This week, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy talked about the loneliness epidemic. By his estimation, the stress of loneliness is a national health crisis, especially for our young people, and will be a leading cause of disease if we don’t take steps to alleviate it.
We’re hyper connected and surrounded by people and pings all day long. How can we be lonely if we’re not alone? Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. In my opinion the worst kind of loneliness occurs when you feel it but aren’t actually alone. Loneliness is when we feel that no one understand us. As a child, I felt very lonely. One of the main reasons I wrote my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, is that I want all readers (especially kids) to feel less alone. I want them to know that someone somewhere is rooting for them and believes in their ideas and abilities. Emerson is the friend I needed when I was younger.
Nothing replaces a human presence in our lives though I do believe that books connect us, authors to readers, and readers to readers, across geographies and generations. As authors, they are our contribution to humanity. Books surface issues that matter and help us to walk in one another’s shoes. They help us see points-of-view that we don’t have the experience to see ourselves. They generate understanding, compassion, and empathy. They inspire courage, strength, and the ability to take a chance for something in which we believe. Books are powerful. And as authors, that power isn’t to be wielded lightly. We must work in service of the people who will one day read our words, the people who may one day need a friend and reach for our story.
“How many lives is a man-cub worth?” ~Shere Khan
After I saw it was nominated for a number of awards, I watched the live action version of The Jungle Book that was released this year. I can’t help but think about what a powerful allegory it is for our times. A community of wolves, loving and faithful to one another, protected a member of their pack, Mowgli, who was different. All they wanted was peace and acceptance for everyone. The member of their community who was different posed no threat to anyone, and yet a dictatorial tiger, Shere Khan, demanded that Mowgli be turned over to him to be destroyed. Mowgli left of his own volition for the sake of the pack, and still he was pursued by Shere Khan. On his way to the man-village where he will supposedly be protected and accepted, Mowgli makes friends who help him defeat Shere Khan.
Would we have the courage to protect someone who was different? Would we have the courage to standup for ourselves when faced with bigotry? When the moment comes to fight for what we believe in, would we back down in fear or would we rise and stand tall against injustice?
The Jungle Book is a story written for children, but its lessons have far-reaching implications for all of us. Literature is both a mirror and a teacher. It shows us what we’re made of. It gives us something to aspire to. It inspires us to become greater than we think we can be.
“You see, life is a very special kind of thing, not just for a chosen few. But for each and every living breathing thing. Not just me and you…Say a prayer for the wind, and the water, and the wood, and those who live there, too.” ~Alfie as told by John Denver and The Muppets
Over the last few days, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing. All my life, words (mine and those of others) have helped me through difficult circumstances. Yesterday, I looked to the potent words of one of my favorite set of philosophers, The Muppets. I usually wait until closer to Christmas time to post this poem, but after the week we’ve had I think we need it now. I certainly do. Though I don’t celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas, I do very much hold to the spirit of the season, and its ideals, hope, and light. (And I of course support my friends who do believe in its religious significance.) The poem below tells the story of Alfie, a tree, who by all accounts is one of the most thoughtful beings and who has a particular penchant for believing in the rights of all living things. I hope it brings you as much comfort as it brings me.
“Alfie: The Christmas Tree”
Did you ever hear the story of the Christmas Tree
who just didn’t want to change the show?
He liked living in the woods and playing with squirrels, he liked icicles and snow.
He liked wolves and eagles and grizzly bears
and critters and creatures that crawled.
Why bugs were some of his very best friends, spiders and ants and all.
Now that’s not to say that he ever looked down on the vision of twinkling lights,
or on mirrored bubbles and peppermint canes and a thousand other delights.
And he often had dreams of tiny reindeer
and a jolly old man and a sleigh full of toys and presents and wonderful things,
and the story of Christmas Day.
Oh, Alfie believed in Christmas all right, he was full of Christmas cheer.
All of each and every day and all throughout the year.
To him it was more than a special time much more than a special day,
It was more than a beautiful story. It was a special kind of way.
You see, some folks have never heard a jingle bell ring,
And they’ve never heard of Santa Claus.
They’ve never heard the story of the Son of God. And that made Alfie pause.
Did that mean that they’d never know of peace on earth
or the brotherhood of man?
Or know how to love, or know how to give? If they can’t, no one can.
You see, life is a very special kind of thing, not just for a chosen few.
But for each and every living breathing thing. Not just me and you.
So in your Christmas prayers this year, Alfie asked me if I’d ask you
to say a prayer for the wind, and the water, and the wood,
and those who live there, too.
I’m so excited to head to Georgetown today to record an episode about YA literature with the Lit to Lens podcast team. I’ll be talking about my book, Where the Light Enters, my creative process for writing fiction, and why I think YA literature is such an important genre for all readers and writers. When the episode goes live, I’ll be sure to let you know!
I’m really excited to let you know I’ll be talking about young adult books and about my book, Where the Light Enters, on the Lit to Lens podcast. We’re recording at the end of this month and then it will publish shortly after that. I’m thrilled to talk about this wonderful genre and the impact it has on our young people’s lives.