Monday, May 28, 2012

All the Difficult Things

Poster by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Today being Memorial Day, I've decided to offer a tribute to a wonderful friend who passed away this weekend: the children's writer and inspiring teacher Ellen Levine.

Although Memorial Day is officially dedicated to remembering those who've died in service to their country in the armed forces, I would argue that there are many ways to be of service to the country apart from military service. When I think of Ellen Levine today, I am reminded how much we need word warriors, too.

Ellen was the kind of fearless writer who tackled difficult issues head on, and who knew how to wield the power of a story to make a difference. She brought to light stories that many others were too afraid to tell. She wrote about the challenges of McCarthy-era life for a communist family. She wrote about teens dealing with unwanted pregnancy in the days before Roe v. Wade made choice a legal option. She interviewed young civil rights activists, capturing their true stories of the 1960's protest era. She wrote about Japanese internment camps in the Pacific northwest during World War II. And the list goes on.

Ellen did not just write about issues--she put herself on the line for the causes she believed in, stepping forward in the face of all the difficult things about which she felt such deep passion. She marched for civil rights, taught, practiced law, and generally dedicated herself to creating a more just world. She said, "caring about fairness is a big part of the well I dip into....I wonder and still have only bits of an answer for why some people live on the dark side. And why some risk everything to fight the darkness. Here's to fighting the darkness!"

Ellen's latest novel, IN TROUBLE
It's never easy to lose a friend, nor a colleague and mentor. In the days to come, I know that many writer friends of Ellen's will pen beautiful tributes to her, attempting to capture her spirit, her essence one last time before it fades into the ether. But the beauty of a gift like Ellen's is that it keeps on giving. It will not fade, because we won't let it. Ellen's spirit lives on in her published work, but perhaps more importantly, her energy and her advice live on in the many students and friends whose lives and work she touched. Those ripple effects are nowhere near their end.

I believe that on Memorial Day we ought not simply honor what is lost, but also celebrate what has been preserved. When soldiers die on the battlefield, we are ready with medals and parades in their honor. When word warriors die, it may not have been on the battlefield per se, and there may not be medals or parades, but there will surely be quiet revolutions happening in the mind of a child, curled in the corner of a library, captivated by the truth of a story. That is how we can walk forward, knowing that which seems lost is continually being found.

Happy Memorial Day.


Sarah said...

So wonderful, Kekla. Thank you!

kellye crocker said...

Oh, a beautiful tribute, Kekla. Thank you! I love the phrase "word warrior!" That's PERFECT. And you're right about Ellen's spirit and passion living on, along with her work. I also agree that she did much to serve her country. Speaking out about problems, taking on difficult civil rights cases, and helping to bridge understanding between people, are fundamental to democracy. Ellen is one of my role models.

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