Sunday, July 19, 2009

Small Wonder

Small Wonder
Barbara Kingsolver (2002, HarperCollins)

This collection of essays by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver arose out of the events of September eleventh; hers is a voice we sorely need to hear, speaking of the possibility of peace. For what has war begotten, but more war? Is there another way, besides the continued sowing of deadly dragon’s teeth? In the opening essay, Kingsolver offers this vision: “... I’m emboldened by Medea to speak up on behalf of psychological strategy. It’s not a simple-minded suggestion; her elixir of contentment is exactly as symbolic as Jason’s all-conquering sword, and the latter has by no means translated well into reality.”
Kingsolver’s topic turns out to be something more, perhaps ‘Life on the Planet in Parlous Times’, and her purview is wide. She and her husband write articles about threatened habitats around the world; these share space with disquisitions on the joys of homegrown food--and sobering facts about our fuel-based economy, in particular the distance most of our groceries travel to our tables. It’s simply not sustainable, driving our dinner to the moon and back every year.
These essays are both luminous and illuminating; Kingsolver contrives to deliver terrible news in such a way as to elicit hope, not despair. “I’m not up for a guilt trip, just an adventure in bearable lightness. I approach our efforts at simplicity as a novice approaches her order, aspiring to a lifetime of deepening understanding, discipline, serenity, and joy.”
Actually, several lifetimes--her aspirations include teaching her children some of the authentic ways of the world that most American children don’t get much chance to learn. One of my favorite essays describes the domestic joy of feeding the garden’s hornworms and pigweeds to her five-year-old daughter’s flock of chickens, to be converted into Free Breakfast.
And when Kingsolver had to tell that little girl that yes, they were still having that war in Afghanistan, she had only such small specificities to offer by way of comfort. ”...I understood that day that we are all in the same boat. It’s the same struggle for each of us, and the same path out; the utterly simple, infinitely wise, ultimately defiant act of loving one thing and then another, loving our way back to life.”
Amen, and thanks be to God.

March 2003

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite authors. "The Poisonwood Bible" is one of the most moving and lyrical books ever.