Lately, I have been questioning my plans for after graduation. I thought (for the umpteenth time) that I had some semblance of a plan when once again everything came crashing down instigated by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry of all things. I was writing about this glorious piece of art, when I started panicking. I mean, I chose English as my major because I LOVE literature, not so that I could use it to get somewhere else. I’m not saying that literature or language are my only passions or that they are more important than anything else, but I do think that many of my passions appear within the context of the wide ranging narratives and expressions of literature.
That being said, this weekend really helped me to discern further my plans for after graduation. I went to the Ignatian Family Teach-In and SOA Vigil down at Fort Benning, Georgia (near Columbus). As a part of the Teach-In, we were able to attend various sessions relating to whatever social justice issues intrigued us. The two sessions I picked were Discerning Post-Graduate Service and more importantly, Social Justice in Theatre. I picked the second of the two purely because I am attempting to put on Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and receiving little to no supportL. The first part of the session, Social Justice in Theatre, comprised of listing art forms that both educate their audiences about issues related to social justice, and furthermore promote questioning and often times consequently action and advocacy in response to such issues. I realized when literature was mentioned and the people running the session asked for specifics that I could rattle of ridiculous amounts of books, oral narratives, poems, songs, etc. that have educated me about, caused me to question, and inspired me to act on behalf of a wide range of social justice issues. I began to question even more deeply why I am searching elsewhere for a way to explore and share my passions when they appear right in front of my face, in literature.
That all being said, I was reminded of the fact that in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, language is portrayed as lacking the ability to express, educate, explore and explain, which I just praised it for! The first hint of this occurs when Meg says to Charles Wallace, “But I never say anything. You just seem to know.” To which he replies, “Everything about you tells me” (pg. 31). The ability of Meg’s qualities to have a voice, which “tells” Charles Wallace what Meg “never says” seemed odd to me. Is Meg just that transparent in her naiveté? Does Meg express herself more clearly through character than she is able to articulate? Or does Charles Wallace somehow exist in a place superior to the necessity of language as a basis for communication and expression? Charles Wallace explains his ability in terms of “language,” saying, “It’s like being able to understand a sort of language, like sometimes if I concentrate very hard I can understand the wind talking with the trees” (pg. 31). He describes an experience of “understanding” not of hearing, which struck me. He does not claim to hear what is said, to interpret the language of the “wind talking with the trees” as human beings interpret each other’s words, but he claims “understanding,” which goes beyond the concept of listening. In “talking” there can be miscommunications, misunderstandings, but Charles Wallace is beyond (or possibly above) that.
Later Calvin speaks of his inability to express himself through language, saying, “There hasn’t been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me” (pg. 45). His feelings of such superiority to “everybody else” are not expressed through relationships, but through speaking; Calvin says he cannot “talk” to “anybody in the world” while simultaneously being true to himself. He says when he does “talk” to those below him, “it isn’t” him. Similarly, in Meg’s encounter with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Who speaks at times in a language unintelligible to humans and goes so far as to say, “She keeps thinking she can explain things in words…you know, The more a man knows, the less he talks” (pg. 60). Not only does this concept degrade language, but it also degrades Meg. For L’Engle to point towards the limitations of language and of human beings in these ways seems misplaced in a novel, a message entirely dependent upon language and on human expression and understanding. What more is L’Engle trying to say that cannot be articulated? Or like her strong faith, does she put into words the indescribable because we are human and that is all that we have? I have no answers as to what she is trying to say, but I do know that I am deeply challenged by the idea of such limited means of expression.
This weekend was so complex I feel as though I could talk about it for days upon days, but I really can’t talk about it at all. Where do I begin? What do I say? How could I ever do the experience justice? I can’t. My language is limited. At the same time, I had an experience with a word, a single word that changed me. Presente. Present. I am present. I am here to witness. I stand holding my cross up and singing Presente after each name called of a human being whose innocent life was lost to violence, hatred and dehumanization. I hold my symbol of human suffering, my necessary human suffering, which grants me deep compassion. I hold the crosses that are painted white with innocence and purity for the love I feel for each and every name called. I sing Presente so that I remind myself to be present: mind, body, soul, spirit, and heart so that my entire being realizes that each time I sing I sing for a life lost to mindlessness. Presente is a mere human word, but it embodied my entire state of being and the act of speaking it allowed me to express that which I don’t think I could have expressed in any other means.