Ever since I read Because of Winn Dixie, I’ve loved the work and words of Kate diCamillo. And then there’s The Tale of Despereaux. And I continue to love what she says, like this Facebook post on August 17, 2017 :
I have felt so very, impossibly small lately.
And the world has seemed so dark.
How do I combat the darkness?
That is the question that I keep asking myself.
Yesterday, I thought, “This feeling reminds me of someone,
and I can’t think of who it is.”…
And then I realized that I was feeling like Despereaux.
Which made me laugh out loud.
I realized what I need to do.
I need to work on a story.
Stories are light.
And light is precious in a world so dark.
Stories are light. And light is precious in a world so dark.
Listen, if you will, to this one…
He was born and raised during the Great Depression on a homesteaded ranch, in a sod home his father built from scratch. He was wise and smart and yet in many ways naïve about the world and its sink holes of darkness. When serving just behind the front lines in World War II, the other guys called him “Deek” – short for Deacon. A high tribute to his love for Jesus.
His daughter adored him.
They watched his shows together, including the westerns, his favorites. Everyone recognized the good guys – those without kerchiefs over their faces, and those without headdresses or war paint. Both of those groups, the thugs and thieves and the natives who seemed to bear nothing but ill-will and violence toward the white man, were unmistakably the bad guys. You could tell by just looking at them.
The dad and his daughter and their family were part of the majority. But it seemed to her that, as time passed, she saw more evidence of his particular bias against the men portrayed with tomahawks than against the garden variety stagecoach robbers.
But she didn’t second guess his wisdom or political position or moral compass. After all, these people had caused so much anguish to our forefathers and the courageous pioneers who opened the West.
Still, it seemed uncharacteristically unloving – a quality so unlike her father’s generous and forgiving nature.
He told stories of his life on the homestead, next to the reservation. How the government had stepped in during a particularly cold and relentless winter, building small, warm homes for the Native Americans. And it was incredulous to him that, while the buildings were just perfect for a small family and their pets, the new owners instead gave these buildings over to their horses, cows, chickens, and pigs.
Just imagine. A home, built for you and your loved ones. For FREE. No strings attached. Just warmth and protection.
How could they be so foolish, so thankless? So disrespectful? How could they allow dirty farm animals to inhabit what was intended for people? How could they take their children back to those small, smoky tipi’s? What was WRONG with them?
When he spoke of these childhood memories, she remembers the slightest tone of bitterness against people who lacked any visible appreciation for what they were given. People who seemed to trample all he held dear. Them.
It wasn’t until she was in college, during the Civil Rights movement, at a time when Black Like Me was required reading and the windows into other peoples’ lives were opening ever so slowly, that she started to understand. Because she also read Black Elk Speaks, a book about “the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West.” She read and reread the famous quote by Black Elk:
Everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished.
Good golly, Miss Molly. Then she knew. The reason her dad had such strong feelings about his native neighbors was that he didn’t know their story. He didn’t know that the corners of the rectangles built by a government who didn’t do their homework were unwelcome and weak.
He never knew that the round-ness of their tipi’s was as important to them as the truths of the Scripture were to him.
And so, for all his life, he carried the weight of low-grade anger because of a simple misunderstanding. She wasn’t sure that an explanation of the Native American beliefs would have satisfied her dad’s indignation about the use of a perfectly good home. He may have remained forever unmoved, harboring contempt for people he disagreed with.
But he would at least have known the why. He could have made a measured decision about his feelings and if or when he could change his mind. He would have heard their story.
I never had that conversation with my Dad. Not that I remember, anyway. I guess it may have seemed fruitless or even trivial.
We were living through the daily news of fire hose targeting and riots in the street. We witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and its aftermath.
It was far away and disconnected from me. I was alarmed by the images that became our history, but not affected. And as the Viet Nam war escalated, it took over our attention and outrage.
But now I have the gift of hindsight. I can see what my dad didn’t. I can revisit what I dismissed. I feel compelled to make up for the indifference I’ve hidden behind my entire life – indifference about the plight of almost anyone except those I hold near and dear.
Now, don’t you dare misunderstand my words or my intention…
- I’m not accepting even the slightest level of hate or hate speech or hate mongering.
- I’m not excusing anyone’s hurtful behavior.
- I’m not OK with the us vs. them mentality.
- I’m not giving permission to anyone to consider others “less than.” Or “not a part.”
- I will never agree to tolerate even the tiniest shred of threats or violence.
But I am convinced that at least some of the ugliness we are witnessing can be illuminated by listening to the stories of those with whom we disagree the most. We don’t have to change our minds, but we may be able to change our hearts – and their hearts. Because violence and returned hate aren’t working.
My lovelies, if there is any glimmer of a chance – by simply hearing their stories and our stories – that we can see with new insight, I say give it a try. What they do may never, ever be OK – at ALL – but understanding the why? may be just the bridge we need to start the conversation.
Because stories are light. And light is precious in a world so dark.