Read. Even when the world around us is falling apart. Maybe we will find a way to stop the sky from falling, a hope that our hearts can be unbroken, words of love in an unkind world.
My son read to me today Dr. Seuss’s In a People House, a book I read to him as a baby. A mouse invites a bird to see all the things inside the house, from chairs to dishes. In the end, Mr. Bird and Mouse get kicked out of the House. The People decide what belongs inside. Mice and birds generally do not, unless they are pets.
I can’t wait for my son to read Ray Bradbury. I pray someday this part of Fahrenheit 451 also comes true:
“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.”
We are reading, but what are we reading? What is taking up room in our hearts and minds? What are we remembering? What are we teaching our children to remember? Can they recite poetry and verses by heart? Will they know peace?
There was war before, throughout civilization. But the capacity for destruction is far greater now. And our detachment from this reality is profoundly disturbing.
So what of art? What of writers and their work? What do we do when the world has gone to pieces? Are we advocates, witnesses, messengers, observers? Do we call attention to the horrors? Perhaps.
Yet, Art need not be horrifying. It can provoke and challenge us to remember. But, it needs to elevate us out of darkness. Beauty can be a catalyst for change and a voice of comfort and reason amid disorienting currents of violence and hatred.
Albert Camus wrote in The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt:
“Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.”
We may not see peace in our lifetimes. But I still hope my children will know it. Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit:
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
London bookshop after German bombing, 1940