Terry Marotta column for the week starting Monday October 22, 2007

This next Sunday I get to have more fun than is legal, practically. I get to talk out loud in a library.

It’s not something a person gets to do normally, but I’m part of the entertainment on the 30th birthday of this gorgeous light-filled building in Abington, Mass.

Now any library is a warehouse for human stories, which are among the most precious things that a society produces. I myself have come to believe that we should be telling each other our stories all the time, because doing so helps heal up that body politic we heard so much about back in civics class.

Every day I look for signs that we’re nearly done walling ourselves off from one another with our cell phones all glued to the sides of our heads. And so many of us have customized music piped into ourselves all the time you’d think we were elevators.

We’re not elevators; we’re citizens, and of the same country.

I’m hoping we’re almost ready to reinhabit our public spaces after these two decades of fleeing our great old cities and holing up inside these gated communities of one kind and another.

I’m hoping we’re poised to reinvent the village square, that place where people have always come to greet one another and pass the time of day. Where they can share a story or two, even with a stranger and maybe especially with a stranger since it’s the stranger who offers us the purest form of kindness, which seeks nothing in return, but is merely kindness for kindness's own sake.

Every week for the past 28 years I have written a story for the newspaper, and always I’ve had letters from the people who read them.

In the past few years, though, these letters have changed.

In the past few years the people writing them have begun to ask,  “How can I learn to do what you do?” Which I take to mean, “How can I take a bit of this and a little of that, the way the sky looks and a phrase overheard in the coffee shop and mix it with something from my own yearning heart to make a nice clear snapshot of Right Now? Something I can save and pass down for those coming after me to read?”

"Nothing is easier," I write back. 

“Just go outside and meet the other’s gaze,” I tell them. “Speak when you’re spoken to of course but don’t be afraid to initiate speech. A jaunty ‘Hey’ can be enough, but a ‘How’s it going?’ is the true magic carpet to wonderful conversation - if you but take the time to listen for the answer.”

I know I could never have written nearly 1,500 stories if I had not finally wrestled down reticence and begun talking to strangers. I couldn’t have made the hundreds of friends whose faces I have never seen but whose letters and e-mails have made them as dear to me as the people I know well and see routinely.

I could never have found such joy in my life if I hadn’t learned to welcome the stranger into my each and every day.

And talk about welcoming the stranger: The Friends of the Abington Library where I will speak this Sunday about 2 p.m. are offering a free-of-charge luncheon to the first 100 people who say they’d like to be there, too.

If you’re close enough, call Mary Lane at 781-878-9436 or Elaine Nero at 781-878-7706 to reserve your place. If not, I’ll meet ya here next week, same as always.

Four-time author Terry Marotta, who will have books available for sale and signing, can be contacted at tmarotta@comcast.net or PO Box 270, Winchester MA 01890.