Because “love” is a verb


Somehow, the events in Orlando made me mute. Maybe it’s that I was feeling so wrung out by the emotional roller-coaster I’ve been riding for the past two weeks months years, or maybe it’s that I am so weary of the ways in which we humans are so very horrible to each other, but I just felt that there was nothing meaningful for me to say.

And then I read these words from Jen Hatmaker about what it does to those who are terrorized by violence in their community when those of who are not in it say nothing:

“What my black friends taught me is that the ancillary offense, where grief is compounded and loneliness sets in, is when their friends and colleagues outside of their tribe say NOTHING. When their churches don’t stop and grieve. When their coworkers are silent. When their neighbors look the other way because they aren’t sure what to say, so they say nothing.”

And so, I wrote something about Orlando on Facebook. It still didn’t feel like enough, but it was something. I still felt demoralized and beat down and just so very, very sad–and as if words are not enough in the face of these incidents which I feel myself becoming numb to.

That feeling intensified when I watched this clip from Stephen Colbert, who reminds us that love is a verb.

I wanted to DO something, but I didn’t know what.

As is so often the case, I got my answer from a librarian. Librarian Arika, to be specific.  Librarian Arika reminded me of one of my bedrock beliefs–that stories have the power to save lives. That words matter.

(It is easy to lose faith in the face of horrible, bewildering events.)

Arika reminded me that when it comes to building acceptance of humankind, “literature can help.” She wondered,

“What if it was as simple as this: commit to read, promote, share, and purchase books that promote tolerance of race, gender, identity, religion, ability, and sexual orientation.”

And suddenly I knew what I could do–the thing that is my thing to do. I can join Arika’s movement (#BooksBuildTolerance). For the rest of the month, she is sharing one book a day that promotes tolerance and understanding.

Me, too.

I’m starting with a book I read last month that I adore: George by Alex Gino.

From the publisher:

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

So, that’s what it’s about. I love this book not because it’s about a girl who is a boy, but because it is a tender, true, and important story about being human–which means being vulnerable, and scared, and brave, and bold. The characters are so real, from George/Melissa’s teen-age brother to their loving-but-not-completely-accepting mom. (“I always knew you were gay,” she says, “but not that kind of gay.”)

I love this book not because it is ground-breaking (though it is that) but because it is good writing. It’s not a book I chose for our elementary libraries because we needed a transgender book; I chose it because it’s a book any child who has ever felt different in some way could relate to. (And because it’s a transgender book and we have children in our schools who are struggling with that particular issue and they need to read a story in which they see themselves. And their cisgender friends need to see them in books, too. But first because it’s just a great book.)

This is not a very compelling review because I don’t have a copy with me and I’m tired and it’s late, but I think that doesn’t much matter.

Sometimes we’ve got to just do the best we can–because love is a verb and it’s important not only to not say nothing, but also to not do nothing. If you haven’t read George, check it out.


13 thoughts on “Because “love” is a verb

  1. Susan says:

    I too have been rendered mute in shock and vast sorrow. Thank you for sharing these words and finding a book, a tale, truths to expand what already seems to me so naturally reasonable and wonderful as well – that we are not cast in stone through biology, that boundless life cannot be narrowly defined by the presence of genetic markers. We are ever evolving beings, designed to challenge and transition, to break rules and boundaries in the process of evolution. Please continue to share your finds and I will read all of them, and share with others. <3

  2. Marian says:

    I think (or perhaps just desperately want to believe) that the younger generations are (or are becoming) far more tolerant and accepting than the older generations have historically been. There is a trans-gender student in the 8th grade in my youngest son’s school and apparently (according to my friend, whose oldest son is in 8th grade and is one of her friends) she has been accepted and supported as she has begun transitioning.

    I also strongly believe that books/stories can change one’s perspective and that they are capable of saving lives; however, I also unfortunately believe that we will never get to a universally-accepting utopia where hate is non-existent. And because of that, I think that the tools that the haters use to perpetrate these atrocities need to go. It is utterly unfathomable to me that these events — through a shameful combination of lack of political will/lobbying/monetary interests/shouts of liberty-above-all — keep occurring.

    And I can, very unfortunately, personally attest to the validity and absolute truth in: “… to those who are terrorized by violence … grief is compounded and loneliness sets in … When neighbors look the other way because they aren’t sure what to say, so they say nothing.” We all need to speak, and to stop looking the other way …
    Marian recently posted…What I’ve Been Sewing…My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I agree with everything you’ve said. I don’t think we can kumbayah (sp?) our way to a fix on this one. I’m just looking for some way to maybe be part of solutions that play to my strengths. And to not look the other way.

  3. MJ says:

    Rita…thanks for this beautifully written post. Thanks also to Susan and Marian for their thoughts.

    No more can I add today.

  4. Jill moss says:

    Thank you Rita. Books like this are so important. It is easy to hate “people.” It is harder to hate a “person.” A person you know. A person who is a lot more like you than you thought possible. Books like this turn a group of people (transgendered, gay, whatever) into a person, George/Melissa, who is more like us than we thought possible. And whom it is hard to hate. We need these books!

    • Rita says:

      I really like this distinction you make. I think you are so right–and it helps me understand why I’ve always felt story to be so important. Story is always about one person. Which is the way we change things–one person at a time.

    • Rita says:

      I don’t know how “I am so sorry” could ever be incorrect. Especially if said sincerely and maybe in the context of “I’m worried I’ll say the wrong thing.” And I know the words would always be sincere coming from you. But: I do know what you mean.

  5. Kate says:

    I’m so, so, so tired of the state we live in. Some days, I really do want to be an ostrich. I want to focus on my little corner with my little people and just do the very best I can.

    It’s why I avoid watching the news…the endless cycle of BAD is more than my heart can handle.

    My heart breaks. And I keep hoping (and writing my representatives) there will be change.
    Kate recently posted…Oh, Please Just Shut UpMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I vacillate. There are times when I do put my head down and focus on my small circle of people and think that doing the best I can in my own sphere is enough and all I can do. And then there are times I shout “no!” and re-engage with the larger world. I think we all need breaks from the larger world. Maybe so we can recuperate and go back in swinging? It does help me that I live in a place that is mostly aligned with my values. When it feels like no one around you sees the world the way you do, you can start to question yourself. A little of that is a good thing, but too much is definitely not.

  6. May says:

    Love is a verb….I had not seen Colbert’s response. I did see Trevor Noah’s and I was so moved by it as well. Funny guys can be wise guys in the best sense of the word.
    I really like the idea of sharing books to build tolerance. Children are open to differences. Why not do all in our power to keep little hearts and minds open as they grow? How would the world look if we had successfully kept hate and bigotry from growing inside those hearts and minds as the little people themselves grew into big people? What would the world look like then?
    May recently posted…Modern Day Mulberry BushMy Profile

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