Life and death and love and birth,And peace and war on the planet Earth.Is there anything that’s worth morethan peace and love on the planet Earth.—Steven Universe
“There were some things that could not be molded into words.”
–Linda Sue Park, A Single Shard
Tree-ear’s sentiment is one that resonated with me as I took a nostalgic journey back through his story. The boy is an orphan who works his way into an apprenticeship of sorts with an aging potter. I won’t say much more about that because I’ll be likely to give away much of the ending.
The novel, which I first read in fourth grade or so, smacks of a fairytale world while never quite being that. As a child, the mix of fairytale and reality left me enraptured. Returning as an adult left me feeling strangely disappointed at first. It seemed like the story was trying to fit two genres at once, the fairytale and loose historical fiction.
However, upon reaching the end of the story, I was just as moved as my younger self was. There’s a certain magic in releasing yourself to the ending. There were some things that could not be molded into words. What seemed like a slow plot and simplistic storytelling turned into a blossoming of the young protagonist into a new stage in his life. He wasn’t all grown up yet. But his life started changing, and it is as if he himself were the pot on the wheel, slowly growing from a lump of clay to a carefully designed work of art.
The story is not slow. It’s methodical. For the child reader, there are enough big words and new concepts to spark interest. For the adult reader, it’s a pretty quick read. Nevertheless, A Single Shard has a patient pace that forces the reader to breathe deeply and rest in the story of Tree-ear and Min the potter, a moral woven into the very act of reading. Some lessons don’t need words to learn them well.
“A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Father’s Day is coming up, and what better time to highlight a book about fatherhood? Gilead is a beautiful, disjointed letter from a dying father to his young son, a touching mixture of reminiscent storytelling and haphazard (yet profound) advice.
Narrator John Ames tells it like it is. He’s a dying man and doesn’t have time for soft edges. Not that Ames is a hard man. In the face of his mortality, he finds the world a tender and beautiful place with holiness infusing the most commonplace of moments. Which is what makes his comment on fathers and sons (or daughters, certainly. But John Ames only has a son) so beautiful instead of merely humorous.
In the face of this “mutual incomprehension,” which seems to be a rather normal phenomenon among parents and children, there is something deeper and more important that Ames sees. He is an old man. His son is very young. They have very little in common, and Ames has struggled to connect with his little boy. How can he manage to connect with this small, energetic child who has come to him at the end of his own life? Naturally there is a struggle.
But at the end of his days, this father recognizes a very simple truth: he loves his son. He would do anything for his son. Though he cannot understand his son or identify with him in many ways, he will do whatever he can to equip this little boy to grow into a good man. John Ames will never see his boy go to high school or college. He’ll never watch his child fall in love and get married. But he can leave a legacy. He can write about his past and hope his son uses those stories to learn for his future.
This is who our fathers are. The men of previous generations who, whether or not they can understand us, love us and support us, no matter what stupid mistakes we make. These are men who defend us and protect us and then struggle to let us learn to defend and protect ourselves. Because a father knows that someday he will not be there to do those things for his children, as much as he wishes to. These men are the John Ameses, the Atticuses of our lives. Whether related by blood or not, they are those imperfect men who take infants in their trembling hands and try to raise up good, strong men and women. These are the heroes of Father’s Day. So look for your John Ames this Sunday, and let him know you appreciate his love and loyalty, even if you can’t understand what goes on in each other’s minds.
Second: Justice is a Better Story
Why do I call myself a feminist? Because I believe that it is still necessary.
Warning: this post may contain triggers for victims of sexual abuse. Please read wisely.
Dear Turner Family, Judge Persky, et al,
I should not have to write this. I shouldn’t. I can’t believe I am writing it.
But I am.
Being sorry you got caught is not the same as being sorry you did it.
Regret is not remorse.
And rape is not okay.
“Ender was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die.”
–Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead
We tend to think of destruction as a bad thing. We prefer those who construct or who preserve. We fight against the destruction of our bodies, our homes, our families. Destruction is a big bad wolf in our eyes.
But what Orson Scott Card does so simply and so eloquently is force us to reconsider. Perhaps destruction has its place. This is more than a “time for everything” sentiment. It is more forceful than that. Some things, at least in Ender’s eyes, deserve to be destroyed.
And Ender is right. Illusion is permissible for a time. But in the end the truth has to come to light. We cannot ignore reality forever. That is the whole point of the Speaker of the Dead. The Speaker reveals the world as it is, a person as they were. There is no room for illusion. It’s not about eulogy. It’s about telling the truth.
We all hide who we are. There are appropriate places for us to be vulnerable. There are other venues that require more consideration for our own privacy and the privacy of others. We tend to assume that funerals are places for fond memories and gentle words.
But what if we had our own Speakers for the Dead? Would we live differently knowing the truth was coming? Or would the truth just be a bitter remnant for our loved ones to digest, shocking or expected? None of our lives is all good or all bad. The Speaker remembers all. We try to just remember the good.
“They would continue to breathe and move and laugh and talk and think and create–just on a different spot on the planet; and not even on so very remote a spot. But it was a spot remote to me, and because I knew that the three of them would continue to be together…in that way, it was as if I were dying, rather than they.”
-Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
It is appropriate, I think, to share this quote with you all today. Today I say goodbye to my own second family, and tomorrow I return to the United States with my biological family.
My own situation is almost exactly the opposite of Nora Eldridge’s, of course. That experienced teacher (and the novel’s narrator) is staying right where she always has, while her favored student and his parents are being whisked away. I, on the other hand, am letting myself be whisked away. The effect, however, is the same. Nora and I are being ripped apart from people we love. There is a death of sorts in the process.
Goodbyes have always been hard on me. How do you explain the tragedy of leaving a person behind, even if you’re planning to see them again at Christmas or in a few months or next year? And how much worse when you don’t know if or when you’ll ever see them again!
The world doesn’t stop for our friends just because we–or they–move away. Instead, in “a spot remote to me,” my family, friends, and boyfriend have been growing and changing and experiencing their own worlds. I have been connected, thanks to the great variety of technology available to me. But I have also been separated. They will have changed in ways that I can’t discern over Skype or in text. And I will have changed in ways they aren’t expecting either. And this new family that I leave behind–they too will change before I see them again.
And perhaps some of those friends that we say goodbye to–perhaps we’ll never see them again. Life is strange and takes us places we never anticipated. Sometimes, we will realize too late that we didn’t give enough time for our final goodbye, simply because we didn’t know at the time that it would be our last.
So, there is a matter of dying that comes with a goodbye. The person I am will have died before I see my Mexican family again. And the person I will be will stand in the old me’s place. And the same goes for my friends. There are no true “see you later’s.” Goodbye is goodbye. It comes with pain, certainly. But perhaps that pain is what grows us from who we’ve been into who we are–and into who we will be.