Friday, November 20, 2009

The Power of Silence

What you notice first about Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse is the beauty of this foreign land. The acacia trees, the many different-colored grasses, the vast sky. There are no words to tell us what to think or where to look. We simply take it in. We begin to notice the creatures that populate this stunning land, and a story begins to take shape in the quiet expanses of his wordless sun-filled watercolors.

Jerry Pinkney lives near a nature preserve, and in this book he recreates that experience of being alone with the quiet. The only sounds are the screech of an owl, the squeak of a mouse, and the growl and roar of the lion. There are so few places today where we can find quiet. We have to seek them out. With cell phones that ring and video games that bleep, and iPods turned up loud enough so that everyone nearby can hear what’s playing, there’s noise everywhere we turn. Even on the bus we’re privy to conversations we’d rather not overhear. The library, the subway, an airplane and driving alone in the car are among the scarce few sanctuaries.

The word sanctuary is sometimes used as an alternative to “nature preserve,” like a “bird sanctuary.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a holy place.” In the quiet, we can also quiet the mind and begin to forget about the office and the grocery store and other daily urgencies. We can begin to focus on the more important things. Ultimately, Jerry Pinkney’s book reminds us of how attentive we become in the quiet. We pay attention. We notice body language and facial expressions. We really see each other. When the lion holds the mouse in his paw, looks into her eyes, and truly sees the mouse, he does not wish to harm her. Her life is valuable, too. He lets her go. This kind of close attention is the greatest gift you can give a child. To truly see him or her, to engage, to be fully available and present when you’re together.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: It’s for all Americans of every faith and culture, for families generations-old and immigrant-new; the emphasis is on preparing and sharing a meal together, and telling stories; the holiday itself is named for gratitude. May you and your family find some sanctuary this Thanksgiving.

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