"You disappoint me."
-Pellegrina, from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
I've written here before about Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. If you haven't read it, your heart is missing out. So is your soul.
I just finished reading this to my class. I cried two times in front of them, reading it. Two little girls and a little boy cried with me and two other kind-hearted children brought us tissues. I'd stop in different places and ask them what they were wondering - what's going on? Why did he or she say or do that? What will happen now? They made connections, they laughed at all the right parts (mostly when Edward the china rabbit is naked), they gasped at the horrible moments. At the end of the book, they clapped. We all agreed: this book is an amazing book. None of them increased their reading levels. None of their writing improved. They certainly didn't get better at number sense. But their connections and hearts exploded, just a little. And I fell in love with them all even harder.
You guys, I've probably been given a classroom of the most generous and good-hearted children in the history of this school. I just met with most of their parents, and I understand why that is now, because their parents are sweethearts. I don't know if I can move their data the way the new system is demanding I move it. Right now, I don't care. I would just like to sit and read them stories all day, and listen to theirs, and teach them how to write them down. We can pull in Math and Language Arts and Science and Social Studies wherever. But can we do it via Story? Please, new public education system?
Edward Tulane is a story that'll speak to you. If it doesn't, something's very wrong with you. It's a story that I'm just going to re-read on my own over the coming days. Because as I was reading to them, it hit me: bits and pieces of Edward's story are bits and pieces of mine. I am on a miraculous journey, of sorts. And along the way, I'm learning how important it is to stay open. To remember that not everyone I meet on my journey is going to disappoint me. To do this, I think I'm going to have to be more discerning and teach myself to figure out who's a friend disguised as an enemy, and who's an enemy disguised as a friend. Because this is where I always tend to get lost and fucked up.
A friend told me last night that I'm too trusting. I let people in too far, too quickly. I give them too much information, before I know if they're even the kind of person who will handle what I've given them with care. Other friends, in the past, have echoed this about me. C once told me my naivete is my best and worst quality.
Yet on an ironically bizarre flip side, I have so many trust issues because I've had so many people in the past teach me that being very direct and confrontational is a Bad Thing. And because I've had my heart broken in the past so many times or I've been taught over and over that I'm not enough, it's left me in a situation where I usually don't trust ME. So I end up bonding with people who are very bossy. Or the highly manipulative. Or dishonest game players. Or just dishonest people period. Or maybe they're all just very very nice, but are too much of a fucked up mess to really be a true friend to anyone.
So here's what happens: I meet someone along my journey. They seem kind and good-hearted. They're smart and funny and I really just thoroughly enjoy them as a human being. I don't ask much from anyone except that they be real with me, and don't play games or manipulate me. All I ever ask of people is to mean what they say and say what they mean. And that's because when I tell YOU something, I mean it. If I can't mean it, I don't say it. What I say to you comes from my heart. I don't know any other way to do it.
So what happens is this: they say kind, friendly, good-hearted, and funny things to me, and I heart them real hard. They promise me they're my friend, and I believe them. Because when I say those types of things I always mean them, and so I just assume when others say those types of things, they mean them too. And then I tell them too much. I let them in too quickly. I assume, too swiftly, that other people don't have hidden agendas. I suck at games, and it never ceases to shock me when it dawns on me other people actually enjoy games, the thrill of game strategy. This is what disappoints me most about other human beings, I think: when they treat other human beings as games. People are not games. We are not.
So when something happens that really underscores that this is not the case, that someone has said they are my friend and then does something a real friend wouldn't do, my heart is always broken. People disappoint me. If you've read Edward Tulane, and you are as fascinated by the character of Pellegrina as I am, you'll completely understand me when I say that.
Here's another thing about me: I'm naive but not stupid. When your heart has been broken by others enough, you learn. When someone's behavior starts to change, you know to start reading between the lines. Because all your past experiences have taught you this is where the disappointment, the heart break part starts. You wake up to what's really going on, because even when the other person insists they're telling the truth you know they aren't. Your gut knows something isn't jiving. But you've also learned it's not something you can confront them with, the conversation will be exhausting or upsetting. Because maybe they really believe it's the truth. Or maybe they're very desperate not to be seen as a bad person, or whatever their motivation is.
I promise, Internet: I'm naive but not stupid. Please, please don't ever treat me like I'm stupid. That's the absolute worst thing someone can do with me, or anyone else for that matter. Just be honest. I hate it when people aren't honest about what they really want. Once I figure out you've begun treating me as a game and aren't being honest with me, I lose all respect for you. And then I get really really angry. And then I get really really sad. You disappoint me.
And I'm too trusting, but once you teach me that you're not really trustworthy, once you really show me how you weren't worthy of however close I let you get to my protective bubble, we are done. You're going to have to come through in a really big way to prove to me that I'm wrong about you. In my experience, game players aren't really interested in doing that. Once they figure out they've been figured out, game over. They go find a new person to start up a new game with. But who really won your game? Who lost? Seriously, I could write blog entries on that for days. (Answer: there are no winners when you do this. Everybody loses.)
I'm trying not to build as many walls. I'm trying to learn to live outside a protective bubble. But other people keep disappointing me, and so I find myself continuing to lay bricks, gluing pieces of reinforced steel to my bubble's walls. This has made me really angry. But also very, very sad. Just like Edward Tulane, the fragile china rabbit.
The good news is that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is also about hope and redemption. Really, it's a perfect example of American mythologist Joseph Campbell's the Hero's Journey tale - someone is called to action, to take a journey. Along the way s/he meets friends who are enemies and enemies who are friends. S/he fights many battles, both winning and losing along the way. Finally, towards the end, the hero is losing everything; s/he has a Dark Night of the Soul moment in which the decision must be made: go on or give up? If the hero gives up, all will be lost. If the hero chooses to go on, then s/he must make a change. The change will be the hardest thing s/he has ever done, but the transformation after it's over will be magnificent and all will be won.
I really want to put the Coda (the wrap up at the end of the book) to Edward Tulane here for you to read, because it's probably the most moving and lovely summary of a story I've ever read. But I'm worried there are people who've come here and haven't yet read this book, and I don't want to ruin it for them. If you're in a Dark Night of the Soul, this story will break your heart wide open. If you're not, it'll get you through a Dark Night once you're there. And if you're really living Life, you will be.
So I'll just leave you with my Coda:
Once, there was a girl who loved the world. She loved its mountains, its oceans, its prairies, its forests. She loved its animals and its people. She trusted someone completely, who broke her heart. But she still loved the world. So she trusted again. And someone else broke her heart. But she still believed in love and the goodness of the world, and so she trusted again. And someone else disappointed her. And on and on this went, until one day she decided to live in a very hard bubble so no one would ever disappoint her or break her heart again.
But her heart wasn't really happy in the bubble. So once in awhile, she'd let it out. And it would get punched, and then she'd get angry. She'd go back into her bubble where she'd punch and kick at the world outside, hoping some of the punches or kicks would hurt the world even though she knew: if you're in a protective bubble of steel how could it?
What she really wanted was someone to love her, understand her, and accept her as is. All she ever wanted was a good friend. What she really hoped for was someone who would be a friend who didn't also want to play games with her at the same time. The girl sucked at games. Because what she really wanted most of all was for someone to mean what they say, and say what they mean.
.......that's it. That's as far as I've gotten writing my Coda, since my journey hasn't ended yet. And this morning I'm also thinking about C, whose heart I have smashed into tiny pieces. I wonder how his heart is going to recover, and where that karma will be written, ultimately, as part of my story's Coda. I think because I'm painfully aware that, once you break someone's heart, once you disappoint them, they'll become part of your story and you theirs. Forever and ever. Whether you want that or not. Tread lightly when you invite someone into your game, sweet Reader(s). The stakes are always so high.
At any rate, Edward's Coda is a ton better, because he kinda sorta gets his heart's desire at the end but in a way he didn't expect. And isn't that just how Life is? The Universe will always give you what your heart has always wanted, but maybe not in ways you'd have ever expected. So be careful what you wish for, and what you decide to invite in.