I woke up this morning not to the sounds of songbirds in the trees of Brooklyn, or soft summer rain on my skylight, but to the reporters on 1010 WINS breaking the story of bomb blasts in London.
I emailed friends, editors, and fellow writers in this city that I love to make sure they were okay. I sat glued to the television, compulsively switching back and forth between stations for the latest scrap of news. I thought of 9/11. Of the terrible loss and sorrow that day brought. Of the fresh grief this one will surely bring.
I thought of the terror of the people trapped in tube stations. Of the suffering of the injured. Of what it must be like to die frightened, alone, and in pain in some filthy subway tunnel. I thought of the children, mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives whose loved ones will not be coming home tonight.
And I wondered, as I always do at times like these — what response is there in the face of such cruelty, such carnage, such suffering? What can we do? What can I do? How do you deal with such evil?
All I can come up with is this: Defy it.
I’m not a soldier. Or a member of the CIA. Or one of the G8 leaders. I bet you’re not, either. What I am is a working mom with deadlines to meet, bills to pay, and tonight’s dinner to cook. I can’t stop evil. I can’t even stop the kids in my neighborhood from littering.
But there is one thing I can do. I can read. And I’m asking you to read, too.
Read Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass. Read the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Read Azar Nafisi, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Frank, and W.H. Auden. Read Siegfried Sassoon and Primo Levi. Read the bestsellers and the beach books. The classics. The funny papers. Poetry, history, memoirs and exposes. Read your president’s or prime minister’s speeches. Your governor’s. Your mayor’s. Go to your local bookstore, walk in there, and buy any book you like. Access the internet and read news, reviews, commentary, and opinion. Go to your local library and borrow any book you want. All the books you want. Whenever you want. Without anyone else’s say-so. Read at breakfast, on the subway, on your lunch hour, in your bed.
Why? Because you can.
And so many cannot. And where there are no books, where stories are banned and burned, where knowledge is censored and ideas policed, evil takes hold.
That simple gesture — the act of picking up a book, any book, and reading it — is an astonishing, incendiary act, one that blazes with meaning and defiance.
Read and you exercise your most precious freedoms — the freedom to feel and think, to learn, to question, debate and protest. Read and you honor all those who do not have these same freedoms. Read and you defy the evil that thrives on ignorance, silence, repression, and violence.
Read and you drop that pebble into the pond, never knowing how far the ripples will carry, or whom your example will inspire.
Read and you change the world — one book, one story, one idea, one heart, one mind at a time.