Saturday, June 05, 2010

Re-reading the past--learning for the present--applying it to the future

Recently I decided to read back through some of my favorite novels from my childhood. To remember, and relive, to relearn, and rediscover all that joy and wonder they brought me back when I was 10 years old.  I decided to start with Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.

For those of you who have never read it, a brief summary:
  Meg Murray is a child who is different. She's smart and she knows it, but she doesn't like being asked to prove it. She feels awkward and ungainly. Her parents are both scientists, her father has recently disappeared. Her little brother, Charles, "knows" things and is oddly smart for his young age of 5, but doesn't talk in public so people think he's dumb.  3 odd visitors, old eccentric women, come to the Murray house one night and take the siblings along with a neighbor friend Calvin on a wild time traveling adventure through space to save Mr. Murray from the evil, dark, Black Thing and the IT. The very thing that causes Meg to feel pain on Earth, her differences, is what allows her to defeat the IT and save both her father and in the end her little brother as well.

There is a part in this book that really resonates with me. The IT is trying to explain to the children how the way of the collective, "one mind", hive mind is better. How IT has taken away all misery, suffering, illness and disease and that all they have to do is "rest".  No more decisions because IT makes them all, no more responsibilities because IT gives them all that they need, and no more worries because IT does all the thinking. All they have to do is GIVE IN.

IT says, "You see, what you will soon realize is that there is no need to fight me. Not only is there no need, but you will not have the slightest desire to do so. For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision.
Charles responds with, "We will make our own decisions, thank you."
IT replies, "But of course. And our decisions will be one, yours and mine. Don't you see how much better, how much easier for you that is?"
He goes on to try to get the children to say their multiplication tables together with IT.  They fight him off at this point.  Eventually Charles Wallace thinks he is stronger than IT and tries to face it head on. Giving himself to the force that eventually takes over his mind.

Later IT tries again using wrote learning to infect their minds and get them to be swayed to "give in"

This time Meg fights IT off by reciting the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.  
IT replies, "But that is exactly what we have .... Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike!"
"NO!" says Meg realizing the truth of what the founders meant. "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!!"

That truth was so very important to Ms. L'Engle's audience back in 1963 and it is ever more important today. It is absolutely possible to be 100% different from someone else and still be completely equal in the rights we possess.  And we do NOT need a larger than life governance telling us how to think, what to do when, how to behave, or where to go.  But we have been told that we do need this "guidance" That we need someone to "level the playing field" so that we have an easier time of it and don't have to work as hard to be alike. 

Every day I turn on the news to see some new regulation or law that limits our rights.  I read a news story about a farmer being persecuted and prosecuted for feeding families as nature provides.  I hear of a parent turned in to CPS for choosing not to inject their child with something they feel may be harmful.  I see a school system that is more focused on conformity, test scores, and teacher's salaries than on the unique and special gifts our children embody.  And I see people blindly following along and doing what they are told like those on the planet Camazotz.  All bouncing their balls in the same rhythm.  It is as scary to me as it is to children in the novel. 

Embracing our differences is one way we can prevent the loss of our own selves. Standing up for the right of choice and the right to pursue our own chance, our own possibilities, on our own terms is even more important. It is our right not only to try, but to fail, pick ourselves up again, and keep on trying until we succeed.  In fact one could almost say that our  country's success has been build on our country's failure. By giving hand outs, instead of hands up we circumvent that process.  We short circuit the learning process and create a society that expects things to come easy and when they don't society gives up or revolts because their entitlements aren't getting them anywhere.  Easier is not better.  Easy doesn't teach anything. We learn by doing, by trying, and yes by failing. And from that learning comes success and prosperity. IF we keep trying. 

The 2nd step towards restoration of our liberty is embodied by another character in this book. Aunt Beast says, "We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal."  She is talking about love, hope, charity, and faith.  Those things that if we work toward giving them to not only others, but to ourselves, we can elevate the condition of our communities without spending a dime. 

It is amazing how a re-read of a simple book can remind me of lessons I learned as a child and how relevant they are for our world today.  Celebrating the differences with love, giving everyone the equal chance to succeed or fail all the while having faith in what hard work and hope for the future can do is how we are going to really cause change.

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