On Lent and Library Fines


Melissa Stagnaro

Most Christians consider Easter to be a day of celebration and renewal. On one hand, it is one of the holiest of days, celebrating the resurrection of Christ. On the other, it is resplendent with brightly colored eggs and  candy-filled baskets of goodies left by everybody’s favorite rabbit. I refer, of course, to Peter Cottontail.

I know. The son of God and a mythical giant rabbit don’t seem to have that much in common. But for all those church-going Catholics who swear off sweets during the Lenten season, the two may has well skip hand and hand down the bunny trail. (Yeah, I know, that feels vaguely sacrilegious to me, too. But once you get the image stuck in your head, it’s kind of fun.)

So enough about blasphemy. Back to Lent. The forty (plus) days of fasting, prayer and self-sacrifice which seems to stretch interminably between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Temptation is the name of the game, during that 6 and a half week stretch, as Catholics the world over try to abstain from something dear to them.

On Easter Sunday, that  self-deprivation is over. It’s as if the Catholics of the world breathe a collective sign of relief, as they reach for that soon-to-be-earless chocolate bunny (or a chocolate martini, depending on what they gave up).

I gave up neither chocolate nor booze, however, but something much more dear to me: buying books. And I’m happy to say that I made it through the entire Lenten season with nary an indiscretion in that regard.

Okay, so there may have been a Friday meat-eating incident or two, but I feel I threw in enough meatless Wednesdays – not sufficient Hail Mary’s – to make up for my failings. And I would like to stress for the record once more, that I purchased no books during the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

Please do not underestimate this accomplishment. For me, it was nothing short of an incredible feat requiring an inordinate amount of self-restraint. And, unfortunately, it was not without its consequences.

For one thing, I had to change my whole routine. For the duration of the Lenten season, I had to virtually avoid any establishment which sells books. There were some I couldn’t totally avoid, however, such as the grocery store. So those shopping excursions had to be carefully planned so that my chosen route did not take me too close to temptation. (i.e. the book/stationary aisle.)

If perchance there happened to be an end cap or point of purchase display near the register, I had to carefully avert my eyes. And think of baseball.

I felt strongly that preparation was the key to success in this, as in any venture. It was a pre-emptive measure, really. I knew the tendrils of temptation would be beckoning.

So I made several trips to the library to stock up prior to making my vow. Now, the Oxford Memorial Library is my book-lending establishment of choice. I’ve been frequenting it for basically my whole life, and the lovely ladies there always take excellent care of me. But as they say, any port in the storm, and I did end up paying a visit to the Guernsey stacks on one occasion.

As it turns out, I prepared a little too well, and ended up with more books than I could read in the allotted time. And unfortunately, with my mind on other things, I neglected to return or renew the unread tomes in a timely manner. And you know what happens when you engage in irresponsible book borrowing. Yep, you start racking up the fines.

Last week, I gathered up the latest of my late books (as in most late, not most recent ) and went to pay the piper. Or in this case, the library clerk.

Of course, I was hoping no one would be there to witness my transgression. But as fate would have it, there were a cluster of library patrons around the circulation desk when I arrived at the historic structure which houses my favorite little library. And they all listened in rapt attention as I explained the situation.

And then they proceeded to rib me mercilessly about it.

The librarian had a friendly smile on her face while she tallied up my fine, but the others were ruthless. In some places, they actually arrest people for not paying their fines, they said. There was even a kid there. Ugh, as if I didn’t feel bad enough, now I’m a bad role model, too.

In the end, I rounded up, just to assuage my growing guilt. Because, apparently, my conscience is just as Catholic as the rest of me.

Happy (slightly belated) Easter, everybody!

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