Posted by: ritagone | May 20, 2015

From Vast to Tiny

Sometimes your view of the world can go from small (microscopic) to big (macroscopic) in one day, and you don’t even have to leave hbacteria1ome!

Last week, feeling lazy and a bit under the weather, I decided to curl up and read. (It was rainy too, which helped!) I had been reading a delightful current work of non-fiction called “Between You and Me,” by Mary Norris, a book about – yes – punctuation and copy editing. I know, I know: it’s probably not one of your topics of choice, but I absolutely love well-written books about grammar and punctuation, because, in order to keep the reader interested in what is definitely only a mildly interesting subject matter, he/she has to really work hard to keep you reading. A turn of phrase, an interesting fact, something you had never known or thought of before, and you can be hooked. I was hooked.  Then, reading one of the last chapters in the book, winding down so I could change positions from my comfy office chair to my comfy leather chair in the living room, I wound up reading about pencils. Yes, pencils. And, oh, erasers. And pencil sharpeners. And finding it fascinating, absolutely fascinating, the differences between #1 and #2 Ticonderoga pencils, why electric sharpeners are only for the amateurs around us, and stories about people who use them.

Somewhere toward the end of that chapter, I found myself laughing that a subject so “tiny,” so seemingly insignificant, could be so darned fascinating when written well. I also felt like my world had shrunk significantly, to a universe inhabited by pencils and erasers and people who know good ones from mediocre or bad.

Then I shifted to the other room and put in a DVD to watch, a movie I had never heard of but which my Netflix fairy godmother recommended to me based on other movies I had watched or rented there. It was called “Oranges and Sunshine,” starring Emily Watson, one of my favorite British actresses. And it was “based on a true story.” (By the way, isn’t almost every movie based on a true story these days? What’s up with that? No one wants to claim pure fiction anymore?) Anyway, the movie dealt with a social worker in England in the ‘80’s who is approached by a woman who is searching for information about her early years, including knowledge of her mother. She claimed to have been deported to Australia with a bunch of other children with no adult supervision, then spent her time living in Australia until her confrontation with the social worker. All she wanted was to know who she was, recognizing that a big piece of herself was missing.

As the social worker dug in to try to answer this woman’s questions, she uncovered that there were hundreds more children in the 40’s and 50’s who had suffered the same experience: being dragged from orphanages or children’s homes by authorities who told them that their mothers were dead and they were going to new families in another country. Once they arrived in Australia, they were farmed out as literal slave labor, with no one to protect their interests or care about them. Many of them were so emotionally damaged as adults that there was little possibility of recovery, while others who asked the social worker for help also wanted to find out what had happened to their mothers and who they were.

The British government never recognized this travesty of justice and mercy until 2010, when then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology to the some 130,000 children who had been shifted from their homeland so cruelly. It was a wonderful tribute to Margaret Humphreys, the social worker who risked her own family and her career to help these adults who had lost their childhood and who wrote a book about her experience called “The Empty Cradle.”

What struck me as I watched this human drama was that the human condition in all its pathos and story is writ large on our hearts and minds. Some of the stories of these people were heartbreaking, as actors described in the dialogue written for them the emotional and physical ordeal that they were subjected to. I sat there with tears running down my cheeks, amazed at man’s cruelty to man and how governments can control the fate of so many, and a few other very broad, sweeping themes running through my mind.

Then I thought of the pencils.

I had gone from something so miniscule, so mundane (the pencils), to this amazing larger than life story of the human condition.

Both ends of this spectrum have to do with God. He is in everything, from the small to the grand, and His handiwork is evident in microscopic items and macroscopic ones.

It’s good to have reminders of that reality and truth often in our lives, and I didn’t even have to leave home to get this one.



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