A recent article over at Consumerist.com about the Chicago Public Library’s recent three-week long amnesty period waiving all overdue fines has caught my attention since this grace period prompted one person to return a 78-years overdue copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Have You Returned Your Library BooksIt all started when her mom’s childhood friend checked out the copy of the 1911 edition in 1934 and never returned it. She even wrote her own name in the front of the book. Somehow it ended up with her mother, and the daughter found it in her deceased mother’s belongings back in 1993. But since then, she’d been too scared of huge fines or even legal consequences for turning it in so late. ‘When I heard about the amnesty, I thought, “This is it! This is my second chance,”’ the woman said of the program, which ends on Sept. 7 and granted forgiveness of all overdue fines.

We see here the iniquity of a mother and a childhood friend visiting the next generation; but mercy wins in the end by way of forgiveness of sins that finally bears the fruit of good works—she returned the book (!), and a rare and valuable one at that: “This isn’t any normal copy of the Wilde book—it was part of a 14-volume set of his writings printed in 1911, and only 480 copies of each set were ever printed. Back in 1917 when the CPL obtained its copy, the book was purchased for $27.50. That would be about $492.22 today.”

This story must be contrasted to another Consumerist article referred to in the one above about an overdue Twilight book and DVD that landed a New Mexico woman in jail for a night after being arrested in front of her children. This one turns out to be a case of an-eye-for-a-life, upping the ante with a bail bond exponentially more expensive than the original trespass. Here are some highlights:

A woman in New Mexico recently spent a night in jail because she spent two years not returning a copy of sparkly vampire novel Twilight and the DVD of one of the films in the series … the woman was arrested in front of her five kids after she failed to appear in court to answer for a summons regarding $35.98 in overdue library materials … She ended up spending the night in jail before being released the next morning on a $610 bond.

Peanuts Library Books

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not an advocate of missing court appearances and ignoring library fees (the first use of the law). I’m merely pointing out the parallels here to great mysteries of the Christian faith as can be seen in these applications of municipal law and public libraries fines. In the first case, amnesty (i.e., forgiveness of debts) bears good fruit, while in the second the perpetrator experiences “the curse of the law” that only serves to crush her—and prompt her to acquire a lawyer in defensive reactivity (needless to say, the book and DVD were never recovered!). These are paradoxes indeed, but they are also Good News for those who are weary and heavy laden by the debts of life.