While driving across the state, I started listening to a book on tape, FLIGHT BEHAVIOR, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver.
I haven't finished it yet, but it is sure giving me a lot to think about.
The protagonist is Dellarobia, a young Appalachian woman who discovers some 15-million monarch butterflies have come to winter in the forest on her in-laws property. There are so many they turn the valley orange, as if it's on fire.
It's natural for North American monarchs to migrate south and hibernate on trees for the winter, (see a photo here) but in Mexico, not Tennessee.
The book has mixed reviews and it moves slowly in the beginning. It might pay to listen to the book rather than read it. While the butterflies seem like a miracle at first, this story rarely strays from “real” life.
From The York Times review of the book: “Throughout her fiction, the exigencies of work, and the classes of people who do that work, have been among Kingsolver’s great subjects. Here she deftly handles the relentless labor of sheep shearing, yarn dying, even child minding, with all those sticky fingers and sodden, sagging diapers.”
As a writer, I have to say I love FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. Kingsolver's original use of language really grabs me. Here are a couple of examples.
Dellarobia walks under a "mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job."
She reflects on how she was once a rebel girl with plans to get out of this town, but now, "Her boldness had been confined to such tiny quarters, it counted for about as much as mouse turds in a cookie jar."
The church choir sings a hymn, "dragging it like a plow through heavy clay".
I also covet Kingsolver's depth of characterization. In this story of "poor backwoods hillbillies", privileged college students, fundamentalist Christians and environmentalists--you see only human beings. Once you get to know them their labels, don't fit quite so well in your mind.
She focuses her skill at characterization on the issue of climate change to make clear the need for people to talk to each other, even when they disagree.
The story makes me aware I sometimes judge that I already know what some people are going to say. I don't want to listen because I think they're misinformed, ignorant of the facts, ruled by fear or whatever. I can go off on my own little "flight behavior".
And yet, I wish people who disagree with me would listen when I talk. I want them to respect my experience and value how my experience has informed me.
One thing I know is that we learn nothing when we only listen to people who tell us what we already know.
I want to be a person who is learning. I want my life to be about growing. Growing wiser, growing more compassionate, growing more effective in the actions I take and in the choices I make.
I don't want to live motivated by fear. I want to be courageous, not threatened by someone who disagrees with me. I want to be wise and strong enough to trust that others are able to work out the way of things for themselves, just as I am.
In the current climate of division, it's difficult to believe we will lay down our swords and shields and work together to solve the world's problems. My grip is loosening on mine. And that's were it starts.
The books title calls to mind a number of different metaphors. My favorite is the idea of who we humans behave when we're afraid. What about you? I'd love to hear from you. Whether you like the book or not. :)
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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