Let's get together and talk about who belongs here.

by Tracy Finch, Reading Corps literacy tutor
(as published in Union-Times on January 25, 2018)

February 27, from 7-8:30 p.m., we’re all invited to City Hall to chat about the novel Jerk, California, by Jonathan Friesen.

We all belong to this community, but we typically only connect with people whose lives run in the same circles. We can strengthen community bonds by adding more connections among the circles. When we meet together February 27, we’ll have something important in common—we’ll all have read the same book. And hearing about each other’s unique responses to the book will enrich the experience for all of us.

The theme for February’s Big Read is belonging. It’s an important issue in the book. Sam, the main character, suffers from Tourette’s syndrome--his body has random spasms of uncontrollable jerks (hence the name of the novel). Other students make it clear he doesn’t belong at school, and his stepdad makes it clear he doesn’t belong at home.

Belonging is a basic human need and a universal theme in literature.

Friday night I watched Princeton High School’s one-act play “Dark Road.” The students did an amazing job communicating the intense, convicting message of the piece. We saw a young woman, a former prison guard, about to be hanged for crimes committed against the inmates of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during WWII. She admits to the journalist interviewing her that she originally took the job as guard for the money and prestige, but once she was shown the “Dark Road” to power, she embraced evil and completely gave herself over to it. The reason she was able to train herself to torture people was that she convinced herself they were not human. They did not belong in Germany. They did not belong to living society. Because they did not belong, it didn’t matter how she treated them. All her rejection and mistreatment of others was motivated by her own desire to belong to the inner circle of those in power.

How normal it is to think only of ourselves. We’re preoccupied making sure that we belong, that we’re respected, that we get our fair share. It takes maturity and intentionality to look around and notice there are people who are left out, like Sam in the book.

People who don’t feel they belong are good at hiding beyond the circle, so it takes extra effort to draw them in. A first step we can all take is to think about the way we greet people as we go about daily life in our homes and communities.

Are my words and actions and facial expressions and tone of voice communicating that I’m drawing a circle wide enough to include each person I meet? “A look, a word, a tone of voice even, is often of vital importance in the eyes of God,” said Hannah Whitall Smith.

We can chat about all this and whatever else you find interesting in the book on Feb. 27.

Princeton Chamber of Commerce is providing refreshments, so please register at PrincetonMNChamber.org under “Calendar.”

Also note: author Jonathan Friesen is speaking at the PAC, March 1. Free admission.

I’m at tracey.finck@isd477.org.