember her and smile.

I realized how important it is to remember what I will miss from my work, so I started a list. I thought about why each employee was special to me and wrote it down, like James’s inspirational leadership, Sandy’s effervescence, how David makes the animal puppets talk, and even the way Brittany calls me by the nickname my late mother used. I left my list in the break room and invited the other employees to add their thoughts. To be fair I also made a list of things that I would not miss, like cleaning the bathrooms or various crabby things customers say. While writing that list was also therapeutic, I found it to be much shorter.

For two weeks now, some of my story time regulars have visited me on what would have been our story time day. When I realized that story time was the number one thing I would miss, I found another location where I could offer it. Next week I again will be Miss Nina, the story time lady, and find myself surrounded by the bright and smiling faces of my little children.

As I move through these stressful stages of grief, I have found comfort in unexpected places and unexpected moments. The family that owns a nearby bakery brought us delicious baked treats several times. A local bagel store sent bagels and cream cheese. I found inspirational quotes about hardship and loss, and posted them by the time clock for all the employees to see. I read them every time I come to work. I told everyone about the little girl who organized the books and discovered she wasn’t the only one — there were other customers seen organizing or sorting, and customers helping other customers find what they were searching for. Some of our customers are as much family as is our staff, and they are as sad as we are.

It’s painful to go in to work, but I want to be there as much as I can. I want to remember what we had. So today I’m going to photograph my co-workers and put together something we can all keep, to remember what was so important to us for so long. I don’t have her picture, but I hope I will always remember the little girl who reminded me that small miracles can sometimes happen when you need them most. Maybe she’ll come back. But even if she doesn’t, as I place the books she would read on that shelf, I’ll think of her and smile.

~ Nina Schatzkamer Miller ~

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