The Soul Needs Books
"Just like the body needs food, the soul needs books."
To some, that might sound like a superficial platitude. But when the speaker is someone who has literally risked his life to help organize a secret underground library in the besieged Syrian city of Darayya, those simple words carry great weight.
A few days ago, I heard a BBC World Service broadcast about the secret library of Darayya. In this besieged city, in the midst of Syria's unending civil war, a group of local citizens have assembled a library of some 14,000 books in a hidden basement. Volunteers rescue books from abandoned, bombed-out buildings, sometimes risking sniper fire to do so.
You can read about the library in the BBC's online magazine, but the audio report is even more moving. The reporter could not safely reach Darayya, and all the interviews were conducted by Skype. During the interviews, one occasionally hears explosions or small-arms fire in the background. After one nearby explosion, the reporter anxiously asks if it is safe to continue the interview. "There is no place safe in Darayya," comes the casual answer, and the interview continues.
In the midst of chaos, the library is not simply a storehouse of books. In the words of reporter Mike Thompson, it is a "repository of peace, learning, and hope." Volunteers at the local hospital search the medical books for guidance on treating the wounded. Soldiers borrow books to take with them to their posts. Children find books to distract them from the baffling violence around them.
Only two aid convoys have reached Darayya in the last four years. Thompson asked one of the volunteers if food was not a higher priority than books. That is when Abdulbaset Alahmar answered, "In a sense the library gave me back my life. It's helped me to meet others more mature than me, people who I can discuss issues with and learn things from. I would say that just like the body needs food, the soul needs books."
With all of the good books so readily available to most of us, how often do we turn there for the nourishment of our souls?