I like to imagine who has had the book before me and who will after.

I like to check out library books. I like to see where other people have marked in the margins or folded corners. I like to imagine who has had the book before me and who will after.

Borrowing books from a library or friend also saves resources. And it's free.

Well, usually.

Somehow I racked up $80 in library fines, I discovered recently, when I tried to check out a book. Apparently there were two books I'd failed to return.

The librarian gave me the titles of the two very overdue books, and I searched my home far and wide before I found them. Ironically, the titles were "The Art of Happiness," about the Dalai Lama's teachings, and "The Kindness of Strangers," a series of short stories about traveling.

While reading two books about happiness and kindness, I somehow forgot to return them to the library, making me neither happy nor kind. Such is life.

Both books, I realized, as I leafed through them, are about developing a sense of community based on our shared humanity. Both books can teach us about coming together to help the environment.

Before I returned "Kindness," I reread the preface, written by the Dalai Lama.

"If we really think about it, our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts of kindness of so many people," he wrote.

"Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others' kindness, then why in the middle should we not act kindly toward others?"

In "Kindness," dozens of famous and unknown writers tell how they've been helped by locals while traveling in a foreign country.

I experienced the kindness of strangers while traveling in England and Ireland in college. Sometimes that kindness was as simple as a shop owner giving me directions or a bus driver letting me ride without exact change. It's the little things we remember when we think about the kindness of others.

Traveling helps us to understand the connectedness of the world, which helps us to realize that our actions affect others — even those living in Bombay. By curbing greenhouse gases in the United States, we may be able to help save rainforests in Ecuador and glaciers in the Arctic.

Reading also helps foster a sense of understanding about the world and its people. So I consider my library fines, which dropped down to $30 after I returned the books, a donation to the community.

Now that's not to say it's a donation I want to regularly make. I've learned my lesson and will keep better track of my library books from now on.

The two overdue books are back on the library's shelves and waiting for someone else in Ashland to check them out again.

And I hope that person doesn't make my mistake and return them a month late, for all our sakes.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns, see dailytidings.com/ecologic.