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It was Saturday morning, the sun playing off rumpled scarecrows displayed upon a shelf near the entrance of the supermarket. Slouch hats bedecked with sunflowers covered shocks of orange yarn spilling upon shoulders, peeking from shirts and pants legs—nothing uptight about these field-warriors. Their stitched grins and rolling black eyes seized my imagination.

“Would you look at that! I must have one!” I said while loosening the scarf around my neck and stomping slush from my boots. Gone were the leach-like doldrums that had enveloped my spirit from the night before. In the face of such absurdity, there was no room for such nastiness.

That was decades ago. Since then, I’ve showcased my scarecrow in rooms around my house as a reminder of the disarming power of humor, especially when blatant evil seems to have the upper hand.

But there’s more to this image than the restoration of psychic balance. I’ve grown to equate it with God-Power within my depths. When flooded by the untoward, replete with confusion, pain, and speechlessness, I know to shut down, do nothing, and in the company of my scarecrow welcome the ludicrous. Eventually change occurs with the reemergence of the “wee small voice,” and with it, new lessens learned—stark reminders of my humanness with its graced foibles.

 

 

Yet still another upheaval awaits me around the next corner. Such growth is messy, but with my scarecrow, it works!

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“Auggh, such a sissy,” taunted my brother as his hard ball ricocheted off my catcher’s mitt, slammed into the swing seat across the yard, and rolled to a standstill on the ground. “You’ll never learn—No matter how hard I try to teach you!” Tears smarted my brown eyes. I wanted so hard to please him, even though any ball hurled in my direction caused me to hold out my hands, shut my eyes, and pray.

That experience still surfaces, but within different packaging. Instead of hard balls whistling through the air, word-projectiles sting, catch me off guard: They hurt, bad.

One example is the language wrapped around infanticide in our country. Last week legislators in the Vermont House voted 106 to 36 to legalize late-term abortions. H0057 states that women have the right to elective abortions up until birth and strips away rights of unborn babies. “A fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law,” so the law blithely states.

So what has happened to words, enervated of substance, homogenized for the unthinking? As long as words conform to the script of the image-makers, they pass for truth.

To return to the Vermont legislators and their heinous bill—I shudder. Every sentence evidences their jaundiced spiritual faculties, their woeful lack of imagination. Visualize their gall in spearheading this nascent effort to influence other state legislatures to do similarly.

Happily, I no longer shut my eyes and pray when nasty word-projectiles sting. They keep me fully awake and I must respond.

 

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.

 

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