It's all out in the open now
I had a few hours to spend at the MSP airport in between flights from Oregon to home. While I never consider a stop in the bookstore a waste, I didn’t need any new stories, fiction or non, filling my head. There was plenty circling around me in the outer world. Still, I entered the Open Book bookstore, mentally checked off many shelved books as already “read,” and finally landed on one with Italian in the title (a sucker every time).
With the book tossed on the counter, I was busily digging through my wrist wallet when the checkout clerk said, “Oh no.” It wasn’t a surprise kind of response. Was she questioning my taste in books?
It was more of a “this is not good,” response. I jokingly asked, “You don’t like this book?”
She swiftly put away her phone. Someone had just texted her the news. “They’ve just overturned Roe v. Wade.” Her news was a day late.
For me, deflation had already set in. The ruling came from my husband in Ohio, who texted me across land and seas. I sat down in one of my most beloved places on earth and let the information wash over me. It was too much to take in all at once. Soon, I was scrolling Twitter, reading the final words from the three dissenting SCOTUS judges, “With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” they wrote. (You can read the full text of dissent here).
“Do you know why?” she asked, a sharp pain in her voice.
I looked hard at the woman in her late-thirties maybe, her earnest question ringing a very loud bell in my ears, thrumming already from dehydration and the same sorrow to justices wrote of.
My armpits got a little moist and my eyes did too as I heard my inner voice whisper, “This is where we have failed.”
Living in my literary world, I am surrounded by some who have the time and privilege to avail themselves with the knowledge as to why, and some who also have the time to avail themselves of knowledge yet persist in believing their beliefs take precedence over all others.
I nodded but didn’t go on, her first question still caught in my throat.
“I usually get the newspaper to catch up on the news.” A completely innocent statement. And also concerning statement from someone working in a bookstore. Most newspapers nowadays publish only 2 or 3 times a week. They can’t keep up with the rapid-fire fabrication of lies that come from certain sources. And good luck locating a newspaper anywhere nearby.
My eyes cast downward, I said, “It’s been out for a while now. Since the leaked documents.”
And before that. And before that.
I didn’t know where to start, it seemed I had only learned my true lesson during the 2016 elections, though some saw it coming long before that. How could we expect others to know the detrimental actions of a patriarchy that has been trying recapture their sense of when America was great? We should have known. But some of us had been lulled into thinking we were on the path toward a higher consciousness when the path ahead had already been barricaded.
Sherrilyn Ifill, civil rights lawyer for NAACP, says, “We have never seen the America we’ve been fighting for.” It’s true. There is no making the U.S. great “again.” There is only now.
Returning home, an opinion piece in Cincnnati.com caught my attention. The name was familiar. Famed author, Julia Alvarez. A book of hers, In the Time of Butterflies had become controversial in 2022. It was published in 1994. 1994. A handful of Milford parents wanted to turn the page back twenty-five years because of the book’s alleged "theme of sex and wickedness." Had they read everything published between then and now? What were they doing while reading Shakespeare all those years? What did you think their kids and grandkids were reading on the internet while they were sucked into a senseless fight over “wickedness?”
Hers was a big-thinking, sane response to a small-minded group of individuals.
The Milford parents claimed their mission was to protect their children – a concern and common ground we share – but it's a tragic mistake to blame books for the violence in our schools and on the streets of our nation. I can't think of a safer place to explore our baffling and beautiful world, our shared humanity, our complex motives and feelings and thoughts than between the covers of books. Or a better mission in education than to arm our young people with skills to think clearly, understand complexity in themselves and each other, explore situations that will indeed crop up in their lives and thereby prepare them to encounter these moments with insight, intelligence, compassion and heart.
Her letter reminded me of the conversation with the bookstore clerk. Where had this woman grown up? Did someone to read to her? Did someone instruct her or provide the skills to critically think through how we got to this place, this removal of rights, and the denigration of a woman’s ability to choose.
The positive news is America really is an open book now. We know rather precisely what comes next.
I keep asking myself what do those who’ve decided to cancel the rights of women have to fear? And am reminded of this David Whyte quote – “I often feel one of the real signs of maturity is not only understanding that you’re a mortal human being and you are going to die, which usually happens in your mid-40s or 50s — [laughs] oh, I am actually going to die; it’s not someone else I’m going to become. But another step of maturity is actually realizing that the rest of creation might be a little relieved to let you go; that you can stop repeating yourself, stop taking all this oxygen up, and make way for something else.”
What is it those on the other side of the debate are so convinced they must need to repeat—other than themselves and history?
The goal in removing reproductive rights is to keep women in the literal and figurative bonds and chains of pregnancy and motherhood. And when we say many American women will die from unsafe conditions after abortion rights are removed, those in power understand this notion. They are comfortable with the loss of a woman’s life.
We have never seen the America we’ve been fighting for. Ifill is right. Because we, politicians, those in ivory towers, Marvel or Disney movie makers, the average media consumer, don’t see the completeness of the bookstore clerk’s life. She’s never seen the completeness either, this woman working beneath a yellowing flickering light in a windowless airport shop surrounded by books that are the map into our minds, that allows us the space to grow as humans.
But someday, she will.
For her and other women who desire the freedom of choice, there are organizations at the national and local level, in particular, Women Have Options—Ohio, who can help.
For others, opportunities for summer reading abound. Maybe “In the Time of Butterflies” would be a good place to start.
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Annette, you have captured a sentiment shared by so many. Keep putting the words out there, keep it in the forefront of everyone's minds, it's the only way we have the opportunity to make change. Our battle is up hill, but not unconquerable.
As usual beautifully done.