Saturday, December 20, 2014


 “One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” —Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices

From the immortal words of Shakespeare to the poetry of Yeats; the tragic romance of Wuthering Heights to the terrifying beauty of Dracula, words continue to make our hearts beat a little faster, our lungs breathe in a little deeper, and our eyes see a little more clearly of all the deeper meaning that lies in every single moment of life.  

A good writer is extremely powerful.  His or her ability to put ink on paper in such an order that our emotions are moved in several different directions--often in the very same page--as we sit in our favorite chair eagerly devouring the story is nothing short of miraculous.  Words nourish us, hurt us, build us up, tear us down, make our hearts swell with love and romance or puncture with the most gut wrenching pain; words can leave us empty, in a puddle of our own tears while bystanding family members stand in wonder and confused dismay.

I have finished books before and been left a complete wreck; I have looked around at the world and wondered, "How can everything continue on as normal, as if none of this story ever happened?  Why isn't everyone else as heartbroken as I am right now?  How can they smile?"  I have also been left by a book thinking that life is more beauteous and amazing and miraculous than I have ever managed to notice before; that language is the same thing as art and that pages of what I just finished reading should be framed, and hung on the walls of the Getty and Louvre.  

Marcus Zusak is telling us over and over in The Book Thief in that special, gorgeous, metaphorical way of his that words are the keys to power.  Shakespeare knew it when he said  "The pen is mightier than the sword."  This Buzz Feed author who wrote the article in the link I am sharing with you  knows it, too.  Here, she has compiled what she claims are 51 of the most beautiful lines of literature.  While I have no idea how anyone could narrow it down to 51, I have to agree that every one of these lines belongs on a list of this description.  As I read some of them, I stopped, closed my eyes, and drank in the words like some sort of liquid nirvana.  Does that sound crazy?  I know what you're thinking:  How does Mrs. Caraway get so excited about a specific arrangement of words in a sentence?

Maybe I am a literature geek.  If that's the label that means I am obsessed with words, their power, and a life-changing story, then I wear the label proudly.  My cast (aka my Odyssey family) just finished their sixth performance of Romeo and Juliet, a performance of the words that Shakespeare organized in a script to tell an ancient story of violence and feudal hatred that is shot through the very heart by a love that transcends time.  We can debate the historical fact about whether the story is completely true or not, but here is something I do know for a fact: The appeal of  Romeo and Juliet isn't that it is real, but something about it is universal.  It is what, in our hearts, we truly believe love to be:  powerful, heartbreaking, beautiful.  It's timeless.  Every time I watched my cast perform, it was like I was watching it all for the first time.  The words of this story clutched my heart, and they always will.

Whether it's Shakespeare or Stroker,  Whitman or Wilde, the words of a skilled word artist will do that to us time and time again.  And you know what?  Thank goodness they do.  For when we are sitting in our favorite chair, drowning in a puddle of our own tears and torn hearts, cursing the writer for putting us in that condition while our family members look on bewildered and concerned, we know, in that moment, we are alive.  We are human.  We can feel the depths of sorrow and the limitlessness of joy.  As a writer and a reader, I celebrate that.

Read through this list, pick a quote that speaks the loudest to you, and reflect on it.  What does it mean?  How does it speak to your heart?  What do you love about it?  THEN, (you are not done yet!) share a quote NOT on this list from a favorite book and tell us why you love it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and don't ever stop the great and mighty power of words.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


"No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... 
Any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
~John Donne

I have always loved this poem, but it has never rung as true for me as it did on the day I had the honor of standing above Omaha Beach in Normandy.

So many names--a sea of white crosses. Men--America's sons--who traveled across an ocean to lay down their lives for strangers in the name of freedom and righteousness. They didn't know what fate had in store for them that grey, choppy June day. But they did know that there was a whole continent being held hostage, and it was up to them to do something about it.

So they stormed the beaches. They stepped out on dangerous enemy territory with the orders to make the climb; up the embankment, to take the bunkers, to take out the enemy. Nothing was certain. Death was likely. But they were involved with mankind. And the bell was tolling....

That was almost 70 years ago, yet very little has changed. We all are asked at some point in our lives for a multitude of reasons to storm a beach. To face a fear. To walk into uncertainty. To let go of one dream and seek out the possibility of another. There are no guarantees. Fate is uncertain. But we are given that same choice: stay adrift, or storm the beach. Will we make the choice to face the enemy head on and get it over with?  Will we make the climb?

The men of Normandy knew their enemy and were willing to do whatever it required to take them out, once an for all. 

You need to know also that you are not an island. While an evil or misfortune may not threaten you directly, if it threatens your family, your friend, your brother, it diminishes you.

If you are storming a beach in life right now--or you are about to--you are in good company. Trust me. I stood on that beach with the spirits of those men, those Boys of Pointe du Hoc. There is peace there where they rest; the peace of those who knew they were not an island. They did not have doubts. Their mission was clear. They were the boys who saved a continent of strangers because they realized that no matter how free they were in their land, they would never truly be free until their brothers all over the world were free. They sought to make the climb, and many, in the process, ultimately laid down their lives for these strangers across the sea....these brothers.

There is no greater love than this.

Take a few moments and reflect on your Book Thief  character.  What beaches must he/she storm right now?  What characteristics or personal qualities does he or she possess that make him/her equipped to face the challenge?  If you are comfortable, you may also share a beach you had to storm in your life, either for yourself or on behalf of another.  What qualities do you have that helped you make the climb over the embankment?  You do not have to share a personal story by any means.  Only if you wish to share.  You may also share a story of someone else who stormed a beach and inspired you.

Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of a day President Roosevelt said would live in infamy.  It was, literally a call to arms.  A bell that tolled.  I hope you will take a moment or two tomorrow to think about the brave men and women who answered the call--who fought for the freedom of others.

I am eager to hear your stories.