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Numbers mount; hurried burials mount; communities of grievers mount; undigested information mounts, whipped about in centrifuges with no-turn-off switches.

Like Covid-19’s free-for-all with death, darkness knows no surcease: its opaqueness nails shut crannies of light, known to have helped from previous sources. Alone, stripped of the familiar, making do with what we’ve got, we sink to our knees and wait.

Within this lull, however, comes a blessing, Urbi et Orbi, from a solitary figure, sickly, dressed in white. It is March 27th, night. Floodlights shadow the empty rain-swept Square of St. Peter’s, splayed out before him like an ancient amphitheater.

The photo of this blessing, live streamed by the Vatican, suggests exhaustion, depletion of vital energy, something akin to Ingmar Bergman’s surreal fantasy, The Seventh Seal set in medieval Sweden. Then and now, Catholicism’s fiery heart seems almost extinguished by God’s silence and the black plague devastating Europe.

More than ever, recourse to God through practicing the 12 Steps opens minds and hearts to ultimate truth and love, uncovered in our depths. Inherent within this discipline are Gospel principles that correct, affirm, and direct wayward spirits and help us accept our graced flawedness to enter the Kingdom of God. However, I still weep …

As Peter said to Jesus in John’s Gospel, “Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

 

 

 

Barbed wire, taut across handmade tiles of fanciful bluebirds in flight—such is the jacket art for American Dirt (2020) by Jeanine Cummins, its title referenced toward the end of this novel. Guatemalan migrant Soledad, fifteen years old, spits through the fence at the Nogales border and leaves some of herself in the American dirt, so desperate she is to cross over, her beauty a magnet for sexual assaults.

The author succeeds in portraying other fleshed-out migrants fleeing death-wielding cartels. Among them is Lydia, the young mother of Luca, having escaped the slaughter of her entire family at her niece’s fifteenth birthday party in Acapulco. Grief emboldens Lydia to protect her eight-year-old and flee to Tucson, not without extreme hardships and scrapes with death. However hard the migrants seek to escape, the cartels’ Intel keeps their victims within the cross-hairs of their AK47s.

Cummins’s five years of research and numerous trips to the United States-Mexican border crossings and beyond, offer an immediacy to this hostile terrain: its sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touch wheedle themselves within readers’ imaginations and compel interest for yet another chapter.

Only Cummins’s artistry with words prevents this novel from becoming a horror binge. Much she leaves out, prompting her readers’ deeper engagement.

What surfaces from the experience of reading American Dirt remains unsettling. There seems no political/religious will to dismantle the drug cartels because of their octopus-like monitoring, because of lucrative payments to their spies, and because of their victims gunned down on the streets, overcrowding morgues. Monstrous greed sparks this human tragedy as migrants continue fleeing for their lives. Still they come.

America Dirt speaks to the present impasse at our Southern border.

 

 

Memorable writers dig deep for the next precise word to construct their narratives—a spiritual process that engages readers.

Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) was such a writer, but unlike others, his eleven months spent in the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald eviscerated Yiddish words learned in childhood. For ten years, silence stood guardian over his shocked psyche and sustained his sanity while mastering French in the Normandy home for orphans where he was placed after the liberation. But his heart wound was never staunched—The heinous Evil of the camps defied words. Still, he must try.

And he did. In 1954, he began the task, scrounging for words that shivered before the enormity of his experience. What was to become Night ballooned into 842 pages that underwent several published revisions: in 1956, the Yiddish Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (And the World Remained Silent), reduced to 245 pages; in 1958, the French Nuit, reduced to 178 pages; in 1960, the English Night, reduced to 117 pages; and in 2006, a re-translation of the French Nuit, reduced to 115 pages. Decades of revision finally distilled Wiesel’s wound into its essence.

Although words of thirty other languages approximate this account, what actually occurred in the camps remains obscure. Those who plumb the mystery of Evil get scorched; it remains an unfathomable mystery.

So what to make of this world classic, Night? It still speaks to us, but how?

A clue to this dilemma lies in the Talmud’s designation of God as speaking through the white spaces between printed words. Within such silence emerges Wiesel’s deposition for those with courage to listen.

 

Available on Amazon

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