The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

The vulnerable and the brave

One of the most impressive things for me about having been a volunteer for Ethiopia Reads for nearly ten years is a new understanding of how much good can be done by the marshmallows of the world.  This tea party in Boulder involved dress-up and kids and Lanie and Poli (a doll and a bear), but it did a roll-up-sleeves, dirty job.  Cucumber sandwiches and carrot cakes sent books whirling through the air from America to Ethiopia.   I’ve often wished for a thick ol’ Teflon skin.  It would be handy in an artist’s world, when failure and rejection lurk around all the corners.  At the same time, I know people probably can’t make art unless they are willing to feel their feelings, including the tough, uncomfortable ones.

Small things can lead to big change.  Yesterday, girls (and a few boys) and their families gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence.  They heard me talk about how I created Lanie’s stories–and they bought books and t-shirts and jewelry.  They asked questions and made donations.  And…voila!  Money for books.

A few other volunteers and I also went to meet with an Ethiopian-American businessman who wants to make sure that some of the money for 450 million cups of coffee (bought every day in America) goes to the growers and their families in Ethiopia.  One man…who is determined to make a difference with the thing he knows best: coffee.

Fiction writers know that people are strangely drawn to the likes of LeBron James: the bold, the powerful, those who draw attention to themselves.  But, even more, we’re interested in the vulnerable.  The vulnerable and the brave.

It was a thrilldom moment to hear that most of the girls in the room yesterday already knew monarch caterpillars–what they eat…how they transform themselves into butterflies…the way they head off for a journey of thousands of miles.  A lot of those kids had helped monarch butterflies somewhere along the journey.  Some of them had even participated in Monarch Watch taggings.

Why do so many of us love monarchs?  They start out life small and pale gray-white. Within two weeks, these caterpillars grow to more than 3,000 times their hatching weight.  They munch poisonous milkweed, drawing those noxious chemicals into their small bodies.  At the right moment, each caterpillar spins a silk pad, shakes and wiggles its way of of its skin, and rests in a brilliant green and gold chrysalis until it can climb out–a butterfly.

On my fragile days, I try my best to remember that the race does not always go to the swift…and that even a marshmallow can sometimes be strong.

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