*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on December 13, 2018. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.
Manitou prides itself on being artsy, so I’m hoping readers will be familiar with the film-musical “The Greatest Showman,” released last year. It’s a fantastical take on the larger-than-life P.T. Barnum, and the song-and-dance can be as revealing about real life as it is entertaining.
One of the show’s songs in particular, “A Million Dreams,” expresses well the essential reason Manitou must expand its library to fit the community’s needs and to be accessible for those with disabilities: because it’s the only place in town that truly amplifies dreams. Simply put, libraries make our world bigger.
The song steadily builds by describing dreams of a house filled “with things from far away” meant to “make you smile on a rainy day.”
When I hear that line, I’m instantly reminded of my wife’s grandmother Delonne, who lives in Salt Lake City. She’s a 91-year-old cross between a sunny day and a lipsticked grin, and she’s been going regularly to her local library since turning 45 (when her kids left the house). She mostly likes historical novels and biographies, and says she “read[s] a lot about places I’ve been,” which, right now, means a book on Paris and its perennial problems with flooding.
Because the library is within her now-relatively limited driving radius, and ADA-compliant, she can drive herself. On arrival, she often reimagines her previous world travels through books. Delonne’s house “with things from far away” is actually her library—and it really does make her smile. The library is where she connects with the bigger world beyond.
Toward the middle of “A Million Dreams,” the lyric turns a bit, and the singer belts out, “I don’t care if they call us crazy,” and then declares an intention to “runaway to a world that we design.”
That non-conformist notion makes me think about Dr. Lauren McGough (pronounced like “wow”). She’s the only Western woman ever to study and join the top ranks of Mongolian falconry (the art of hunting with birds of prey, which, in Mongolia, typically means with golden eagles). When an interviewer recently asked her how she ended up in Mongolia, she replied that, at her local library in Oklahoma, she “found this old book that had black and white photos of eagle hunters from Mongolia…[A] beautiful shaggy horse and this man with a giant eagle and a fox pelt on his horse. And it just looked like the most incredible thing. And I thought, ‘I have to see it. I have to do it.’”
So, when Lauren turned 17, her father, a former Air Force pilot, took her to rural Mongolia. She went back five years later on a Fulbright Scholarship and then went on to complete a PhD based on her work with those eagle hunters. But it was the library that sparked the first fire to illuminate the bigger world beyond.
The chorus is arguably the most powerful part of “A Million Dreams,” because it’s a reminder that we’re all filled with dreams: “Every night I lie in bed…The brightest colors fill my head…A million dreams are keeping me awake.”
I see those bright colors in my daughters’ eyes every time I bring them to the library. They’re four and seven, which makes them as unruly and scattershot as they are curious and engaged. One week it’s Frida Kahlo, another week a story called “Room on the Broom.” They’ll snatch a book on dogs, and then they’ll reach for a book on dinosaurs. They were really into the kid’s computers for a while, and now they’re engrossed in their own stories on the tiny puppet stage at the library.
Every day is another dream. The library is where they learn to believe in a bigger world beyond.
Young or old, we all have dreams. We all need a way to see that bigger world beyond.
Cities are no different. Manitou lives on the collective dreams of its citizens, the outputs of which are both creative and economic. If we choose to build a better library—appropriately-sized and disability-accessible—the community and all its citizens will benefit. If we don’t, well, sometimes dreams turn to nightmares.
The stakes are high. If for no other reason than to protect ourmillion dreams, it’s time to fix Manitou’s library now.