In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.
When The Worst Happens
I was invited to address the annual gathering of the American Booksellers Association Children's Institute, which took place in Orlando, Florida, only eleven days after the horrific shootings of forty-nine mostly young people -- not as young as the twenty children shot down in Sandy Hook (along with six adults) in December 2012, but many of them young people on the brink of their adult lives.
After the keynote, I went by the site of the shootings to pay my respects. An impromptu memorial had been set up, people leaving poems, teddy bears, votive candles, virgencitas. One moving sign read, Love Towards All -- Hatred Towards None.
I had with me a galley of my new children's book, Where Do They Go?, coming out this fall with Triangle Square (Children's division of Seven Stories Press), appropriately (painfully), a book about death for "children of all ages." I left the galley at the site. It seemed the most meaningful thing I could offer.
I thought this was the worst that could happen. It was. But then the worst kept happening: the violent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; the horrible shootings in Dallas in which five police officers were killed: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa; and oh, just this morning, the worst horrific news once again, eighty-four people mowed down and murdered in Nice, France.
Times like these I question the usefulness of what I do as a storyteller. Every time an act of violence destroys the fabric of our common story as a human family, I lose faith in what stories teach us: that we are each other, sharing similar -- if not the same -- challenges, joys, sorrows, as we live out our fragile time on this vulnerable, beautiful, terribly tender earth.
It's understandable to feel shaken to the core. We have to grieve. We have to hold each other close. But it's also important to construct once again a world we can live in and believe in, beginning with its blueprints in the world of story.
I'm more and more convinced that as responsible and responsive storytellers, we have an important role to play in bringing about the changes that must happen if we're going to survive on this small planet of diminishing resources and in a world where violence threatens to divide us into us and those others who are alien to us. The best stories know better. They work below the radar, transforming us into one another. We readers, writers, teachers, booksellers are critical agents, unacknowledged carriers of the DNA to evolve a more compassionate world. It's up to us to provide new possibilities for the world we want to build together, remind our readers of things they might have forgotten about how we are one human family. We need to create a global community out of our many tribes and countries and cultures, and I can't think of any better connective tissue than the writing, the telling, the sharing of stories.
Think about giving a book in the name of these tragic deaths to your local library, to a neighborhood daycare, to a senior center. Even better, go there, read it out loud, give life to that story with your breath. Sometimes it's the best we can do when the worst has happened. Narrative threads can mend the broken circle.
July 18, 2016
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