Saturday, November 03, 2018

Stories upon stories upon stories...

How does someone come up with so many beautiful words?

I just finished Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson and it was simply beautiful. I started reading it while I was lying on the floor beside the crib while Alexander was taking forever to fall asleep and I had to grab a paper from Miriam's floor ('twas easy because her room is a bit of a mess) to use as a bookmark for a passage that stuck out to me because of something my mom said to me this week (she said that I need to write, not that she was nagging me to write, just that she was telling a truth about me):

"My uncle says that when you tell stories, it's like letting out all the scared inside of you.... It's like you help stuff make sense" p. 41.

But then I couldn't stop marking passages. It's a book that explains so eloquently that we're all a little bit broken and which illustrates the ideas (if not a little too obviously) that we can be someone's safe harbour. There were so many words I wanted to remember forever.

The main narrator's father went to prison when she was three years old and hearing her discuss her relationship with her father and to her uncle (who has been her sole caretaker while her father has been in prison) was very interesting to me. I couldn't help but think of Riley, who will soon only have memories of his mother in a prison uniform.

"I thought I could forgive my father. But I could never forget. I'd lock every moment of memory inside a room in my brain and hope they'd multiply like cells in our bodies, until I was a grown-up filled with memories. Maybe that's what made us free. Maybe it was our memories. The stuff we survived, the good stuff and the bad stuff" p. 56.

Later when Hayley says she wants to just forget it all, her friend Holly probes her and Hayley admits she would like to remember. She just doesn't want to be angry anymore. "You want forgiveness," Holly tells her. I'm not sure that forgiveness entails forgetting, necessarily (though, certainly, letting go of anger is part of forgiveness).

I love when Amari says, "Read those poems in all kinds of American, son," to Esteban (who is a native Spanish speaker and wanted to read his father's poem in both English and Spanish) p. 102. I love the idea of Spanish being American (and I wish my Spanish wasn't so abysmal).

I loved when Hayley said, "Tragedy is strange. It takes away. And it gives too" p. 165. It reminded me of D&C 90:24: "all things shall work together for your good."

Estaban's father's last poem (that we see) is beautiful. Part of it goes:

Tell him he is their dream. 
And he is my dream. 
And he is the dream come true of the ancestors.
And we are all the dream come true of the people who came before us.

It paid homage to Hayley's idea that our world is just stories on top of stories on top of stories and so beautifully described the roots and branches of our family trees. I had never thought of myself as a dream come true, but I suppose I am since my children are my own dream come true. It made me think of my ancestors who did their best to lay a path for me (and those who, perhaps, made the way a little stickier) and made me wonder whether I'm clearing the way for my children or hedging up their path. I hope it's the former, but however they end up seeing it at least they can rest assured that they are my dream come true.

Naturally this book made me think of the immigration crises in our world today. Well, this book and the last two I read (The Journey of Little Charlie and Refugee). Those two books were not as beautiful as this book but they were both heart wrenching. I guess what I mean to say is that although all three books made me think and think and think until my head hurt and I wanted to cry (and sometimes did cry), only Harbor Me left me with warm fuzzy feelings at the end.

The Journey of Little Charlie was gripping and graphic. It was difficult to read not only due to the dialect it was written in (which was very well done) but because of the content. The relationship of slave-to-slave-owner was most gruesomely detailed. My favourite parts of that book were when the former train worker says that no matter how many times we try to start over we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Of course, Little Charlie remembered this as well and decided that he could actually be the change.

So it was that, and then the author's note at the end about how Little Charlie hijacked the story and Christopher Paul Curtis just went along with it (and then he gives his young readers a call to action).

Refugee was, so raw. When you think about those stories happening today. You don't even have to use your imagination because they are happening. Help.

The way Alan Gratz wove all the stories together was genius. Andrew read it. Rachel read it. I read it. Miriam read it. Then we made Aunt Emily read it. And now Aunt Shayla has it. And we'll probably keep passing it around forever. It's so great.

I grew up crossing the border over and over again. Of course, this was always fairly easy for me to do since I'm the right colour and I speak the right language. But, honestly, the current discussions surrounding citizenship laws have me feeling all edgy. I understand that they're not "coming for me," right now but (due respect to Martin Niemöller)...

First they came for first generation Americans and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a first generation American.

And so on and so on and so on until finally they come for me and there is no one left to speak for me.

I'm not a first generation American, in fact, my passport does not list USA as my birth country (because I wasn't born here) and I'm not ashamed of that because I love both of my countries (O Canada!) but I do worry, sometimes, about whether or not that's going to be a problem for crossing the border some day. And I worry about whether it will be a problem for Miriam. I worry a whole lot more, however, those for whom it is a problem today.

A Canadian cousin of mine who has lived in the states for years mentioned on Facebook about all the headache he goes through to maintain his visa (which is actually lapsed right now since he's waiting for a citizenship interview, but doesn't that technically make him undocumented at the moment?). And it surely is a headache. Been there, done that.

"So, ya, I have a problem with immigrants crossing our border," he said.

Another Canadian cousin, who is living in Canada, popped on to say, "Yes, and you are one of them."

"Yes, but our family tree comes from John Hancock. Can any of the other immigrants say that?" he said, to which the other retorted, "The Hancocks came in 1640 as illegal immigrants. At least that is what the aboriginals saw it as."

Stories upon stories upon stories...

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