Hold It All

So I Hugged a Book Today by Sara Rendell

I am not sure why, but when I finished reading The Book of Mev, I hugged it.

Maybe my body wanted to be closer to tangible truth.

Maybe I was trying to express my gratitude to Mev and Dr. Chmiel for providing me with an example of pure love; not just in their intertwined spider-web of each other, but also in the way they felt with and fought for the poor.

Maybe I needed to acknowledge that The Book of Mev is more than a book of something; it breathes, cries, moans, and laughs.

I think my hug was a “thank you” for Dr. Chmiel’s honesty in revealing Mev and for Mev’s honesty in her face, gestures, words, and vitality. . . A thank you for a candid depiction of what grief is and does; a thank you for a view of my professor, who seems to draw from an internal fountain of love and understanding, as a human being. A view of him not always knowing how to help Mev or even himself, and not finding the strength to breathe in and out—to be serene while riding a malfunctioning roller coaster.

I think I hugged the book because it is Dr. Chmiel’s choice to transcend his suffering—so unfair, vicious, brutal . . . etc. and to reach out to people as a catalyst for the recognition of human suffering.

I think it was because The Book of Mev was already hugging me that I hugged back.

–Sara was a sophomore at Saint Louis University when she took Social Justice with me and shared this  response. She is  now in her first year at Penn Medical School in Philadelphia.

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Scintillating Promises (The Joys of Reading and Writing/Reinaldo Arenas)

Reading Reinaldo Areas’ novel The Color of Summer was a breakthrough experience for me. From him (and Eduardo Galeano) I figured out how to structure what eventually became  The Book of Mev. The following are some passages  I love from his Before Night Falls, ones that reflect his ardor for the word, for books, for reading them and for writing them…

Walking among those shelves, I saw, radiating from each book, the scintillating promise of a unique mystery.

Meeting Lezama was an entirely different experience. Here was a man who had made literature his very life; here was one of the most erudite human beings I had ever met. He did not use his knowledge to show off; it was simply something to hang on to for survival, something vital that fired his imagination and at the same time reflected on anyone who came close to him. Lezama had the extraordinary gift of radiating creative vitality. After talking with him I would go home and sit down at my typewriter to write, because it was impossible to listen to that man without being inspired. In him, wisdom and innocence met. He had a special talent for giving meaning to the life of others.

We wrote incessantly and would read anywhere: in abandoned houses, in parks, at beaches, while walking over rocks. We would read not only our own words but also those of great writers. We would read for everyone to enjoy.

Writing crowned or complemented all other pleasures as well as calamities.

I started writing my memoirs in the notebooks that Juan had brought me. Under the title Before Night Falls I would write all day until dark, waiting for the other darkness that would come when the police eventually found me. I had to hurry to get my writing done before my world finally darkened, before I was thrown in jail.

Sometimes at night I would continue reading The Iliad with the help of my lighter.

At midnight we parted and Lezama said to me: ˜Remember that our only salvation lies in words: Write!”

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