I started my winter vacation tonight and so am on my way back to Maryland. For the week at home, I picked a few books off my shelf, including Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents.
I held Parable of the Talents in my hands. Then I thought about this week’s headlines and I put it away again.
The last time I read Octavia Butler, I was living in a dusty West Texan semi-rural town that’s decades away from a major water shortage. I was shell-shocked by the time I got to the last page. The Parable of the Sower, the book that precedes The Parable of the Talents in this series, envisions an America on the cusp of breakdown and facing a climate-change-fueled drought while it crumbles under the weight of heightened economic instability and inequity.
We walk through the story with lead Lauren Olamina and her brother, watching how they respond as their society dissipates into humans pack-hunting other humans for their stuff and legislators using institutional power to advance authoritarian control. As Lauren plots how to survive, she draws strength and perspective from a humanistic-religious philosophy she intuits and calls Earthseed:
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
Is Change.” —Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower
I don’t now remember how Butler’s first Parable book ends—as I say, I was shell-shocked. I just know that what’s happening these days reminds me much too much of what I read five years ago.
There was a link to an ISIS torture video on Twitter today, just like any other link sprinkled in between baby goat pictures and arguments about relationships. I didn’t click on it and I’ve blocked social media videos from auto-playing ever since the summer of Black death.
This week, too, another European market turned into a trauma site because someone drove their van into a crowd of people. I haven’t clicked on stories about that either; watching friends ask Berliner friends to check-in was enough.
And I have been avoiding Butler’s second book for a whole five years. But the patterns that Butler envisioned when she wrote have kept working themselves out in our world, and it seems that what I need most right now is not more avoidance, but more imagination and more courage to perceive reality and other reality options that could just as easily become normal life as the mayhem we have right now.
So after I swallowed my resistance tonight, I picked The Parable of the Talents back off my shelves and packed it in my bag.
And I will finally, finally read it.