Be Human

Today, Woody lost his head. Literally.

Woody has been doing his Nearly Headless Nick impersonation for the last day or so, but today, he lost it altogether.

I had been trying to substitute another Woody for the past day; we have many of them in our house. But none of them were the right one. And Woody lost his head before we made it to the store.

And when he did, my boy’s heart snapped in two.

Every time he tried to put Woody’s head back on without success, the boy’s heart broke again.

But he kept trying.

And he handed Woody to me about halfway through the car wash, and through his tears he cried, “I need help, please.”

So I tried. But Woody was as broken as the boy and his daddy, sitting there in the car wash crying together.

When we got home, I took Woody inside for a moment while the boy cried in the car, and Crazy-Glued his head back on.

But the pain was still there. And so for the next hour and a half, we mourned Woody together. One of us, at the top of his lungs, hands to his head, crying out the pain of losing his friend.

Eventually, the tears dried, and the new Woody had arrived home, and the old Woody’s head seemed to be holding.

But the loss of a friend still breaks our hearts.

I mention this not so you’ll mourn with us, but feel free to do so if you want. That’s what the boy wanted today, after all.

I’m mentioning this rather so that I can help you to see that kids on the spectrum are not cold.

They are not dispassionate.

They are not heartless, and they are absolutely not loners.

Yes, there are times when human company is overwhelming for the boy. Hell, there are times when human company is overwhelming for his dad.

But when your friend loses his head, no matter who you are or where you are on the spectrum, you still want someone there who will try and help.

And if help isn’t possible, you still want someone there who will cry with you.

My son wanted me to share his loss.

Cause that’s what it means to be human.

When there’s a story circulating out there that kids on the spectrum are loners and thus dangerous, I hope you’ll remember this. What my boy wanted was someone to cry with him.

Now that Woody is better and new Woody has found a home where he’ll be loved, all my boy wants is someone who will play with him.

Cause that’s what it means to be human, too.

A Gun At A Car Wash

Love The Car Wash

Update: For a solid two weeks now, this story has been on my mind, and I think I know why. It isn’t that I find myself thinking, as I was asked, the “what if?!?” questions. Honestly, and I’m not bragging here, my head doesn’t work that way. Living with the boy really has taught me to focus on right now. The “what ifs” can take care of themselves.

No the main thing that keeps popping up in my head is this: I wonder what kind of hellish life that young man must have had to make him so afraid of the world around him?

Our world can be hell. But it really doesn’t have to be.

How’s that for naïveté?

About two weeks ago on a bright, Saturday afternoon, my boy and I went to the car wash as is our custom. (As he is on the Autism Spectrum, the sameness of the car wash is perfect for him.)

While we were continuing to follow our custom of vacuuming the floor mats, so the boy could play with the vacuum for a bit, a young, white guy of about 22 years of age approached his car parked in the slot next to ours.

He had caught my attention earlier because he was smoking, and with my son’s asthma, I was going to try and keep his door shut despite the heat. It wasn’t much of a problem–we’re at the car wash nearly daily, so this was more about keeping the boy’s routine rather than cleaning the truck. So as the young man started to light up again right beside the boy’s door, I subtly closed the door as I was walking the vacuum hose back to the holder.

As I did, this young man was staring me down, following me with his eyes.

This was strange, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. However, when I turned around, he had turned his body so that his right hip was facing me as he continued to stare.

On his hip was a pistol (sorry, not being a gun expert, I could not tell you what kind of pistol it was), but it was in a holster that appeared to be in danger of falling from the jeans pocket of his shorts where he had it clipped.

I glanced at it and back up to him, to re-meet his eyes as he continued to stare at me. I nodded and said hello.

He eventually turned away as I walked to the driver side of the car and began to climb in to leave.

So far as I am aware, the only threatening move I offered was to gently shut my son’s door so that he wouldn’t be exposed to this young man’s second hand smoke.

Did this guy have a right to smoke? Sure. I didn’t say a word to him about it; I simply closed my son’s door, so the boy wouldn’t have to breathe the smoke.

Did this guy have a right to openly carry his firearm? I have no idea. Maybe. But as he appeared to be threatened by my closing a truck door, I certainly wasn’t planning to ask him to produce his open-carry license.

And you see, that’s part of the issue . . . I had absolutely no way of knowing if this young man who seemed threatened by my having pulled into a space beside him was a “good guy” with a gun or a “bad guy” with one.

The presence of his gun that day might have possibly made him feel safer, I really have no idea. He didn’t appear to have a sense of safety. (Maybe old white guys with their sons vacuuming a truck are threatening to him. Again, I have no idea.)

But this I do know. Despite the car wash being a place where my boy and I are on a first name basis with the employees, despite it being broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon, and despite there being about 20 people in the parking lot cleaning their cars, this young man brandishing his hip so that I would notice his firearm did not provide a sense of safety to my son and me.

A gun did nothing to make our world safer that afternoon. Nothing at all. Sheriff Woody’s empty holster is a model we should work to emulate.

Dreaming Of Space and Acceptance

Dreaming Into Space And Acceptance

“O Me! O Life!”
By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Leaves of Grass (1892)

Even as a child, even before I knew the name of the town, Huntsville was a place of dreams and acceptance.

Believe it or not, I was a kind of a loner as a kid. Growing up in the Deep South, loving books more than football was a bit of a barrier that was difficult to climb over. I didn’t get the passion over a sport that was, when I played it at least, the punishment you survived so you could go home and read the latest Star Trek novel.

And that’s where Huntsville came into play. My mom and dad decided one Saturday morning when we were visiting my Nanny in Opelika that we would take the drive up to Huntsville to visit the Space and Rocket Center. Yes, we were mere inches from Toomer’s Corner, and I honestly didn’t know it existed. I loved going to Auburn though since the Auburn Mall had a Waldenbooks. Having grown up in a town that barely had a library, the tiny (by today’s standards) Waldenbooks could absorb me all day for every day of our visits.

And so I prepared over the three hour drive to Huntsville by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I wanted to go into space.

Space, for me, represented a place of dreams, a place where people worked together toward a common goal. A place where everyone’s skill set was crucial because usually you were one of a extremely small crew, and survival depended on being able to work together.

Space embodied the dream of being worthwhile, which was something I struggled with as a kid who didn’t fit in.

And in Huntsville, I was able to climb into the capsule that had taken people up there. I’m certain that the Mercury Capsule in Huntsville that I kept running to the back of the line to climb into again and again was just a mock-up, but it really did not matter. When I was reclined in the seat, I was in space.

And all was right.

Today, the boy climbed into that capsule. And all was right.

I didn’t prompt him; he wanted to. And then he, and Woody, flipped over, put his feet up in the air, closed his eyes, and dreamed.

I don’t know what he dreamed about. My boy, as a result of his being on the Autism Spectrum, doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t share his dreams with me often. But he did specifically, and repeatedly request this week, to go to “The US Space and Rocket Center to see the rockets, please.” So to see the rockets we went. Because when my boy goes to the trouble of asking for something, we try and get it for him.

And while he didn’t tell me what his dreams were, kneeling there, thinking about just how amazing humanity is when we work together, I thought about some of my dreams for my boy.

Like most parents, I dreamed of all the wonders of this world that I would get to share with my boy. All the books he would love. All the Lego Space Ships we would build. All the movies we would see. All the footballs we would toss (yeah, I became a bit more normal as I grew up).

But then his diagnosis interfered. And I spent a long time being angry that autism was screwing up my plans.

Until something weird started happening. The boy and I went to movies, and he liked them. We would read books and enjoy them. We would play with our amazing Star Trek technology that I could only dream of as a kid together.

And he would reach over to take my hand while he was crying from laughing so hard at a movie scene he watched over and over, just as I used to do.

And I realized that life was far, far better than my dreams could have imagined.

While I was looking at him today, sitting in a seat that was at least quite similar to the one that I climbed into when I was basically his age, I realized that my dreams have changed.

I’m not as angry at autism as I once was. It hasn’t taken nearly as much as it has given.

And so while walking among monuments to what humanity can achieve when we work together, I realized that my primary dream today isn’t to rid the world of autism. Don’t get me wrong: if there were something we could give him to make communication easier for him, I would absolutely consider it.

But that isn’t the main thing I wish for today.

Instead, I wish to make our world a place where even the most severely autistic boy or girl is seen as a gift to humanity rather than a burden because of the wonderful gifts that they bring to our lives.

  • The gift to completely live in the moment even when that moment calls for going to the carwash on a rainy day.
  • The gift to dance alone in the grass.
  • The gift to unconsciously laugh harder at three words in a movie the 50th time you watch them than you did the first time cause sometimes things just get funnier.
  • The gift to empathize with complete strangers.
  • The gift to realize that a toy can be the best of friends.

We don’t need space to teach us that we absolutely need one another, and all our one anothers to survive. Our sordid lives are sufficient to that task.

While we may never find a cure for autism, we can change our world so that even those who cannot speak can contribute their verse to this powerful play.

Thanksgiving To Pixar

And so it is Thanksgiving.

Despite my reputation as a curmudgeon, I do actually appreciate the idea of a holiday centered around giving thanks (although the history behind the holiday does tend to put a damper on the season.)

But I like the food, and I like the weather, and having a break when I get to hang with my kiddos is always the best.

So today, after the food, we went to see the new Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur.

You’ve got a friend . . .

Most of the readers of this little spot on the internet should be completely aware of the boy’s love of Pixar films. When the bouncing lamp clicks on the screen, like flipping on a switch, his happiness meter jumps to eleven.

Today was no different. From the opening scenes of the short, “Sanjay’s Super Team” through the switching out of the Pixar lamp to close the film, the boy was completely engrossed.

In may ways, The Good Dinosaur is not Pixar’s best, but after just one viewing, it has vaulted to nearly the top of my list. When Arlo’s Poppa takes Arlo out to a field of fireflies to face his fears, the boy came over to sit on his poppa’s lap. And there he stayed for most of the film which was surprisingly scary at times.

Often the boy’s favorite parts of a movie start when the credits roll. No, I have no idea why. It’s just part of who he is (and it seems, a common trait among those on the spectrum). He likes other parts of the movies we attend as well. Movies with a rollercoaster scene (like the door scene from Monster’s Inc., or the same scene in Inside/Out) bring him endless joy.

And that’s why we go to movies together: it gives me insight into his world.

But occasionally the movie brings us together in other ways. Today was one of those days.

When the pierodactyls attacked the T-rex cowboys, in a surpisingly scary scene, the boy was terrified.

While we work on emotions and expressing them in socially appropriate ways, fear is one that I—like most parents—try to protect him from. But protecting him isn’t always possible or even good for him.

Fear, on the spectrum, tends to result in a meltdown. And meltdowns tend to turn into a negative feedback loop. The fear often grows into terror; debilitating, disruptive, disabling terror.

Like most spectrum parents, like most parents in general, there’s little I fear more than my child’s terror knowing that I am often powerless to help him.

And so as frightened as he was by the surprise attack, he controlled his fear. He bounced on dad’s lap. He yelled at the screen. He patted himself on the chest, and he grabbed my hand and squeezed it to his chest seeking out his dad’s reasurrance.

And so there in the dark, on a row to ourselves (thankfully), we both faced our fears together.

And the negative feedback loop was disrupted.

Sometimes facing fears is necessary to see the beauty in life, like the firefiles in the field.

So, again, thank you Pixar. Your films have a way of connecting with my son like few others. And that connection is everything.

It’s been a good Thanksgiving.

The Good Dinosaur

Busted Routine: It Was Going To Be Bad

I knew it was going to be bad.

Just knew it.

Matthew wanted to go to the store. So we went to the store. It was getting late, but we went. It was the beginning of the routine, but it was happening out of order. We should have gone out to jump first. But we didn’t. It was going to be bad.

When we got home, Matthew wanted to jump outside. The routine was happening backwards, but I couldn’t stop it. Every attempt to redirect him toward something else just wasn’t happening. It was no use. He wanted to jump and no amount of iPad screen time would redirect.

(And yeah, I know. Let the boy jump, right? Exercise is FAR better than an iPad. Except, I knew what was coming next.)

So we jumped; even though it was after 8:00pm, we jumped.

And as I was helping him off, he asked for what I had feared in letting him jump: “Wanna go to the library?”

I hate being right.

“The library is closed, buddy.”


“Yep, I’m sorry man.”

And so again, I tried to redirect. It didn’t work.

It was going to be bad.

Eventually, we drove to the library. So he could see.

It was going to be bad. The routine was FUBAR.

So we went to the library, and the library was closed.


We got out of the car, so he could see. But it didn’t help.

And it became bad.

After twice carrying him back to the car and eventually getting him buckled in, we drove home, screaming all the way.

It was bad.

You see, we struggle with self-injurous behavior. Without the words to express frustration, other outlets replace it. And slapping his head is his go to move for letting us know just how frustrated and hurt he is.

The slapping had started; I could hear it.

So I pulled over despite being less than a half a mile from home to restrain him.

Except when I looked in the mirror, I noticed that the slapping sound interspersed with the screams of protest over the library being closed, was NOT coming from him hitting himself on the head.

This time, despite being a truly bad one, this time, Matthew was slapping his hands together.

Rather than express his pent up frustration at the radical departure from his routine that the closed library was causing him, my son had redirected his anger, on his own, by slapping his hands together.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t bad at all.

It was one of the more amazing moments of growth my son, or anyone I’ve ever known, has ever shown.

Sometimes a busted routine opens a whole new world of awe and wonder. Thanks, little man, for the reminder that terrifying change is often an amazing thing.

I love you, my son.

Sharing Our Stories

One of the pedagogical approaches I’ve been using in my comp classes is projecting student writing up on the wall during peer review so that we can all learn from each others’ mistakes and successes.

This is, at times, extremely risky, and I try to keep in mind when I project an essay that there is a vast difference in the ability of my students.

But that vast difference can be a huge benefit as well.

Last week, I posted an essay from a student who had written a comparison essay comparing cats and dogs.

I go out of my way to discourage these types of topics for comparisons, after all, what are you going to write that would seem interesting to someone else about cats and dogs?

But this student wrote such a comparison anyway.

One point of comparison was that both cats and dogs are “clean, human, amphibians.” (Yes, you read that correctly.)

This is where it gets risky.

First, there was significant laughter from the class. That was, until I pointed out to them that their essays would also be posted up on the wall soon. They tended to grow significantly quieter then, but in many ways the damage was already done. I saw it in her eyes.

And so, I walked her though her thought process, right there in the open. And when the class saw that I was taking her seriously, they did as well.

Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after long time. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Looking at her comparison, I asked her, and the rest of the class, to think of their stories with their pets. As we talked, the class began to see that their thoughts and understanding of their pets weren’t all that different from the writer’s.

There were stories of playing with toys, of giving baths, of taking long walks, of running in the rain, and as always, of picking up poo off of someone’s pillow who had had the temerity to “Bad Dog” the pup after she was caught eating the couch. Their stories, in their similarity, brought the class together in laughter and shared commiseration.

And what we realized is that yes, our pets are human to us as well.

While there wasn’t much that I could do with the amphibian claim, it did offer an opportunity, in an English class, to stop and examine what an amphibian actually is.

And to the surprise of several students who laughed, they learned what an amphibian was as well.

What could have been a terrible moment turned into a moment for everyone to learn from one another. (There was, of course, one student who chose not to participate in the discussion. Some people choose to exclude themselves when community forms. Always have; always will. And that’s instructive, too.)

But for the majority of the class, by sharing our stories, we found that we had far more in common than separating us.

That’s the power of our stories. That’s the power of authentic education. This is why our country needs our classrooms, and while I’m anything but an expert teacher, this is why we need experienced teachers in our classrooms.

And this is why I really want to go swimming with that amphibian dog.

Hate the Sin not the Sinner?

The Rainbow is Love

You know, there’s been a lot said of late by people who disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage yesterday that people who support the decision are condemning those who don’t and claiming that they don’t love others.

It is not my intention in celebrating the decision to condemn anyone. There is, in my opinion, too much condemnation in this world as there is.

(For the record, I do not believe that being a homosexual is a sin, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.)

The response, from those who oppose the decision, goes something like this:

I have many friends who are gay and I love and respect them, they know I love them but don’t agree with their lifestyle. I am offended when it is implied that I do not love because I oppose gay marriage.

Usually after a claim of this nature, someone will response:

That’s right! We’re commanded to love the sinner but not the sin. That’s what Jesus did!

And with a single cliché, everyone goes away happy that they have done their duty towards others by letting them know that they’re wrong.

But here’s the thing, the phrase, “love the sinner but hate the sin” is not actually a commandment. It isn’t actually even Biblical.

The source of that cliché is probably St. Augustine who wrote in 424ce, “Cum dilectione hominum et audio vitiorum” which is typically translated as, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” In 1929, Gandhi restated this idea as “hate the sin and not the sinner.”

The phrase does not actually appear in the Bible.

But surely the idea shows up in the Bible even if it isn’t said that way, right?

Let’s take a look at that. Would Jesus have actually hated the sin but not the sinner?

There are, in the Gospels, basically three incidents where Jesus directly interacts with “sinners.”

The first shows Jesus healing the paralytic, and when doing so, he said to him “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (This story is found in Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:5-17, and Luke 5:17-26.) In each passage, Jesus sees the injured man, approaches him, says, “your sins are forgiven,” and then heals the man.

In none of the versions of these stories is the paralytic man asked to confess his sins. Jesus simply forgave, and then immediately when the Pharisees began to condemn Jesus for blasphemy, he healed the man.

There is no discussion of how horrible the sin was. There was no discussion of not approving of the person’s lifestyle. Jesus seemed to go out of his way to avoid drawing attention to the man’s lifestyle in any way.

In a second incident that appears in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to dinner at with a Pharisee when a woman enters caring an alabaster jar of ointment which she then broke and anointed his feet and dried them with her hair. This is a similar story to Jesus’ anointment for burial by Mary in John 12.

When this woman did this, the Pharisee asked why Jesus would let this sinner touch him? Jesus responded, “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Jesus then, again, turned to her and said without preamble or requirement, “your sins are forgiven.” They were forgiven by an act of love, nothing else.

The final incident is the woman caught in adultery who was being brought out to be stoned in John 8:1-11.

After writing in the dirt and telling the mob, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

After they had left, he approaches the woman and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” When she said, “no one, sir,” he responded, “then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.”

Thus, at no point did Jesus discuss or express his “hatred for the sin.” The sin was not relevant. At all.

His entire focus was on loving the person who was in front of him. The person was all that mattered. What the person did or did not do was irrelevant.

So, no, Jesus did not hate the sin, not the sinner. He loved the sinner, and that love changed everything for the sinner. There was no condemnation. There wasn’t even a discussion like we might, unadvisedly have with a child where we ask, “do you know what you did wrong?”

There was just love. Nothing else.

And that’s what we’re actually commanded to do. No where does scripture tell us to hate the sin of others.

If I really want to hate sin, the sin I should hate is just my own. Not others (Matthew 7:1-5). If I do that, then I will truly understand how to love others because I’ll realize that I too am a sinner. There’s no difference between me and anyone else. God sees us all as the object of God’s love; God forgives us all (Romans 5:6-8).

The cliché “hate the sin not the sinner” needs to be retired from our lexicon. It’s a meaningless phrase used to absolve myself when I, sinfully, condemn others’ sin rather than seek forgiveness for my own.

The only commandments that Jesus gave us were, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34).

We’re not commanded to hate anything not even sin.

Light It Up Blue

Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness

Today is the World Autism Awareness Day, and April is Autism Awareness month. 1 in 68 are on the autism spectrum.

If I could ask, as the father of a wonderful little guy who is on the autism spectrum, for one favor, I think it would be this.

Today or sometime this month, if, no save that, when you see someone who doesn’t behave the way you think people should behave, when you see someone who is too old to be holding Woody from Toy Story but is doing so anyway, when you see someone bouncing on their toes or putting their fingers in their ears, when you speak to someone who doesn’t speak back, or when you see someone who is just different, my favor would be to ask that you find it within your heart to accept that it is because of our differences that our world is the amazing place that it is.

Our world is a better place because there are those who never forget the importance of play no matter how old they are.

Our world is a better place because there are ballerinas who are gifted with the grace and skill to move through this world on their toes.

Our world is a better place because there are those who can hear the quietest whisper in the hurricane of noise the rest of us ignore everyday.

Our world is a better place because there are those who don’t feel it necessary to scream their opinions every time there is a quiet moment.

Our world is a better place because we are different from one another.

And the blue sky shines down upon us, hugging us, all.

True Religious Liberty

You know, I’ve been a Christian since I was saved as a 9 years old at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia. 35 years is a long time, and much has happen during that time. But there are many things that haven’t happened over that period.

Not even once.

Not once in those 35 years have I needed government protection to follow the example that Jesus gave to me of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to the naked, or visiting and taking care of those who were sick or imprisoned.

Not once in those 35 years have I needed legal protection to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness or self-control towards others.

Not once in those 35 years has my religious liberty to love God and love my neighbor as myself ever been threatened.

Not once in those 35 years have I ever been persecuted for treating others the way I wish to be treated.

Not once in those 35 years has anyone ever tried to stop me from loving people the way that I have been loved.

I must be truly weird, I guess, but in my experience, no one has ever tried to stop me from living like Jesus lived.

Not once.

Those who are actually trying to live a religious life don’t need governmental protections to do it. True religious liberty is not given by government fiat. It comes from remembering that religion, at its heart, is love. And nothing more.

“Against such things, there is no law.”

On the Magic of Books

For the first time on Monday, I will get to fulfill one of my life long dreams: I get to teach 1984 by George Orwell to a class.

(Yes, I have simple dreams, what of it?)

This is a dream that began long ago, long before I ever even dreamed of being a teacher, long before I had even really had the language necessary to put into words the desire I had to share this book with someone else for the first time.

That’s how a great book is, isn’t it? As soon as we’ve finished one, we really want to share it with someone else. For me, that list of books is fairly long. With almost every book I read and finish, I find myself thinking, “I know who needs to read this one!”

My obsession with 1984 begin quite early. I believe I was 13 when the copy that I’m planning to teach from next week was given to me. Books are wonderful that way, aren’t they? (And yeah, I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to books.)

This copy was given to me by the wife of a young couple who attended for a short while the church that I grew up in. They left shortly afterwards to be missionaries.

In hindsight, this was a remarkably subversive act as my church didn’t really embrace critical thinking; this book had much to do with my learning to question authority later in life.

When she handed the book to me and suggested that I read it, she said, “Read this. It’s a great book, but beware that when you get to the ending, it’s going to make you mad. When I got to the end, it made me so mad that I threw it across the room.”

This was unheard of territory for me. I couldn’t imagine at the time getting so worked up by a book that I would want to throw it across the room. Honestly books had and still have a sacred quality for me that the idea of throwing one seems hard to imagine.

I was, at a minimum, intrigued.

So I read it as quickly as I’ve ever read any book. And while I didn’t throw it across the room, the ending did make me angry.

Thus, book that I’ve been reading regularly since I was about 13 years old, I get to teach to a class of students beginning on Monday night.

The edition I’ll be teaching from was published in 1975 in the UK, and wasn’t supposed to be sold in the US. It’s the same book I read in 1981. It was the same book that was thrown across a room by a young future missionary who surely had no idea what a whole new world she was opening up for a young boy from a little town in Southeast Georgia.

It’s the same book that has every passage I’ve ever underlined, still underlined and waiting for me to share it with a class starting this Monday. (And yeah, I can actually read my own handwriting.)

Some of those quotes include:

Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered? He wrote: Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

And on being a minority of one:

Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one. At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun: to-day to believe that the past is unalterable. He might be alone in holding that belief, and if alone, then a lunatic. But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him: the horror was that he might also be wrong.

And the beginning of Thought Crime being putting pen to paper in a diary:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would deb punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp. . . . To mark the paper was the decisive act.

And the true nature of power:

‘We are the priests of power,’ he said. ‘God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body – but, about all, over the mind. Power over matter – external reality, as you would call it – is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’

And finally:

I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.

And so from 1975 when this book was purchased by a young future missionary, to 1981 when she passed it on to, of all people, a 13 year old boy growing up unconsciously in the deep south, to Monday when I use that same book to help my students to understand the power of marking the paper, to be comfortable with the idea that when they’re a lone voice calling out it isn’t the worst thing to be thought of as crazy, and to see the importance of understanding why and not just how, 1984 will continue, if I’m a decent teacher, to change lives and as a result our world.

Maybe, just maybe, the world will become a bit more conscious as a result.

“Books,” as Stephen King likes to say, “are a uniquely portable magic.”