Everything Beautiful Began After

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imgresThis week I’ve been teaching a nonfiction reading unit, and I’ve gotten pretty fired up about the power of literacy and of reading widely. We teach students strategies for reading critically and asking questions, and honestly that is one of the most powerful things a citizen can do. Of course if you’ve read much here over the past ten years, my true passion is narrative, fiction or nonfiction. the ability to get to know stories and perspectives that are not your own is, I think, the best way to heal the brokenness in our country. This week NPR had a great article called One Way to Bridge the Political Divide: Read the Book That’s Not For You. They quote Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation: “My life is small” she says, “and I think books are a way to make your life larger.” It’s an article worth checking out–and the idea of reading books about people who are different than you might just be one of the answers to creating more empathy in our country: our classrooms, our homes, our social media feeds.

I finished reading Everything Beautiful Began After about a month ago for my 2016 rereading goal. I loved it as much as I did the first time, even when the second half switches to second person narration (which takes some getting used to). There is a tragedy that happens to the main characters, and this writing style forces the reader to feel as if they are the one experiencing the longing, the deep sense of grief, the lack of center along with him. Van Booy  has a gift for description that cuts to the marrow of human experience, and as I reread the following passages I underlined while reading, they became metaphorical for any kind of rebuilding, but felt particularly relevant to my current political frustrations.

First this:

“A man on an upside-down bucket is selling small tubes of glue from a folding table. On the table are things glued together…He asks if anything you have is broken. “Everything,” you say in Greek. He puts a tube of glue in your hands. You hold out a few coins, but he pushes them away,” (293).

Then this:

“You are sitting on a bench in Sicily, in the town of Noto, where George lives. Once destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt. After every chapter of devastation, there is rebuilding. It happens without thought. It happens even when there is no guarantee it won’t happen again. Humans may come and go–but the thread of hope is a rope we pull ourselves up with,” (367).

And this:

“He keeps going. He can feel the weight of their lives in a single step forward. And he is enchanted by the beauty of the small things: hot coffee, wind through an open window, the tapping of rain, a passing bicycle, the desolation of snow on a winter’s day,” (401).

The last one reminds me of course of Mary Oliver (thoughts on her latest coming soon) and living mindfully. Being present with love and grace rather than scrolling through twitter on the lookout for the next thing to incite anger. Being present to see signs of hope. Being present to rebuild. The title of this book–everything beautiful began after–is a precious reminder that after suffering, hope and life can spring.

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