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a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Friday, March 15, 2013

BEAUTY


The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS
“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia

The Illinois Reading Council Conference has been incredibly difficult for me to write about this year.  Usually I have difficulty condensing my learning to a digestible post, but this time the stumbling block is much bigger.  I have experienced so many rich and powerful presentations—the kind that rock my world—I am afraid I don’t have words worthy of conveying their impact.

One such session was ‘Trent Reedy and Katherine Paterson: A Conversation.’  Reedy and Paterson shared their connection to each other with the audience.  I was teary for the duration of the session.  I knew the whole time that their story is bigger than me—bigger than the giant room we were in—bigger than the words they were using to express it. 
Trent Reedy and Katherine Paterson

The basic story is that Trent Reedy, from Iowa, taught 9th grade English and was a member of the Reserves until he was called to duty in 2004 and sent to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.  In Sara Holbrook’s session today, she read us a poem she had written about the idea of a poet being sent into war.  Trent Reedy is just that guy.  He referred to himself as a “Teacher Made Soldier.”

When he spoke of his experience in Afghanistan, it was clear he was overcome with emotion.  He was keenly aware as he spoke that no words could possibly truly communicate to this group of teachers and librarians what it was like to enter the world of war torn Afghanistan.  And it was clear he wasn’t sure he even wanted us to fully understand the truth of his experience.  It was ugly to say the least. 

What he did want to seep deep into our souls is the lesson he learned.  Reedy found himself in a place where his physical needs for sustenance were being met: basic minimal requirements for nourishment and shelter.  What he lacked in droves was sustenance for his heart, food for his soul.  He was surrounded by weapons and men trained to kill.  He was charged with unspeakable tasks and faced daily death threats that grew increasingly dangerous. 

Then a copy of Bride to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson arrived in the mail from his wife, who purchased it for him on a whim. 

Reading Paterson’s story, one I have long loved, in the midst of his situation in Afghanistan was life changing for Reedy.  It prompted him to write a letter of thanks to Paterson, who was so moved by his story that she wrote back.  A chain of correspondence began between the two. 

Reading Bridge to Terabithia, writing to Paterson, renewed in Reedy a dream to one day become a writer himself. 

For next school year in the state of Illinois, Reedy’s book Words in the Dust is a nominee for the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (a student choice award).  It tells the story of an Afghan girl Reedy met.  His unit was able to help provide her medical assistance for a cleft lip.  Before leaving, he promised the girl he would share her story. 

It was a promise he kept. 
Trent Reedy with his book WORDS IN THE DUST

As Reedy spoke about the process of sharing the letters he had exchanged with Paterson, he shared a story of the first time they spoke together.  It was in front of a group of 6th graders.  Paterson had brought the actual copies of the letters Trent had written for him to share.  When he described the experience, his voice shifted.  He spoke of the sand, the dusty grains of earth in Afghanistan and how it gets into everything—how it will forever coat the letters he wrote while he was there.  Then with a depth of emotion that can only be felt in person, he said something like, “You can’t get rid of the dust.  It is everywhere.  I think you breathe it in and Afghanistan is always part of you.”

Afghanistan is part of him.  Through his story—his words—I now feel like I, too, have breathed in the sandy dust.  Although I fully understand that I cannot possibly understand all of the emotions behind his words, this story will always be part of me.  Now, to borrow Paterson's words, it is up to me to pay back to the world in beauty and caring the vision and strength I found today.  
"For Christy, Words have power! Trent Reedy"

6 comments:

  1. "I knew the whole time that their story is bigger than me—bigger than the giant room we were in—bigger than the words they were using to express it." Wow this is a powerful experience to read about. Words do have power. Thank you for sharing this, Christy.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this story. I had tears in my eyes as I finished. Your words had power in this one! Amazing

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  3. What an amazing experience to have been part of. The serendipity of Trent being sent that particular book by that particular author is also amazing. Jesse was so transformed by Leslie, and Terebithia - when Trent spoke of the dust in Afghanistan, I was reminded of that. And Paterson is such an intuitively sensitive writer, I can just imagine the powerful bond between these two individuals. Thank you for sharing what you saw, learned and felt, Christy.

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  4. My arms were covered in goosebumps as I finished this post, definitely powerful words cause that kind of reaction. What an amazing conference you are having! Thanks for putting your words on the page so I can get a glimpse into the amazing speakers you've been learning from.

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  5. Wow. That's just about all I can say, Christy. Thank you for doing the diligent thought work of processing this experience so that we, your audience, can be included in its depth and magic. Now the dust is in me too.

    Awesome....
    b

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  6. What a powerful story--somehow you managed to convey that sense of being so overwhelmed by amazing things that you aren't sure you can share them, and yet, you did.

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