This quote from Akira Kurosawa, Japanese director of movies such as The Seven Samurai, hangs out in my head a lot:
“To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes.”
I read/hear this quote and I am grateful to writers like Ellen Hopkins and Andrew Smith and Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr.
I am grateful because the books by these writers take readers through experiences without averting their eyes, and by doing so honor the truth of what really happens with drug use, incest, rape, violence, and abuse.
This honors and validates the truths of the kids who read their books knowing these horrors first-hand.
The truth makes those who haven't suffered more empathetic to those who have.
And the truth is that many adults don't want to know the truth.
They don't want kids to know the truth, either.
Which is why books get banned, or labeled "dark", which is an insanity when what these authors/books really do is cast light.
Just this week a book by one of these authors was instrumental in helping one of my students ask me for help.
And so this weekend the life of one kid is better because of an author who told the truth, and I hold this to my heart and am grateful.
Because right now I am very sad.
A lot has been written about Penn State and the staggering, abject, unforgivable failure of adults to tell the truth.
They averted their eyes. Over and over and over again, they averted their eyes.
I think of the boy being raped, and an adult came in, and I think maybe there was a moment of hope in his heart, hope that he would be seen. Hope that he would be helped.
And the adult averted his eyes and walked away.
And the horrors go on and on.
The light in this darkness is those who fight, in all kinds of ways, for survivors of abuse and violence. One of these organizations is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. Organizations like these make a difference. Countless volunteers at Rape Crisis Centers make a difference.
Writers make a difference.
Averting your eyes can allow you to pretend that a person, a problem, a situation doesn't exits. Abused people, animals, environment? Just avert your eyes.
This is an abdication of humanity.
Akira Kurosawa spoke of art and life, which, in the end, are the same thing.
Or they should be.