Friday, May 22, 2015

Cry, the Beloved Country

     We invited two South African couples for dinner one night a few years ago, and after the cake and coffee were served, I asked if anyone had read Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, a twentieth century South African writer. I asked the question in innocence and ignorance. At the time, I didn’t know that the book had been banned during apartheid and that its author had been a controversial figure. No one at the table but me had read it.

     My pen pal recommended the book to me, so I borrowed it from the library and promptly fell in love with it. I think it is one of the best books I have ever read. It was written before I was born, and yet, I didn't find it until I was 46 years old.

     The consensus among our guests that night was that it was primarily a political book. I had seen it reviewed by Oprah Winfrey and former president Bill Clinton on television, and they too, presented the book as a protest against the structures of a society that would lead to apartheid. Yes, social injustice is one of its themes. 

     It is also a book that has undergone a great deal of scrutiny. Activists have criticized it for falling short of their own political ideals. Some have painted it as sentimental, while others praise it for its searing beauty and consider it to be the most important novel in South Africa’s history.

     I told our dinner guests that I thought it was a book about forgiveness. I think it is true that we often take from a book what we bring to it. We all carry within us a system of beliefs that informs our thinking. At the core of my own beliefs stands the unfathomable forgiveness that restores my broken relationship with God, and the call to reflect that forgiveness to others around me. In Cry, the Beloved Country the struggle for equity is certainly present between its pages, as is the struggle for justice and for understanding; but the struggle for forgiveness is the siren call of searing beauty that has me returning to the book again and again. 

     It still haunts me.

     "The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again."

                                                                     ~ Alan Paton ~

Friday, May 15, 2015

There's No Bed Like Home

     Last week, for reasons we have yet to unravel, when we turned our computers on we received the British versions of Google and YouTube. Perhaps it had something to do with our guests from London the week before, or perhaps it was merely a coincidence. Either way, we were impressed and amused with the brilliance of the Ikea adverts that we have not seen in the United States. So tickled, in fact, that I feel compelled to share my favorite with you.

     It isn't high art and it won't induce me to buy a mattress, but I paused, I watched, and I wrote about it when I would normally ignore the adverts and go into the kitchen to rummage for cookies or cracker peanuts.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Best Dress

     With six children in our family, and me stuck irrevocably in the middle, most of my clothes as a child were hand-me-downs. With only one sister ahead of me, however, they were still in good shape when they came to me.

     When I was in fourth grade, the mother of one of the “rich” girls in church gave us a bag of clothes her daughter had outgrown. There was a red velvet jumper in the bag that fit me. I had dreamed of wearing patent leather shoes with heels that clicked on the floor like tap shoes when you walked in them. I had dreamed of wearing taffeta with layers of tulle that suspended the skirt in a perpetual twirl. But velvet was beyond imagining. Velvet was like fur and diamonds to a girl like me.

     Even so, it was a dress my grandmother made for me the year I was in kindergarten that I remember with the greatest fondness. It was a new dress that no one before me had even tried on. A one-of-a-kind dress made with me in mind. I felt invisible for most of my childhood, but that dress said: “There you are. I see you.” It was blue plaid with a full skirt, puffed sleeves and lace-trimmed bib. I wore it for that most auspicious of occasions in school: Picture Day. It was my best dress and I must have worn it to shreds because I don’t remember either of my younger sisters wearing it. That dress and the memory of it remain mine alone.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Passenger's Photo Album - Vietnam

     The Passenger, stopping by a potter's shed on the road from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, found something to admire in the unfinished forms.

What do you see at first glance--a shiny or matte finish?