The flow began with the very gracious hostess welcoming me to her beautiful home and introducing me to the other club members. It continued with food (good food) and drinks, and a little catching up on their part and then, “So Lisa about the book - ?”We talked about my process, my inspirations, my roadblocks and delays, my very active imagination and my worldview. We talked about God, of course. How could we not? God is what “Aunt Sadie’s Angel” is all about after all. But we also talked about civics and politics and religion and family life and career building and health management and our current social climate. We talked about ancestry and spirituality. We went with the flow.
The collective aptitude, perspective and intelligence of those gathered was powerful, enlightening, religious in nature, downright sexy. The conversation flowed in so many directions that I simply cannot share it all, but one thing in particular stands out as food for thought; and that is that we grieved for the family of the Nebraskan toddler killed by the alligator at Disney World: what a permanently life-altering ordeal. We thanked God that the child’s remains had been recovered and hoped that the recovery offered his parents some small comfort.We went on to talk about the child who two weeks earlier fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and how his family narrowly escaped a similar fate. We talked about the stark differences in society’s treatment of the two families, how one family was seen as helpless victims worthy of compassion and regard while the other was seen as heartless offenders whose negligence resulted in the unwarranted slaying of an innocent animal. One incident sparked a review of the park’s safety protocols while the other launched a criminal investigation into the background of the parents.
We talked about the expressions of outrage over the slaying of that gorilla to save the life of a child, indeed an entire family. We talked about the absence of outrage over the slaying of five alligators in an effort to help a family resolve its grief despite a knowing that the child’s life could not be saved. We condemned the former because it was utterly unacceptable that so many people felt no compassion for a mother’s panic and fear; but we celebrated the latter for it was as it should have been. The embracing of that family's fear and grief, the prayerful waiting was a display of humanity at its best. The slaying of those alligators was warranted! Recovery of the child’s body, recovery of a small portion of his family’s peace was worth the loss. They were on vacation. It was supposed to be a happy time. They were in no wise prepared for the tragedy that befell them.
The slaying of that gorilla was also warranted! Just as with the alligator, the peace and safety of an entire family hung in the balance. A mother took her children on an outing to the zoo. It was supposed to be a happy time, a cultural experience. They were in no wise prepared for the tragedy that befell them.
The most obvious difference between the two incidences is that one child, one family is black and the other child, the other family is white. And as much as I know in my spirit that our society’s harsh treatment of African Americans factors into the differences in reactions I also know that there is more to it than that. I know that there is also a less obvious difference between the two incidences and that is time. In the first incident we didn’t take the time to process what was at stake for the child or for his mother. We just rushed to judgment. “That mother is at fault. She should have …” It’s what we do to convince ourselves that what happened to them would never happen to us because we would never …
I believe that two weeks later we had time to realize just how absurd that line or thinking is and so we were better able to respond to the second family, which brings me to why book clubs matter.
Though one was fatal and the other was not, both incidences were tragic. Even more tragic is that we live in a society of people whose kneejerk response to a family’s danger is to place blame. We live in an angry world. We have a lot of pent up emotions. We are fearful and reactionary; and when our anxieties are roused we say and do ridiculously outrageous things like pass judgment on a woman who is afraid for the safety of her child. And we are unable to see the inappropriateness of that until we gain some distance from it and our fears are calmed. Truth be told - we could all probably benefit from a little therapy, but we’re afraid of that too. So …Until such time that we can come to terms with our need for counseling things like book club meetings could potentially offer a reasonable, albeit temporary, alternative. All of humanity has a definitive need for community, for dialogue, for reliable intimate conversation spaces, for safety zones in which to process our feelings. In the absence of healthy forums for communication we resort to unhealthy communications, name calling, mud slinging and unreasonably harsh judgments of one another.
Books, even not so good books, invoke discussion; and the gathering of book clubs invites dialogue. It’s an opportunity to hear and be heard, to say out loud what we think about a matter and then have what we’ve said reverberate. It is a practice ground for sorting out what we really think and feel before presenting our ideas and feelings to the world. Or at least it has the potential to be. The meeting of the Renaissance Readers club certainly was. It was a gathering of enlightened minds open to the exchange of ideas. It was easy to be honest. It was easy to disagree. It was respectful and supportive and encouraging. It was safe.If you have some processing to do but you aren’t quite comfortable with the idea of counseling consider joining a book club. It just might help to move you in the direction you need to go.
Lastly, gorillas and alligators matter. Unquestionably, undeniably they do. But they do not matter as much as children and families, and people like you and me and those who gather to discuss the books they've read.
Wishing you peace for your journey,