Don’t Volunteer to be a Victim

I enter the house, hands full, not a light on. All is silent but for the crickets. For the first time in 13 days they seem to be more outside than in. The day’s efficiencies behind me now, I can think back and remember what it is I wanted to say to those students whose conversation I overheard while leaving the building. Don’t volunteer to be a victim. I said nothing not wanting to be sure of what I’d overheard. It was more of an invitation than a response to the part of the conversation that I didn’t hear but could easily guess. I’m ditching, with you. The speaker was a young African American backpack wearer. His audience was a female of either Korean or Japanese ancestry and her body language said her mind was made up, torso leaning in the direction of the door, still open, as if waiting.

I said nothing because I didn’t know into which ear to whisper and could not guarantee that whatever I might manage to say would not be a rant. What I did know for certain was that they were not my passion’s primary audience. You can’t speak truth to power if there’s no one there. For the better part of two decades I have had a soapbox, limelight, and a center stage in front of one college classroom or the other and yet have remained virtually silent for all intents and purposes. Thankfully, that season has ended.

In the name of keeping better company I set out to a Border’s closing after a delightful dinner with a kindred spirit. The pretext was to find a copy of Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope or Clifton’s Ordinary Woman for the new dean who has invited us to share a book that tells her something about the giver. I know neither will be available but the quest provides reason sufficient for driving across the parking lot from Sweet Tomatoes to the once proud anchor store of this shopping plaza. For something in the neighborhood of eight dollars I score three titles, among them a reader, a memoir and a novel. All are written by authors known and beloved by me. The latter two are cloth-bound hardbacks and originally sold for $25. The reader is softcover.

Once home, I can barely put them down long enough to decide which will be first. Maxine Hong Kingston’s I Like a Broad Margin to My Life wins though, truth be told, I began Alvarez’ Saving the World in the bare naked bookstore amid row after row of garishly empty bookcases. It is one thing to read history. It is another thing to be awake in the world when it is passing before your eyes. First, the Post Office, now, this? When, after all, did the writing of letters fall by the wayside? Did it stumble and cry out, or whimper, as it lay in the road in broad daylight, gasping? Were there any witnesses? Where is Baldwin now – not Alec or Stephen, William or even Daniel, but James, the darker, older brother.

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