I finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, “The Invention of Wings,” late Sunday night and I am still exhaling. What an excellent book, sure to become a modern-day classic. But what a burden I feel for all the years, so many years, 246 years—of the atrocities of slavery inflicted on a people simply because of the color of their skin. Kidd puts you right there in 1803 to 1838 Charleston with the barbaric practices, the incredible cruelty one segment of society, one person, could inflict on another—all based on greed and power.
It’s really quite sickening when you think about this horrible era in American history—and the slavery that exists around the world even today. The magnitude is just extraordinary, and it’s frightening to think how humans are capable of such barbarity.
But, then, it’s also quite extraordinary how people are capable of such generosity and kindness and pure goodness. Lucky for me, my week immersed in the worst of 19th century America was tempered by 21st century goodness.
When I wasn’t being a nitpicker, that is.
When I brushed my teeth at noon last Tuesday, the brush was curiously wet. I hadn’t used it since 3 a.m. the night before. I felt David’s; it was dry. Ugh, I thought. He used mine. I could kiss the guy for hours, but the thought of him, or anyone, using my toothbrush just gives me the heebie jeebies. David had been having trouble identifying his toothbrush ever since I placed a new one of a similar color in our lovely ceramic toothbrush holder a couple months ago. The influx of the kids (and their toothbrushes) home for the holidays further confounded him.
“The Invention of Wings” put that all in perspective for me, though. How could I be even the least bit bothered by his absent-minded, but highly offensive, toothbrush behavior when David is one of the most decent human beings on this planet? Not to mention the best-birthday-present-giver?
I awoke on my birthday to the sound of something flapping in my room. I immediately thought, “BAT!!!”—just like that: in capital letters followed by three exclamation points.
But it was just the beginning of my birthday special...a yellow sign hanging by string from the top of the doorway and flapping in the breeze, “Hey, birthday girl,” it read. It was followed by one taped to the stairwell door that said, “Walk downstairs.” The next, hanging from the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs said, “Go east”...and I promptly turned west. When I straightened myself out and walked east, I encountered another, hanging from Maddie’s pull-up bar long ago installed in the kitchen doorway back when she was heavily into gymnastics.
“Enter bathroom,” it read. When I went into the bathroom a yellow sign taped to the mirror commanded, “Start your phone’s radio connection.” I was perplexed the entire time...including when I turned on 91.7 FM from my iPhone. Imagine my surprise when the voice of Diane Rehm emanated from under a cloth in the corner of the counter...a Bluetooth speaker. It’s a very amazing little thing and insures I get to listen to NPR without the usual static. David is such a good thoughtful man—but a lousy plumber.
Lack of skills in that department led him to call in a plumber for some repairs at home. He met with the plumber Saturday while I continued to work after closing the library. It wasn’t until later that David noticed the birthday signs were still hanging.
“Oh, I meant to explain those to him,” he said, “but I forgot. I wonder what he must have thought.”
“And the string hanging down from the light fixture,” I said. The string had held a tomatillo, attached to entertain Caroline back in the summer. “Or the spaghetti wall,” I continued.
“Darn, I wish I had pointed that out,” David said.
Good man—a little weird—but still a shining counterpoint to the despicable characters in “The Invention of Wings.”
The same can be said for the people who made it possible on very short notice for all the classrooms at the elementary school to visit the library Friday to experience a little Japanese culture. They’re not weird like David, though—they’re just good, kind, generous people. From art teacher Kym Ries who conceived and organized the program to principal Gail Frey who arranged for the kids to be bused to the library, from all the teachers and aides to the library staff members Sheri Frost and Pam Hollstein who came in extra early, and including volunteers Tatyana Pless, Rosine Downing, Robin Borton, Sharon Bruce, and Masahiro Kojima and his wife Cindy, coordinator of the Lenawee Intermediate School District Japanese exchange program—even the people like Liz Stella and Pat Herman who wanted to help but couldn’t—they’re all just the wonderful kind of people who renew your faith in humanity.