Friday, September 12, 2008

Of tiny stuffed animals and the banning of books

My parents sent me a handful of tiny, colorful stuffed animals a couple of weeks ago. Earlier this week I received a couple dozen more of them. I think Mom and Dad must have snagged every one of them that Ikea had in stock. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

(I'd never considered before coming here that anyone would think of placing explosive devices in stuffed animals, but there you are. Who knew? These critters are too small for that, so they should be just fine.)

They are wonderful! The children over here should love them -- some of the Soldiers do, already. I even brought a tiny blue elephant with green ears, and a yellow lion with an orange mane and tail back to my CHU with me, because I can't help but laugh when I look at them.

Laughter is a priceless commodity in a war zone.

(Or do I like these things so much because I haven't grown up yet?)

The lion is just too funny for words, actually. At first I thought it was a dog with one of those cone things around its neck. It took a few moments to realize it was a lion. (OK, I'm a slow learner. There, I've said it.) In my defense, however, I showed it to SFC McG, who asked, "Why do you have a mouse with a neck cone on it?" In his defense, it looks much more like a mouse than a dog, and certainly more so than a lion!

The fact that it's a bit cattywampus, and that it's orange and yellow, reminded me of an incident from childhood involving another yellow and orange stuffed animal, and the fact that I loved to read books.

I'm told that the notion of banning books from public institutions is back in the news, and that reminds me of lists I've seen over the years of what some would prevent others from reading, if they could. A perennial 'favorite' seems to be A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It was published in 1962, and won the prestigious Newberry Award. I suspect I received my first copy of it when I was between the ages of eight and ten.

I'm sure those of you who know me will find this hard to believe, but I was a bit precocious as a youngster. I'd learned to read before kindergarten, and while in grade school was given special permission at the local public library to read books that twelfth graders would read.

I can already hear the whispers, with such unction: "To think he'd had *such* potential! Pity he's come to this."

Anyway, I loved A Wrinkle in Time from the first moment I picked it up. It's beautifully written. I has a great plot. It references science and music and art. It has misfits who were thrown together, seemingly by circumstance, who discover that the uniqueness which is the source of their shame and isolation enables them to make heroic sacrifices and accomplish marvels beyond imagination.

It was the first book I'd seen that had a quote at the beginning of each chapter. One was even in Greek, which I could not yet decipher. That annoyed and intrigued me. It probably had something to do with my desire to learn foreign languages, which perdures to this day.

Most of all, though, even at such a young age, I "got it" by the end of the story, that this is an allegory of redemption, of the triumph of an impossibly small and seemingly insignificant good over an overwhelming and apparently invincible evil.


Meg, the misfit science geek, unhappy her whole life because of "not fitting in," in her moment of truth, realizes the awesome and redemptive power of love. Her love. God's love.


That book gave me hope.

Years later, whenever I've picked it up to read it again, it still does that.

And to think that some would choose to prevent others from reading it! I've since realized that the reason almost certainly has to do with the fact that three of the characters are identified as "witches": "Mrs. Who," Mrs. Whatsit," and "Mrs. Which." (Get it? "Which"? Witch?)

For the incurious, for those who don't read, for those who eschew "book larnin," I guess there's no distinction between imagination and necromancy. Someone probably heard (because they'd not *read*) that there were witches in this book, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the book is satanic in nature. Sheesh.

Anyone with a brain -- I mean, for crying out loud, *I* was eight or nine or ten years old, and even *I* "got it" -- who's actually *read* this book, would realize that those "witches" were emissaries of the God worshiped by Christians.


It's pretty explicit, actually, for those who have even two brain cells to rub together. And yet, it's consistently self-identified "Christians" who want to ban others from reading this wonderful story. Give me a break.



There *is* a distinction, people! Oy.

Anyway, back to yellow and orange stuffed animals and being a precocious and voracious reader.

When I was a child I had a favorite stuffed animal, a dog named Morgan. (I have no idea how it got named Morgan.) I also had a soft, plush, plump, bright yellow duck with orange wings. Well, with one large orange wing, and with one tiny, almost vestigial orange wing.

It was probably large enough to hide a small IED (improvised explosive device) in.

I don't remember the duck's name

I do, however, distinctly remember reading "Life" and "Look" magazines when I was young (not many of you can remember them, but that's because they're long gone now), and one day after reading a story in one or the other of them, I took my yellow plush duck -- one big orange wing, one almost non-existent orange wing -- to my mother and, very proudly (I'm told), held it out to her, saying, "Look, Mom. I have a thalidomide duck!"

I think she was pregnant with my younger brother at the time.

She started to cry.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write beautifully! I really enjoy reading your blog. It is very different from the other reports you read about the goings on in your part of the world. I do worry about your safety but I am glad you are there. I'm sure you are a great comfort and source of amusement to the warriors.

Happy birthday my friend! I'm also very glad you are sober.

Bill Cleveland

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