Listening to NPR Saturday morning while getting ready for my daughter’s soccer game, I caught a clip that mentioned folk musician Woody Guthrie. While making music during World War II, Guthrie took a piece of cardboard and wrote, “This machine kills fascists” and stuck it on his guitar. Gibson guitars later replicated the slogan, which Guthrie had copied from a popular inscription painted on the side of bombers.
How do six strings and a plastic pick destroy an authoritarian nationalist political ideology?
The same way a little lady wrote a book and started a big war: one line at a time.
People like Guthrie and Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose house is ten minutes from mine, remind me that one person or one book or one voice really can change the world. After hearing about Guthrie’s guitar, I thought: How would I finish that sentence? With the opportunities and talents and resources available to me, what sticker would I slap on my computer, the tool that magnifies my voice?
Since May, I have spent six days a week writing and revising a memoir about my daughter, Ruth, whom we adopted from a Ugandan orphanage and who died in 2011 as a result of complications from cerebral palsy. I’d hoped to send the manuscript to an agent by now. But following the advice of other writers, I decided to first read it to my family. All 320 pages. Instead of the one month I’d hoped to take, I’m now beginning month two.
The first half of the book, “The Journey,” follows our struggle to give Ruth a home after she’d arrived in Maine as a scrawny, uncoordinated sixteen-month-old baby on a six-month visitor’s visa. The second half, “The Mission,” deals with our struggle to help Ruth learn and grow despite her profound physical limitations. Last week, I finished reading and revising the first part.
On Saturday, instead of listening to the radio and watching soccer, I should have been revising part two. But the second half of the book hurts so much to read that I often have to turn away from my computer screen–doing a 180 in my office chair–and stare out the window instead of at words so painful I cry aloud just to read them. Once I’ve caught my breath, I turn back around and keep writing. It’s that hard.
Looking for inspiration, I was listening to the Watoto Children’s Choir, which is made up of Ugandan orphans–some from Ruth’s former orphanage.
“Who will sing my lullaby?” a young girl’s voice plaintively sang. “Who will hold me when I cry? When I awake will you be there? Who will sing my lullaby.”
“I don’t like that song,” my daughter, Lydia said.
“Because it makes me sad.”
“That’s good,” I said. “If that song doesn’t make you sad there would be something wrong with you. As long as there are still children who go to bed with no one to hold them, no one to tuck them in, no one to come when they cry, we should ALL be sad. And not just sad. We should be doing something about it.”
So, I made a sign.
And I stuck it above my computer. That way when it hurts so much I want to quit, I won’t.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed,” Proverbs 31:8.
What would your sign say?