On a streak of getting clean from alcohol and prescription meds, and clearing out the wreckage of his past, Travis M. of Nashville, Tennessee, began the arduous process of making amends. He apologized to his aging mother for crashing her car when he was 18, compensated his older brother for the eight months he'd crashed at his place rent-free, and paid 12 years in back taxes to the IRS. But there was one institution Travis could hardly bear to face: his local public library.
"They've always been so nice to me," he said. "And I took advantage of that, time and time again."
Travis explained that, even in the depths of his active addiction, he was always an avid reader - and a not-so-avid returner. As a result, he'd accumulated piles and piles of borrowed books. The shame of his deception was so painful that, even in recovery, he scrambled to find some way around having to look his sweet neighborhood librarian in the eye.
"I tried to convince my AA sponsor that paying my back taxes counted as paying back the library," he said. "You, know, since taxes help support the library. Unfortunately, that didn't fly."
And, so, Travis summoned every ounce of courage he could find, and, with humility, presented himself at the East Nashville branch of the public library, toting bags of books and prepared to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars in overdue fines. There, instead of the anticipated harsh words of recrimination, he found unconditional love and acceptance.
"They don't even have overdue fees anymore," he said. "Apparently, they abolished them. I'm totally square."
Travis describes his encounter with the local public library as a profoundly spiritual experience, which not only gave him a new understanding of forgiveness, but will continue to influence the way he works his AA program.
"I've decided to make the library my Higher Power," he said. "They deserve it."