I apologize for the lengthy nature of this post, but bear with me, I think it’ll be worth it.
Regardless of which side of the political lines you find yourself on, these are uncertain times. It extends farther than just the boundaries of the United States, North America, and the oceans. These uncertain times are global. Even if the uncertainty isn’t political, Earth is itself uncertain, rocking the coasts of New Zealand and Japan with earthquakes and the threat of consuming waves. As humans, we really don’t do well with uncertainty.
Many of us feel drawn to crawl under a thick duvet and hide there until our footing is more solid. Some want to run screaming into the unknown with tight fists in balls, ready to bash whatever demons they encounter. Then there are those of us who know that our beds won’t protect us any better than our balled-up fists and we try to figure out what can be done. It is human. It is not new.
I’m in that last group. While part of me is lulled into the comfort of soft sheets and oblivion, the bigger part of me needs to know what’s expected of me, and what I can do.
My first step is always reading. I read everything I can get my hands on. And in this particular moment in time, there is one request I am reading over and over. Listen. Listen. Listen.
There are plenty of us co-dependent sorts out in the world that have a desperate urge to superhero things up. We want to swoop in and da-da-da!! save the day. There, I made it all better, now we can be happy. Yay! Certainty. Alas, that plan leaves out all kinds of reality and at the very least, it’s not what’s needed.
What’s needed is our ears. We have to listen to the stories of those who are in front of us hurting. We have to listen to the stories of their ancestors. We have to listen to the parts of the stories that overlap with our own, the parts where we aren’t always the good guys. It is crucial.
Author David Augsberger says, ““Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
And now, more to the point of this blog, THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker, is one of the first books I ever read that really exposed me to the lives I knew nothing about. I first read this in high school, but have read it several times since (which is rare for me). It exposed me to the personal history of a black woman growing up in slavery, a survivor of rape, a woman living in an abusive household, and of a woman with a sexuality more fluid than my own. These narratives will never be mine, but thanks to Ms. Alice Walker, I have a much greater understanding of women who have lived these stories.
This is the power of story. Sharing non-fiction in a compelling way is vitally important, but fiction has a power like none other. In it, we can name names, we can expose all the ugliness that lurks in the dark, and we can show how in spite of the battering, humanity doesn’t just survive, but it can thrive. It shows that no one is confined to live under the weight of prejudice or abuse, but instead they are free to become who they were meant to be. If that doesn’t inspire hope in you, you might need to check your pulse.
This story of Celie, Nettie, Sofia, and Shug, inspires me. They each find a way to stand on their own feet as women and say to the darkness, “you don’t scare me!” They each find a way to wriggle out from under the oppressive forces and bloom. Nothing that bound them defines them. They are shaped by it, but not defined by it.
We can’t support our living sisters and brothers if we don’t know their stories. We have to listen to them, we have to read their cultural histories, and we have to find fiction that can help us fill in the rest of the story. Only then can we even start to grasp where help and support should begin.
This should make those of you who are still bunkered-down under your covers happy. Pull your e-reader under the sheets with you and read. Read everything you can find on people who are living in the margins: people of color, people who have disabilties, the LGBTQIA community, and those of other faiths. Then start conversations over cups of coffee with people that are different from you with the sole intention of just listening to their story. Maybe you’ll discover where your gifts and skills can fill a need, but know that just listening and trying to understand is a way of extending love.
I apologize for the break from my standard form here, but breaks are good sometimes. To Ms. Alice Walker, I thank you for being a teacher for me. I thank you for helping me better understand others. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. I believe we, your readers, are all better humans for it.
What books have helped you step into the life of another to better understand them? What have you read recently that has helped you gain some perspective on the world?
Thanks for reading!