Last summer I discovered a book exchange right in the middle of the forest preserve. It is little more than a metal cabinet spray-painted cobalt blue, with “East Side Book Exchange” stenciled at the top. An article in the local paper said the book exchange was maintained by someone who wanted to remain anonymous.
Through the last year the East Side Book Exchange has survived rain, fire and freezing, but last week I walked by the metallic blue painted cabinet and there were no books at all on the shelves. In the twilight I walked over to the shelves and felt the ridges of the words painted into the top shelf. “Shadows in the dark”. Someone had traced the letters with their finger while the paint was still wet.
Today the bookshelf was still empty. In the full daylight I could see gang signs painted on both sides of the shelf. Was that why? Someone routinely paints out gang signs on the surface of the bike trail, but it seemed like there were more of them today. And my little Polish/Arab/Hispanic neighborhood has never had gang signs; this winter they appeared for the first time.
I am reminded of Pandora’s box. After the box was opened and the demons escaped into the world, the box looked empty but there was still Hope in the bottom of the box. The shelves of the East Side Book Exchange may seem empty, but they still contain the words, “Shadows in the dark.” Curious, that. How can there be a shadow without a light source?