I have never really believed in god.
I think that there’s a general sense of order that oversees the universe, but I just can’t wrap my mind around it being an old guy with a beard.
I like the Indian goddesses, with lots of arms and legs–I like them more aesthetically, than say, Charlton Heston. But the fact remains, I have never really believed in god.
I was a dutiful Sunday school-goer and even continued to attend services in college. But it wasn’t because I felt any solace or the power of the divine. I liked singing with a group of people, being part of a musical community–and after freshman year, choir no longer fit into my schedule.
When you don’t believe in god and you are surrounded by those who do, you tend you keep your mouth shut.
In college, that was difficult, as we were required to take two religion and or philosophy classes. I took Philosophy 101 first semester freshman year and loved it, but that still left a biblical text analysis class to fill my gen ed requirements. So the choice came down to Old or New Testament as my choice of torture.
I don’t hate the bible. But I knew I would be in a class with some really religious people. Who I would want to hit. I mean, the bible teaches tolerance, but you’re going to point to some verse that says that women need to obey their husbands and that being gay is a sin and then call yourself tolerant except for the things your bible tells you to be intolerant about. That’s insane.
I got through the Old Testament class by detaching myself from the ideology and treating it as a literature class. Which is what it was. The bible should be open to interpretation, subjective, instead of an objective book of truth or law. In my opinion. I only answered questions aloud in class that were regurgitation of answers and verses and not anything where I had to form an actual opinion.
This is why I love working in libraries. A library houses thousands of books, each with different facts, prose, poems, pictures. Each with several different stories, and if you multiply that out, the possibilities of ideas that might be sparked in a library, new thought patterns, ways of looking at the world quickly adds up to millions and keeps growing towards infinity.
I realize that this is not the opinion commonly held by most college students. With the advent of online databases, many students think it’s a chore to be required to go to the library and use a book as a belt notch on a bibliography. I applaud the professors who still require it.
There is something holy to me about the Norwegian Artifacts room. A student or professor has to make an appointment with me to be granted access. Once inside, most documents or items require that you wear gloves. People don’t usually request access to this room unless they need a primary source document about obscure Norwegian history.
This semester, we have a visiting professor in the Norwegian Studies department, Anders Elstad. Anders is very tall, thin and blonde. He always wears suits to work, which is an anomaly among the male professors on this campus. I don’t think he’s older than 35, but he has an unbridled enthusiasm for the materials in the Norwegian Artifacts room that makes him seem like a little boy.
His english is very good. He doesn’t really have an accent, but he speaks very emphatically, more precisely than most Americans, and sometimes switches words around. And he he is exceedingly polite.
“Good morning, Ms. Watson. Thank you so much for letting me spend some more time with these papers.”
“Professor Elstad, it’s my job, really, I don’t mind.”
“Did you have of the good weekend, Ms. Watson?”
“Yes, I had a nice weekend, thanks for asking.”
I turn the key and flick on the light switch.
“Here we are. Have fun, Professor Elstad.”
He grins. This is our little joke. No matter how many times I insist that it is well within the limits of academic decorum to call me Dorothy, he will not budge. It is always Ms. Watson. But he does allow me the joke about having fun with the musty old books.
I take my place at the desk. I know that Anders would never damage or steal anything in this room, but I take pride in holding my sentinel post. It’s very satisfying when Linda Birch glides by and sees me at attention. I usually bring my laptop and update my calendar or catch up on emails when I have appointments in this room. Some patrons require more assistance than others, but I know that Anders knows most of the items in this room better than I do.
He has asked for standing appointments on Monday and Friday mornings from 8:30-10:30. It is my pleasure to supervise these visits, to interact with someone so passionate about academia, so proper, looking like the Swedish vampire from True Blood.
I have thought about asking Anders out for a drink or coffee at the end of one of his visits to my domain. It’s not exactly frowned upon, especially as I am not technically faculty. But he’s so other-worldly…like he’s from a time where men would court women and see them only with a chaperone. Perhaps this is just my projection. In either case, I have not yet worked up the courage to do so.
What would be my approach, anyway? I could lure him to the Vesterheim Norwegian Heritage museum under false pretenses? Whisk him away to Ibesen Fest in Lanesboro in March? Ugh, March is so far away…
Our two hours together goes by so quickly. And I need to appear stoic and busy the entire time. It’s not fair. I am not man hungry or obsessed, it’s just–it’s hard being an adult sometimes. When you have few adult friends.
In college, you have a built-in social life. Classmates, roommates, people who have the same major. In grad school, it’s similar, although a smaller pool. In northeastern Iowa, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities for young adults out of college to socialize.
I don’t do the bar scene, for fear of drinking alone while looking longingly at a group of college students. I’ve tried to make friends with faculty members, but most of them are still convinced I’m a student. The other librarians are nice enough, but they are, well, librarians, and don’t really party too hard.
I am about to explode, when–
“Yes, Professor Elstad?”
“Oh, please, you may call me Anders. I had, well, I have a favor to ask you. You see, there is a lecture this weekend in Minneapolis about Roald Amundsen, the explorer?”
“Well, this is embarrassing, but I don’t drive. I don’t have a car. And you have a car and drive, yes?”
I regard him quizzically.
“Yes, I have a car.”
“Well, I was wondering if you might, consider–if you might be able and willing to t-t-t-”
Aw, he’s stuttering, it’s adorable. There is a tall, handsome Norwegian professor and he is standing in front of me, stuttering.
“Anders, would you like me to give you a ride?”
“Only if it’s not any trouble. You probably already have plans?”
“Nope, no plans.”
“I will, of course, pay for gas, and your meal?”
This comes out as more question than statement and ups the adorable quotient up exponentially.
“I’m happy to drive. It will be nice to get out of Decorah for the weekend. When is the lecture?”
“3:00 on Saturday, at the University of Minnesota campus.”
“Well, if we leave around eleven, that will give us plenty of time to find parking.”
He nods, grinning.
I peel off a post-it from the small stack I keep stuck to the outside cover of my laptop.
“We’ll see each other on Friday for your standing appointment and we can iron out the details then. But here’s my cell phone in case you’d like to contact me before then.”
I write down my number as I’m saying this. I know it’s a little forward, but he’s given me an inch and damnit, I’m going to take at least a yard.
I hand him the note, making sure our fingertips brush together.
“It’s the most reliable way to reach me,” I explain. “The internet connection at my apartment is kind of wonky.”
“Wonky?” He asks.
The word is lost in translation. I start to get flustered.
“Wonky, um, unreliable, kind of spotty.”
“Ah, I see.”
He puts the post-it with my number written on it into the inside breast pocket of his charcoal gray suit. The light blue button down shirt matches his eyes.
I look down to hide the fact that I’m blushing.
“Ms. Watson, thank you so much. I realize, of couse, that this is far above and beyond your call of duty and I am much, most appreciative of this.”
He turns to leave.
“Anders,” I call out.
He turns back.
“Yes, Ms. Watson?”
“It would really make me more comfortable if you called me Dorothy. Especially if we’re going to spend several hours in a car together. Would that be ok? If you called me Dorothy?”
He pauses, contemplating.
“Yes, of course…Dorothy.”
He tries saying my first name out loud and it sounds like someone trying on a coat for the first time and discovering that it fits much better than they originally thought it would.
“See you Friday!” I say, abruptly shooing him out the door.
“Yes, Friday. Goodbye for now, Ms. Watson–sorry, sorry, Dorothy.”
“Goodbye for now, Anders.”
He walks down the stairs and I turn off the light and lock up the room of Norwegian Artifacts.
Who would have thought that this room, filled with such history, had the possibility of kickstarting my love life, hundreds of years later?