‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we will not be asham‘d.
to turn, turn, shall be our delight,
till by turning, turning we come round right.
[Simple Gifts, traditional Shaker hymn by Joseph Brackett]
Wiping down the tables. Sweeping up the paper scraps. Checking glue sticks and markers to see if they still work. Sweeping the pine needles off the back patios and keeping the chocolate mint plants in check. Wiping a nose, holding the hand of a toddler navigating a step. Such tasks weren’t the main focus of my work as the gardener of the learning library, but they were all necessary elements of the program. Practically anyone could do them, but it fell to Marcia, the children’s librarian, and me. Every summer for many years, Marcia and I returned to these most basic of tasks because they were ways to create a welcoming and engaging space for parents, grandparents, and children of all ages.
When we describe our program, none of these tasks are included. Goals, attendance, the garden-to-story-to-table pieces are highlighted in annual reports for the trustees and the greater library network; these crucial elements remain unrecognized. Perhaps because elements that anyone can do aren’t valued as highly as the elements that require special skills or education – writing curriculum, selecting meaningful stories, noting knowledge and maturity gained by participants.
Perhaps it’s because I’d rather be known for the complex things I accomplish more than the simple. If so, I’ve forgotten a couple of fundamental, spiritual truths:
Simple and easy aren’t the same thing.
More complex doesn’t mean more worthwhile.