This past week, I had the pleasure of reading Ali Smith’s How to Be Both and the challenge of reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. In the first, creativity and the joy of uniqueness enjoy the stage under the poetic prose of Ali Smith. The author tempts and teases the reader to let loose their bondage to categories and to celebrate the wonders of being human in all its hues, lines, and forms. My personal favorite slice of this delectable pie came from following the fifteenth century artist who carried me far away from modern life to taste, touch, and savor the days gone by.
“Missoula” on the other hand jolts the reader into the traumas of our current days. Krakauer delivers a brilliant treatise on the horrors of sexual assault so commonplace on university and college campuses across the United States. He regards the shortcomings of community, the failures of the justice system, and the horrendous aftermath of rape on individuals, families, and the community. The necessary compassion to heal these wounds remains unattainable amidst the onslaught of fear, secrecy, shame, and a justice system excessively bent on adversarial behavior and punishment rather than on care, restoration, and health.
Reading these two back-to-back impressed me with the importance of finding the uniqueness of every individual and with acting with compassion and care in my community. It’s far too easy to join the chorus of outrage mongers shouting from the Facebook pulpit or feeding off of the gossip spewing “journalists” available on one’s television station of choice. The difficult work takes place at the level of the neighborhood, the town, and the institutions nearby. Can I behave like Francesco in How to Be Both, who excelled in the discovery and the beauty of life during the Italian Renaissance–life that comes mixed and hued like paint into varying and glorious facets?