Don’t you sometimes wish the hard stuff just didn’t exist? Or that it would go away? But here’s a thing I’ve been pondering lately, and several people have been talking about it. And blogging about it.
If we don’t know the hard stuff, what do we really know at all?
I’m extremely lucky (lucky = blessed), and I know it. I am healthy. Happily married. Supported. With 4 excellent, healthy, smart, obedient kids who love each other. The hard things we go through in our family are fairly consistent, but nothing, nothing compared to some of the hard things other people face. And how do I know that? Because people talk about their struggles. They write about them. And careful novelists write about the hard stuff they know – either because it happened to them or someone they love, or because they learn enough to know.
For instance, did you know that there’s a standard September book-banning issue? At the beginning of a school year, people say what they don’t want anyone to read. I have issues with that. *Please don’t misunderstand. I have plenty of standards. There are many, many books that I choose not to read, becuase of content or message or for any number of reasons. I am fairly conservative in my reading. But I don’t tell people that they shouldn’t read things (except for once in a while, my kids. Because that IS my job. Totally.) So, anyway, people campaign for books to be removed from library shelves, in schools and out. And this year, one of the books that a religious group is trying to ban is Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK. I was about ten years late reading this book (don’t ask me where I’ve been since 1999), but I was floored by it. Floored. It was really one of the most touching books I’ve read. Ever. I put it right into the hands of my then-14. She recoiled a little. As she might. The book deals (forthrightly) with rape. And its aftereffects. And it’s hard. But does its being hard mean we should never read it? Or never let our kids read it? Or ignore that the problem sometimes exists? I say no, especially when the problem (in this case, rape) is always going to be prevalent, and some girl needs to know that she’s not alone. That she’s not singled out for pain and horror.
Do I want to read any book that glorifies violence? Oh, no. But do I leave it in your hands to decide if you want to seek out such a thing? Of course. Does SPEAK glorify rape? Not a bit. Not at all. It gives a voice to a victim. It’s the responsibility of the strong to speak for the weak, of the mighty to stand with the unprotected. (And then, that victim, that weak one, that unprotected child stands strong and speaks for herself, and for others.)
Many people are saying this better than I. Click on this link to hear Anderson’s words, and see her suggestions for effecting change.
“It’s all fine and good to walk around thinking “I’ve been saved! Woohoo!”, but seriously: saved from what? Sometimes I wonder if they even know, or if it’s too uncomfortable to think about.”
Is it simplistic, childish and unfair to say that I see both sides of that question? Some things are too uncomfortable to think about. But we stretch our brain by thinking about them anyway. We stretch our spirit. We grow. Remember growing? That’s what we’re doing here. Learning, growing, choosing – and how do we know what to choose? We learn the difference between good and evil, when it comes right down to it. Does that mean we delve, explore all kinds of evil, so we can really know it? No, not for me.
Want a metaphor? Well, you’re in luck. Because I have one.
Once upon a time I lived in Oklahoma. Which is a remarkable place. And I tried to grow a garden, because I’m some kind of glutton for punishment. Here’s the thing about gardening in Oklahoma. The dirt? Is brick. Like, you could probably cut it in cubes out of the ground and build a wolf-proof house out of it. It’s red, and hard, and solid. Seeds bounce off it. The ground sort of laughed at my efforts. Shovels didn’t really make a dent. It was sort of… baked.
And as I tried to plant seeds (because a woman of character grows things in the dirt) I realized that this ground needed to be broken. Split. Harrowed up. And I made it happen. Do you know what? It hurt. It hurt me to push through that hard. To use muscles I’ve never used before. To see very little success. And to move away before I could enjoy the fruits (but that’s another metaphor entirely). But what if my heart, protected, untouched and hidden, baking in the warm sun, has hardened like Oklahoma dirt? What if, by staying away from the shovel and the pick, crucial seeds are bouncing off my heart?
There are things that need to grow in my heart. Sympathy. Empathy. Understanding and forgiveness. But if I can’t let the seeds in, nothing will grow. It can’t. I’m not allowing it. So I need to let my heart be broken open. I’m not talking about inviting abuse. Not at all. I’m talking about allowing some of the pain that real people experience every day to crack me open a little so something beautiful can grow. And when our hearts get a little harrowed up, a little broken on behalf of someone else, I think our souls expand. I think that learning to understand others’ pain makes us bigger. And from the fertile ground of a broken, harrowed heart, beautiful trees can grow, to shade the weary and feed the hungry and make the world a little more beautiful.