Saturday, February 06, 2016

"Nothing will ever be simple again"

I won't kid you, the dog dying on top of everything has thrown me for a loop and I've been kind of an emotional mess. While we're really sad about losing Gretel, I have a sneaking suspicion that the overflow of emotion is not just about the dog. The dog was just the straw that broke this camel's back. I'll survive, but a period of relative calm would help greatly.

In the meantime, even during the extreme of amount of chaos around here, we have still be having our tea time/read aloud rest in the afternoons. This has truly been the single best idea I've had in a long time. It is good for us all to be together, to share a treat, and just listen to an engaging story. It has been a period of calm in a particularly un-calm time.

Of course, the irony here is that during our calm, restful hour of the day, we have been reading about the siege and fall of Constantinople. I can't decide whether knowing the city falls ahead of time helps or not. Either way, I highly recommend The Emperor's Winding Sheet by Jill Patton Walsh. It is an older book, written 1974, but in my book that is a plus since language and sentence structure in books written for older children (and younger ones, for that matter) over 30 years ago is significantly more complex. (I read a lot of books out loud and there is a noticeable difference. Children need to hear complex language or when they are adults, entire swaths of our culture will be unavailable to them. Sorry. Vent over, I'll go back to the topic at hand.) Because of the subject matter, this book is definitely best for junior high ages and older, and I can see boys in particular being engaged by it. I read it to a very mixed audience of listening abilities, but much of it went over the heads of the younger people, which was probably a good thing. The book is about a siege and sack of a city after all. It is not an easy subject. I felt the author did a good job of conveying the truth of what that looks like without going into unnecessarily traumatic detail. I have a very low tolerance for the horrors of war and while my own personal hair-trigger Geiger-counter was going off a bit, it wasn't enough for me to close the book. It is still not easy, though.

That said, there are so many redeeming parts of the book that it makes the yucky parts worth plowing through. The chapter that describes the Emperor Constantine (the last, not the first) going from person to person, begging their forgiveness if he had ever wronged them, and that cascading into every person in the room doing the same, on the eve of the final attack nearly brought me to tears reading it. It was so beautiful and moving and heart-rending. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful portrayals of Christian repentance and humility in juvenile literature.

At the book's heart, it is really about a boy (the narrator of the story) learning to see a broader and much more complex world. He starts out having a certain view of his world. It is a rather narrow and close-minded view and he is firm in his opinions of those around him. At the end, as he looks back on all he seen and all the people he has come to love, he wonders at the change in his outlook on the world. Eventually he is able to head back to England and ponders what it will be like to tell his family about all that has happened. He also realizes that it will be very difficult to convince them of the positives of the people he loved, because he knows that they are back in the mindset where he started. He realizes that nothing will ever be simple again. He has seen too much, has come to appreciate the humanity of people he didn't understand at first, has learned there is always more than one side to a story. His life has been made richer, yet much more complicated all at the same time.

This line speaks to me on a very deep level and I find myself thinking about it often since we finished the book. On this blog, I try over and over to convey the change that happens to people when they are confronted by real life orphans. It changes you. Suddenly, instead of just a depressing statistic, you know real faces, real stories, real children. You come away realizing that nothing will ever be simple again, because you cannot unknow what you know. This is also true parenting children who society has deemed less-than-perfect. Those of us who have been blessed by this experience, realize that our worlds have broadened. We know more now. We see things differently. We are thankful that we have not missed out on the joy and wonder our children bring us by staying on the traditional (and normal) path.

Nothing may ever be simple again, but it will be richer and deeper and more meaningful.
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