Ubuntu

I just finished reading The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, a book outside my usual reads (I say that only because it’s nonfiction). It’s the story of two men named Wes Moore whose lives start off similarly but later venture down drastically different paths. It’s a really great book with excellent lessons, the most important being the idea of ubuntu.

Ubuntu is the Xhosa word for humanity. Moore expands on the term when he retells the story of having tea with his host mother while studying in South Africa. As she relates her experience during the period of apartheid in the country, Moore is amazed by the lack of anger in her voice. He asks her how she was able to forgive those who tormented her and her husband, and she tells him, “‘Because Mr. Mandela asked us to'” (168). It was in that moment that Moore understood ubuntu.

The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, any challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount. Knowing when to fight and when to seek peace is wisdom. Ubuntu was right. (168)

How I wish more people subscribed to this ideal! In this world today, people seem to be more divided than ever. We’re so quick to find fault or be offended by what others say about any topic that it’s impossible to be at peace. And I feel like the Internet has exacerbated the issue. It’s so easy to sit at a keyboard and spout off whatever we think about whatever is happening in the world without thinking of the human element. I admire people who are strong in their convictions, even when I may not agree with their opinion. However, a voiced (or typed, in the case of the Internet) disagreement shouldn’t be grounds for ad hominem attacks or threats. I see these interactions every day on my city’s Facebook group, and all I can do is shake my head and wonder if the same exchange would take place if the participants were face-to-face. I like to think they might be a little kinder in person.

In this day and age, what it boils down to is you can be happy or you can be right. Lately, I find it better for my sanity to choose happy.

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Make Up Your Own Mind

My students are blogging about their books this week, so I thought I’d use this entry to follow suit. My goal is to read at least 20 minutes a night. I’ve been trying to step outside my usual reads to get into more nonfiction; however, the book I recently finished represents a return to my comfort zone of young adult fiction. And while the genre was familiar, it was immediately clear that this book would not be like the others.

Set in 1950s Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley shares the experiences of two very different high school girls during the battle for civil rights. Sarah’s family and community waged a court battle to get equal educational opportunities for black students, and the book begins as they attempt to enter the front doors of Jefferson High, the (previously) all-white school. Linda’s family and community are vehemently opposed to the decision and make their dissent clear as they stop at very little to create an unwelcome environment for the ten new students. Eventually, Sarah and Linda are thrown together to work on a class project, and everything they thought was true is questioned.

“Other people will try to decide things for you,” [Sarah] said. “They’ll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you’re the only one who really decides.”

Clearly one of the major, overarching themes of the book, this advice is passed on by Sarah to her younger sister, Ruth, near the end of the story. As Sarah endures her journey through her senior year of high school, her adversaries attempt to define who she is by placing her in remedial classes instead of the upper level courses she was in at her old school and by abusing her both physically and verbally. Sarah does not allow these tactics to designate who she is; instead, she rises above the fray and trudges through each day, determined to graduate despite the unjust conditions.

While circumstances are not quite as dire for Linda, she, too, eventually decides to discover her own path. Her thoughts on the whole situation were instilled by her father and classmates. As she gets to know Sarah, her compassion takes over, and those ideas begin to die off, no matter how frequently and forcefully others try to replant them. In the end, Linda successfully uproots herself from the toxic environment.

This message is so important still today. When we feel like others are trying to tell us how to think and feel, we must search our own minds and hearts to find our own truth. And if the truth we discover doesn’t align with what we’ve been told, we must look for the courage to allow ourselves to separate from those who may want to hold us back.

A Life in Books

I’ve always been a reader. One of my earliest memories is visiting the upper grades as a kindergartener to read the Christmas story from the Bible. I don’t really remember how all of that came to pass–I just know that I’ve been reading all my life.

As I got older, my love for books continued to grow. I read and reread every S.E. Hinton book in the library. I bought as many Judy Blume books as my allowance would provide. I sped through the Encyclopedia Brown and Sweet Valley High series, craving the predictable patterns they followed as my own little life became somewhat chaotic.

At some point in high school, my focus changed, and I don’t remember reading for enjoyment as much. I read what I was supposed to read, John Steinbeck and others (I’ve somehow forgotten all of those other authors!) but recalled those previous stories to help me find the peace and calm that reading affords.

And then college happened, and reading for fun was no longer an option. As an English major, the required reading increased tenfold, and I longed for the days of The Poky Little Puppy. However, once Dr. Blackmon introduced me to southern fiction, I remembered reading like remembering to ride a bike and dove into the worlds of Ellen Gilchrist and John Kennedy Toole.

When I started teaching, reading took on a different role. It was still required, but I was the one in control of the titles (for the most part). I introduced my students to Harper Lee, Homer, Ray Bradbury, and Shakespeare, and I tried not to take it personally when they didn’t fall in love with the words like I did.

About a year and a half ago, my colleague Donna Friend launched #HebronReads, and I rediscovered that first love of reading. I replaced “Friends” reruns with chapters from Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Gillian Flynn, and so many more. The library appeared on my iPad, and I could instantly download my next book without leaving my pillow. My old habit has reappeared, and this time, I’ll work hard not to break it.

There’s Always a Bright Side

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This is supposed to make it better.

I’m sitting here trying to find a way to turn this whole house debacle into deep and meaningful analogy, but I’m exhausted, and the words aren’t coming.

There’s no need to bore you with the entire sordid story, so I’ll just say this: if these repairs don’t solve the problem, it might be time to light a match and walk away. (I’m entirely kidding, of course.)

So I guess the analogy is that sometimes things look really, really bad before they get better. These holes in the floor and the dust and debris that I spent the day cleaning up are all parts of the solution. Sometimes it can be difficult to imagine the end result, but in about 4 months, hopefully, this place will be transformed, and I won’t feel like I’m living in a construction zone anymore. And maybe it will finally look like a home again. Optimism makes most things palatable.

And sometimes things don’t resolve themselves as quickly as we’d like. This whole process has taken almost 3 years. The foundation was lifted once. Smaller holes were drilled. Cracks were repaired. The foundation was lifted again. More and more cracks were repaired. Now that this is the “last” lift, previous cracks have reappeared and new cracks have opened up, and those will be repaired, too. Patience is required for sanity.

It’s a good thing optimism and patience are renewable resources!