In the long run I find it hardest to bear adversaries on the other end of the spectrum: those who couldn't care less, who won't or can't fathom the honest depths of love and grief, who opt out of the bull-ride through life in favor of the sleeping berth. These are the ones who say it's ridiculous to imagine that the world could be made better than it is. The more sophisticated approach, they suggest, is to accept that we are all on a jolly road trip down the maw of catastrophe, so shut up and drive.
I fight that; I fight it as if I were drowning. When I come down to this feeling that I am an army of one standing out on the broad plain waving my little flag of hope, I call up a friend or two and offer to make dinner for us. We remind ourselves that we aren't standing apart from the crowd, we are a crowd. We're a prairie fire, a church choir, a major note in the American chord, and the dominant one in the song of the world: a million North American students rejecting the tyranny of the logo and the sweatshop behind it; a thousand farmers in India lying down on their soil to prevent its being seeded with a crop that would steal their history and future; a hundred sheep farmers in southern France defying a fast-food hegemony by making cheese in limestone caves exactly as their great-grandparents did; tribal elders from east to west inviting peace to enter the world through its Hopi cloud dancers and its Sufi dancers; the Women in Black who stand in eloquent silence on every continent, refusing the wars that would eat their sons and daughters alive. We're the theater of the street, the accurate joy of children's hearts, the literature of tomorrow's wisdom arrived today, just in time. I'm with Emma Goldman: Our revolution will have dancingand excellent food. In the long run, the choice of life over death is too good to resist.
When all else fails and I forget this, on those late nights when all the lights have gone out on my soul, I go into my office and read the other mail, the piles of love notes that outnumber the hateful letters two hundred to one. (Why does praise go in one ear and out the other, for so many of us, while we memorize criticisms verbatim? For the same reason the radio plays two hundred songs about loneliness for every one about family reunions. We hang our hats on heartache.) I am sustained by the kindness of strangers, who often send me remarkable gifts from the blue: a watercolor painting of a beloved bookshelf, a bar of handmade soap scented with rosemary, an exquisite book on the silk moths of North America, some precious tale of wonder or kindness, or just the perfection of gratitude, simply expressed. I can't possibly feel alone when so manyfrom prisoners to presidents, but mostly just everyday peoplehave accepted my words into their lives as they would the companionship of a friend, who say to me quietly in the park or the grocery when I'm least expecting it, "Thank you. Keep writing." And so I will, and when I need my own life-line of words I read Walt Whitman, George Eliot, John Steinbeck, Arundhati Roypeople who have understood how to look life in the eye and love it back.
I fight against the drowning, knowing I can never go into the swamp of cynicism because if I do, I may never come out again. I'm not put together that way. I have children who are more precious to me than my life, and every molecule in me wants to promise them we'll get through this. We won't blow up the world before they get a crack at doing all the things grown-ups get to do in this howling hoot of a party: stand on your own two feet, get your heart broken, get over it, vote, drive a car, not drive a car, get dog-tired doing something that makes you proud, play the radio station you want, wear your heart on your sleeve, dance on the table, make a scene, be ridiculous, be amazing, be stronger than you knew, make a sacrifice that matters, find out what you're made of, cook a perfect meal, read a perfect book, kiss for an hour, fall in love for keeps, make love, make a baby, stand over your own naked child weeping for dread and wonder at the miracle.
Excerpted from "God's Wives Measuring Spoons" in Small Wonder. Copyright © 2002 by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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