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Posts Tagged ‘Lois Lowry’

Yesterday afternoon I was running errands with Teen the Younger. She had earbuds in so I switched off the car radio in order to think. I was considering an audio essay I’d listened to earlier, a “This I Believe” piece by Holocaust survivor Jay Frankston, who believes that if more people — especially those with influence, like the Pope — had reacted to the Holocaust the way the Danes did (a national act of collective resistance, something my children & I learned of when we read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars together) millions of lives might have been saved, and Hitler’s policies would have failed. He said that when he speaks in schools, he reminds children they “must speak up against wrongs, however small.”

I had recently had a conversation with the Computer Scientist about a workplace incident  in which someone was rude without recognizing it — the person was focused on getting the answer she wanted to complete something the way she preferred and not on consensus or consideration. I suggested that schools and workplaces would benefit from conflict resolution training, maybe also mindfulness training so people learn not to react immediately to the triggers that tend to set us all off. It seems we need remedial training to be in community with each other. We decided it was impossible to know what would solve the epidemic of self-absorption in contemporary culture.  As my grandmother used to say, you can only do your best yourself and hope others do too. (An update: today the Computer Scientist sent me a quote he finds helpful, if challenging:  “Life becomes easier if you learn to accept an apology you never get.”)

As I thought about these things in the car, I imagined a post in which I’d discuss an Op-ed that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times which made me feel sick and heartbroken and outraged. It was written by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, one of the estimated 40 (40!) people currently on hunger strike in the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a man who contends he has never done what he was suspected of (but has never been formally charged with) when he was captured and brought to the prison camp* 11 years ago. I was thinking that despite Guantanamo being a divisive and unpopular topic, by Jay Frankston’s humane standard, I must speak up. And that by doing so I’d  be encouraging the awareness of others that is so often lacking.

Then my phone rang as I stood in line at the local Goodwill store. It was my mother, calling as she often does when tragic events happen, to ask if I’d heard about Boston. Before we hung up she said, “Give everyone a hug. I’m glad you’re safe.” This wasn’t a reference to any of my family being at the scene — none of us had plans to attend the Boston Marathon yesterday. She was just stating a common response to senseless violence, relief that our loved ones are safe.

In the evening, I checked our local Patch.com site for news of local runners. I was disgusted to see in the comments section of the story another kind of response, vitriolic posts about gun control, President Obama, etc. I vented on Facebook that surely human history shows hate isn’t a good response to conflict. Two people who were among my closest college friends replied almost immediately that while that may be, hate and anger are easier responses to make and also the default for adults in our culture.

While I agree they’ve become the default, I don’t believe anger is easier than empathy. Loving kindness and empathy come easily to children. Anger grows as a habitual response to the unending stream of negative stimuli we are bombarded with. Like the woman who was blind to rudeness because of her own insecurities in the workplace, the Patch commenters didn’t think about the hurtfulness of their response. If you asked them why they felt it was right to focus on their own opinions at a time when severely injured people lay in hospital beds fighting for their lives, they would probably be shocked and argue they weren’t doing so.

This morning another Op-ed in the New York Times, this one by Jonathan Rieder about Martin Luther King Jr.’s righteous anger, caught my eye and led me to read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I’d only read excerpts before and I’d never considered the letter in the way Rieder did. In line with the Bookconscious Theory of the Interconnectedness of Reading, it turns out that just before I finally turned off the radio and went to bed last night, heartsick as all of us are over the bombings, I’d texted with Teen the Elder at college about his own response to the day: anger.

At first I counseled against anger. But when he replied that this kind of news makes him want to be out of college and working in some way to make the world better, I realized, and told him, that righteous anger is an appropriate response to injustice as long as we avoid becoming bitter or hateful and channel it into right action. And when I read Jonathan Rieder’s piece and King’s words this morning I realized this is just what my son was feeling, and just what the world needs, along with people who are unafraid to speak up.

If you’ve never read the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” do. It’s a response to eight white clergy who had issued a statement condemning the Birmingham demonstrations as “untimely.” It’s a remarkable piece, a reminder of the King’s gifts not only as a leader but as a thinker and writer.

Consider his words carefully and it will be hard to read the news: that gays should “wait” for marriage equality, prisoners should “wait” for justice, bullied children should “wait” for life to get better, ” the homeless should “wait” for year round shelters, college students should “wait” for a time when debt doesn’t shackle them for a lifetime, the uninsured should “wait” to not be bankrupted by medical bills, the elderly should wait for care that doesn’t require giving up a lifetime’s assets. U.S. citizens should “wait” for campaigns and voting to be fair and for politicians to engage in thoughtful work for the common good instead of partisan bickering, kids should “wait” while adults ban dodgeball and books in schools but allow assault weapons and high capacity magazines that make school shootings easier, low wage workers  should”wait” for a decent living, women should “wait” for equal pay, the mentally ill should “wait” for access to treatment, innocents caught in drone attacks should “wait” for the war on terror to end . . . I could go on, but you get the idea.

But King’s letter will also give you hope that Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, Jay Frankston, and countless others —  people just like those who ran towards the scene of the explosions yesterday to help the wounded, and just like those who opened their homes to stranded runners and their families in Boston, and just like all the people who take time every day to advocate for the voiceless and powerless, and just like Teen the Elder who feels fired up to join the ongoing march of humanity towards a just and peaceful world — are ready to lift hands and hearts and voices to that work.

*Also worth a read, a piece on the results of a nonpartisan report that without any access to classified materials concludes the U.S. engaged in torture after 9-11 and criticizes both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the lawyers and doctors who abandoned the core principles of their professions — upholding justice and not doing harm — to justify torture.

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I was very pleased to see Son waiting for me when I got to work at the library last week, because it’s been on my holds list for months. Son is Lois Lowry’s much anticipated fourth book in The Giver series. Bookconscious readers may recall I read Gathering Blue and Messenger last fall to prepare for Son. In September 2011, I read The Giver because Lois Lowry’s reading that month at Gibson’s was one of the last I set up as events coordinator.

Son is mainly the story of Claire, the young Birthmother who bears Gabe, the child Jonas’s father brings home from the nurturing center at night in The Giver. Son begins around the same time the events of The Giver are taking place, and Claire refers to some of them. When Gabe is born, he’s delivered via cesarean and Claire is “decertified” after the difficult birth and assigned to live and work at the community’s fish hatchery.

It happens so suddenly that someone overlooks issuing Claire the pills everyone takes that suppress emotions. Claire misses her son, even though Birthmothers generally just produce children without giving them a second thought. She volunteers at the Nurturing Center where infants are cared for in order to see him and even though it’s not a familiar feeling, she loves him. And she realizes how strange it is that her parents did not seem to feel the same way about her, and that her co-workers at the hatchery also seem devoid of the feelings she’s experiencing.

When the climax of The Giver unfolds (I don’t want to give away spoilers) Claire decides to leave the community, escaping on a supply boat docked on the river. She washes ashore in a strange place which is bordered by the sea on one side and a cliff on the other, and has almost no memory of her life before or even what happened to the boat. She feels her loss but can’t identify it.

The people in this place live a much more primitive life — no electricity, no modern medicine. Alys, an elderly midwife and healer, takes Claire in. A crippled shepherd, Einar, befriends her as a fellow misfit in the village. Eventually she learns the story of his daring attempt to “climb out” over the cliff, and why he failed. When she begins to regain her own memories, Einar prepares her to climb out  so she can find her son.  I’ll leave it at that, so you can read for yourself what happens.

I like each of the books in the series because they are a rich literary feast for young people, brimming with Big Ideas — the nature of good and evil, the meaning of community and family, the way people should conduct and govern themselves, how our choices impact our world, the power of love. As in the other books, the themes of sacrifice and exile recur in Son, and the heroes’ gifts and how they choose to use them make the outcome possible. One could argue that although Jonas and Kira, Matty and Gabe appear to have supernatural or magical power, Lowry really just endows them with exaggerated versions of ordinary traits: attentiveness, empathy, compassion, wisdom, trust, thoughtfulness, understanding.  But Lowry never hits her readers over the head with this, or any message — her stories convey “big T Truths” without overt preaching.

I wish this wasn’t the “conclusion” as it says on the cover of Son, because I still have some questions. I’d especially like to know what becomes of Alys and Einar from Son (and the children of their village) but there are several other characters whose stories seem compelling. What about Gabe? He’s still young at the end of Son. And Claire, who experiences a renewal of sorts — what does she do with the rest of her life? Even if Lowry never writes their stories I am very glad that generations of readers will be able to let their imaginations explore the world she’s given them.

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