Monday, March 31, 2014

Day LVII: One and Only

They think I am too old to cause trouble. Old age is a powerful disguise.
-Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan

I've been making a conscious effort with this little blogging challenge to not review books. That's what Goodreads haikus are for. I think that it's too easy to fall back on reviewing. This blog is really just about piecing together the odd snippets of my life into a hardly cohesive set of posts. But, I suppose, phrased like that, tying a book into my blog only makes sense. Books tend to be a rather large part of who I am, after all.

I don't remember when I decided to start actively reading more YA. I took a course from the Gustavus English department called "Adolescent Literature," and I think that must have rekindled my love for the genre. There is so much to be mined! What's that phrase, "from the mouths of babes?" In this case, "from the words for the young."

First, I should mention that anything with animals that is even remotely sad: my heart just falls apart in my chest. I have to spend hours reshaping and reviving my emotions because I end up spent so quickly. The Fox and the Hound, for instance, is an okay movie with a few semi-sad scenes for the average human. But when Widow Tweed has to drop Tod off in the woods--in a Harry and the Henderson's sort of way--I have to pause and dam the floodgates.

(apparently I can't even think about the scene without tearing public...audibly...)

So a book like The One and Only Ivan isn't exactly light material for me.

Ivan is a gorilla. A mighty silverback. Locked behind the glass of a mall storefront and paired, his only companions are an elephant, Stella, and a stray dog, Bob. When Ruby, a baby elephant is brought into the mall, Ivan's life finds new meaning: keep Ruby out of the same prison he's been trapped in for over 25 years.

Tenderhearted and exceptionally honest, Applegate's YA novel is a tragic and hopeful account of humanity, vulnerability, and unwavering dedication.

I don't know why the greatest lessons I've learned from reading have come through animals. Beatrice and Virgil taught me to be strong, The Wind and the Willows demonstrated the ferocity of civility, and Charlotte's Web promised a better world with the power of selflessness. For whatever reason these lessons stick, I am grateful.

Grateful for their genesis.
Grateful for their wisdom.
Grateful for their sacrifice.

When I was young, our German Shorthair Pointer, Beau, laid down beside me on the floor while my family watched a rerun of Who's Line is it Anyway? She had been on a much more comfortable bed in another room when she crept up behind me and let me rest my head on her stomach. In the middle of the episode, Beau released a strange whimper, shook, and passed on.

Perhaps this is odd, but I believe she made the choice to hobble beside me and share her last moments with our family in the center of the floor. I can't be certain (how could I?), but I like to think that small act of love was her parting gift to all of us.

She was the one and only pet our family lost together.

She was the one and only Beau, the mighty pointer.

And that's what clicked today in finishing Katherine Applegate's story. Each of us is a one and only to someone or other. And that's not a gift to be wasted. It's one to be treasured and be thankful for. To be proud of and find remarkable.

We owe it to others, and we owe it to ourselves.

At one time, you will be a memory for another.

And in that moment, you will be their one and only.

Memories are precious...they tell us who we are.
-Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan

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