All words at all times, true or false, whispered or shouted, are clues to the workings of the human heart. Listen. You must, if you care to understand anything at all, become a Giant Ear. Kate DiCammilo, Flora & Ulysses
How to see life, as Frederick Buechner suggests the Good Samaritan did, as a poet or a child? In response to this question, I wrote in my journal: settle back more, let things come instead of pushing, be attentive, be available, be less defensive, listen to others.
Yesterday, I heard on the radio that the author of the famed Eloise books, originally published in 1955, did not intend them to be “children’s books.” For me, the multi-layered-ness of many so-called books for children is the power in these stories, for all of us.
Kate Di Camillo does write for younger people. She captures and conveys not so childlike wisdom through her storytelling. I’ve given Because of Winn Dixie, her first novel, as an adult gift and again last semester I read The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane, winner of the Christopher Award, established to affirm the highest values of the human spirit, aloud to my class of twenty-some-thing people. I decided to re-read Flora & Ulysses, after listening to her Newberry Acceptance speech—hearing the real story behind the written story. Maybe, her stories hold a key to seeing life as a poet or a child.
Flora & Ulysses is a hybrid format – part is traditionally written and part graphic novel. The story of Flora, a “natural born cynic,” and her unassuming squirrel friend Ulysses—turned super-hero—was not immediately appealing from these descriptions. Compelling, though, was Kate Di Camillo’s real story that involved her mother, a giant vacuum cleaner, and the capacious hand of God.
In the novel, it is Flora’s father who has a capacious heart and the giant vacuum cleaner that transforms the yard squirrel into a poet with super powers. The story is about Flora, her divorced parents, and a myriad of neighbors and objects who become friends and accomplices on her way to seeing her life anew. Through the wisdom of long-lived Dr. Meescham who resides across the hall from Flora’s father and the blunders of voluntarily blind William Spivey, her next-door neighbor’s nephew, and her mother’s beloved unusual lamp, Flora observes her own life through other eyes. In fact, throughout the story, Flora reminds herself in her role as a young cynic, “Do not hope; instead, observe.”
Paradoxically, what Flora heard and observed as a giant ear was astonishing.
Now, back to my own musing in connection with Flora’s reminder. Settle back more, let things come instead of pushing, be attentive, be available, be less defensive, listen to others.
It’s not that I don’t hope—it is ceasing to participate in the kind of “hope” that is continually playing a purposed scenario in my mind. This imagined scene controls how I am in the unfolding story and takes me away from the present moment. Letting things come is an expectant hope, not of my own making.
Likewise, working out my own defense, in the form of a response or justification, is working out my own worth. I don’t have to do that. Maybe, listening is a way of finding common ground rather than needing to shore up my own perspectives.
Kate DiCamillo says that the word capacious means “being open, more capable of seeing and receiving the wonders of this world.” That’s another clue to how a poet or a child observe their world.
In the words of Dr. Meescham, Flora’s wise friend, “There is much more beauty in the world if I believe such a thing is possible.” And listen with a giant ear to hear it.