The Prompter Room

For Saturday, February 20, 2016:

 

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one that makes you think.”

Harper Lee

“To survive, you must tell stories.”

Umberto Eco

We lost two literary greats yesterday.  Harper Lee – author of To Kill a Mockingbird and the recently-published Go Set a Watchman – and Umberto Eco – philosopher, teacher, and author of The Name of the Rose, among others – both died.  Lee was 89 and Eco was 83.

For many of my generation, Mockingbird was and is a seminal book.  Growing up in the time of the Civil Rights struggles, we could not help but be affected by the story of Scout and Atticus and Boo, et al, and a town forced to face its own prejudices of race and ‘otherness.’  It’s a story that still has many ramifications today.

The Name of the Rose is a different take on seeing and living with the ‘other’ among us.  It’s been a long time since I read it, and I confess I don’t remember it as well as Lee’s book, so I can’t comment as fully as I’d like. I remember it well enough, though, to know it’s one I want, and need, to read again.  Befitting Eco’s philosophical bent, it’s a dense story that is worth the effort.

Both of these books made me think.  More than that, these books caused me to look at the world around me, how I fit in with others, and – most importantly – how I helped, or didn’t help, others to fit in.

But it goes beyond just fitting in, doesn’t it?  Maybe we don’t want to ‘fit in,’ especially if that means being part of a town or society or group that’s not right for us in some way.  These two books show us that it takes strength and courage to make space – ‘hold space,’ as the Quakers put it – for those among us who are different, and to do so in a way that welcomes and embraces their ‘otherness,’ their ‘differences.’

For if we allow ourselves to become too homogeneous, too much the same, we won’t grow.  Our thinking, our understanding, our very beings won’t expand to include those who don’t look or think or act like us.  If we don’t learn to open our minds and hearts enough to make space for others, we lose the holiness of ‘the other,’  which deprives us – and the world – of new and wonderful ways of being and doing.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”  Both Ms. Lee and Professor Eco did that for me, and I will be forever grateful.  So today I give thanks for Harper Lee and Umberto Eco. Their words and their spirits – and their teachings – live on.

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