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Special: For the Children Who Read 'The Giver' and Believed

market of clay pots

I just finished “The Last Dance” on Netflix. It’s a documentary about the last “magical” year of the 90’s Chicago Bulls with Phil Jackson as head coach, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and of course, Michael Jordan. There was nothing like growing up in the Jordan era. He was larger than life. He had a song and a shoe and there was no team without him. He was special. The documentary had me on the edge of my seat. I love hearing about greatness and what it takes to get there. But the important thing is that he was special. And secretly, I have thought I was special. I’ve thought this since I read The Giver, by Lois Lowry in the 4th grade. I believed I was the receiver of memory and that soon, the time would come for someone to lay their hands on me each day after school.

I recently shared this with my friend, Myi’a, and she said that she felt like she was Jonas too. And in that moment, for the first time, I realized that maybe everyone felt like they were Jonas and that that’s just the way good writing casts its spell and I’m not special at all. Maybe I was young, impressionable and the target audience of a masterpiece. Maybe my reading was only one tiny moment in the eternal life of a sacred, breathing text (and that book is scripture to me). If what Myi’a said was true and that we all believed we were the chosen one, then I’ve been mistaken most of my life. If Lowry simply had everyone reading through the lens of the main character, then she wasn’t wrong, I was. She didn’t manipulate anybody, I just bought something she wasn’t selling. Maybe all kids are Jonas and I’m not special at all.

For the first time, I paused and considered that I may not be the griot I thought I was. I might not actually be shaping into a storyteller that can awaken the world’s deepest prophetic imagination. Maybe Kendra, the young person I took in when I was young myself, is not Gabriel and maybe there is no bike. No “real” world waiting for us on the other side of the dystopia we know. I might have just been a 4th grader reading on a beanbag. Not special at all. But I believed it for so long.

What I do know now, as an adult, is that believing something doesn’t make it true in the least bit. A lot of adults believe lies. When my friend told me that she felt like she was Jonas too, I thought, “Oh my God, I am one of those people.” I’m one of the brothers who lined up for the anointing. I’m not David. No one is coming to pour oil on me. Who do I think I am? Why would I think that any story is written for or about me when in retrospect, every kid in Mrs. Gilley’s class got a copy of that book. We read the thing as a group and Mrs. Stroud, our librarian, had hardback copies on display. Not only did everyone at my elementary school have access to it, the book had already been a bestseller for years. Millions had read it, probably believing that the stars had a special message for them too. If she hadn’t said something, I might have kept believing. And if I had kept believing, I might have been on the road to becoming one of those American Idol tryouts. Not the tone deaf ones (I’m not really sure what’s going on with them), but one of the good, solid, mediocre folks: the ones that are gifted to be background singers, but have spent the last decades practicing to be a star. Have I made myself out to be a star? A chosen one? And can I live with myself if it’s not true?

Am I still waiting because the universe has skipped over me so that it can make a dramatic announcement about how it has been watching me and has seen that I’m made for the job that only comes around once in an eon? Or did I just miss my name called for my real assignment while I was dreaming? Did we oversell “be all you can be” in the 90’s? Or sing “Like Mike” too loud? I grew up in a time when grown-ups were beginning to discuss the pros and cons of giving out participation trophies. I don’t want to get to the end of my life with some sort of effort ribbon expecting the gold. I want to be special.

I read The Giver the same year the Bulls beat the Jazz in game 6 which means I am too old to change my mind about the Jonas in me. I feel like I am waiting under some invisible threshold, nervous about taking the first step into a new room. I think that writing is my next step and I am praying that my feet land on solid ground. It is a new room for me and I hope to find a place for myself in it.

I preach sometimes. I enjoy it and I do what I can but I think writing might be my bike. And I think I could be special at it. Believing something doesn’t make it true, but it does make it possible. We shall see…

1 Comment

Aug 30, 2020

Thank you for taking the step over the threshold and into this room! I’m always blessed by your writing. Look forward to reading more!


photo by @jazzellamckeel

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