We live in a collapsing world.
Perhaps the world has always been collapsing in one way or another and it is only the surfeit of information that makes the collapse seem so imminent now. I know only that, even as I wake each morning into gratitude for this life I have been gifted, I also wake into a gut-deep knowledge of disaster:
A political system imploding, our tender globe’s climate wildly disordered; a renewed nuclear arms race (so it’s now small arms, it’s still nuclear!); racial injustice so old a story that we should have wept ourselves dry by now; big money controlling everything, everything, everything.
I wake into this collapsing world, then sit down at my desk and attempt to write another story for children. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that’s a trivial task. I can think of few that are more important. Because the function of story — all story — is to make meaning. And meaning that we make for children lasts.
But what meaning fits today’s disasters?
In 1972 when the Watergate scandal occupied the news, my own two children were eight and ten, just coming into an awareness of the larger world. And to discover that their country’s leaders were behaving like the worst schoolyard bullies disillusioned them beyond words. What I said to them, again and again, as we listened to the latest reports, was “Look! Our system works. The President had to step down.”
I wish I could say the same to my grandchildren. “Look! Our system works.”
But if I can’t say that, what can I say?
To begin with I will not offer what I’ve heard presented too often to young people: “Okay. We failed. It’s your world now. Fix it.” I can think of few more discouraging messages to begin a life on.
And I will not tell them that we are all beyond hope, even if sometimes hope is difficult to name. Because, for all our failures, hope has changed this world in astonishing ways in my lifetime, and I will not lose hold of it now.
I will be honest, but in my honesty I will also be gentle, caring. Because truth without gentleness, without caring can be a bludgeon. And I will write primarily about what matters most, all the ways we try and fail and try again to love one another.
If I make that struggle the core of all I say, I will never run out of stories, because the struggle to love is the struggle to be human.
And if the struggle to be human lies at the center of every story I send into this collapsing world, I may yet save a few souls … my own included