Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Good Book. by Patresa Hartman

I am reading a fantastic book, and I am so grateful for it. Have you read What is the What by Dave Eggers? It is a novelization of the true story of a Sudanese Lost Boy, Valentino Achak Deng. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring.

It is a shameful account of how cruel we can be to one another, the long stretch we have to collective enlightenment, and how hardship does not end for refugees when they reach "safe" soil. It is also miraculous testimony to strength of spirit and generosity.

I am excited about this book. I have tried to share this enthusiasm with my students. I want them to know how powerful a story can be, how exciting it is to get lost in someone else's tale. I want them so much to understand that a book can be life-sized even when it presents in a purse-sized paperback. I want them to know intimately the words do not end on the page.

The story of Deng is remarkable, unimaginable: To walk for years, cross-country, barely dressed, knowing at any point you could be plucked from your traveling pack and eaten by a lion in the bush; To understand intimately that death is real and waiting for everyone; To feel, in a way that most cannot, that you are hunted by multiple predators, some of your own species. When I was ten, I argued for Barbies in the pink bedroom I shared with my sister. I never doubted my safety.

I am grateful for a childhood of Barbies and minor squabbles. I am equally grateful for the stories others tell so that I understand better that my experiences are not universal and that the world consists of far more texture. It is a painful and complicated texture, but it is better to know than not know. There is value in knowing of painful things.

Do you know what I mean by that?

When I read stories such as Deng's, my own trials are knocked into perspective. We are made of the same stuff, you, me, and Deng. And so, I know that what is in Deng is in me as well; I have the same capacity for resilience. I am inspired and encouraged by that, and I am grateful for Deng's survival and his willingness to share himself with me, his anonymous reader.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Very nice. Your students are lucky to have you for their teacher!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Ditto Angie.

You can't always look at a face, even an open smiling one, and know what has pummeled that heart - the strength of character comes in that open smiling face...the Despite Of face...

well done post

Barbara Quinn said...

"There is value in knowing of painful things."

Oh yes. So well put.

Really enjoyed this and now I have to read What is the What.

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