Location: [Home] [Eric Anderson] Redemption and Ducklings
In August 1998 the Anderson family went to Boston. It's not an uncommon trip for us, of course, and indeed the initial reason for the visit was an appointment with a doctor (she's fine, by the way). But this trip was more than an uncommon trip, it was a remarkable trip, a special trip, all because of a book.
Both our children adore being read to. Not too long ago we were rereading Robert McCloskey's nearly sixty-year-old story Make Way for Ducklings and a light bulb lit for five-year-old Brendan. "That story happens in Boston!" he cried. "Is that like the real Boston where Bekah goes?"
Boston, you see, has been a bogeyman for our son. That's where the doctors are, and the threat of illness, and sometimes lengthy separations for him from one parent or another. When Mom and Dad are upset about his sister's health, the word "Boston" usually appears somewhere. Make Way for Ducklings is really his first sign that this great city has anything good in it.
So after Rebekah's doctor appointment, the Andersons followed the ducklings. We walked the short walk from Massachusetts General Hospital to the Esplanade, and found the island where Mrs. Mallard raised her young, carefully comparing our perspective with the drawings from the book. We followed the book's described route to the Public Garden, where Mrs. Mallard and her brood have been immortalized in metal sculptures, walking the path toward the pond. Having his picture taken on the duck's back, said Brendan, was his favorite part of the day.
As we stood there, and felt the statues, and took pictures, other folks passed along, and many said, "They've got the book!" Some stopped to talk to us, and to hear the names of the ducklings, and to share their love for that grand old story. Other families' children scrambled about the statues without comment--but we had the book.
It is so easy these days to dismiss the power of the book, and of the Book (Bible, after all, is simply a rendering of the Latin word for book into English). Standing in Boston's Public Garden, however, I learned what power books have over our imaginations and our hearts. As much as people love the story, it made such a difference that we stood there holding the physical bearer of the story. As touristy as we must have looked (and were, for that matter), holding the book, following the book, made us special, approachable, knowledgeable. We were kindred in the book.
I also learned anew of the redemptive power of the book. Brendan's excited shout, "There are the swan boats!" has transfigured frightening Boston forever, in a way that even its marvelous Children's Museum and Museum of Science could not. I suspect that the city's name will always spark some anxiety for him, but I know that it will also spark very precious memories--because of a book.
We are kindred in the Book; we have found our redemption in the Book. Do not dismiss its power or its hold on you or on others. A children's story gave a city new life for my family. The stories in the Bible are the Great Story. Read them, and read them again. Write down the words which touch you, and carry them with you. Puzzle over what puzzles you, and do not fret at what eludes understanding--you should hear my son's analysis of parts of Make Way for Ducklings--let those parts move softly about as the tide ebbs and flows on the shore. Give honor to the vessel that bears the words, the physical pages, binding, and cover; give the Book the care you give to any precious thing, in honor of the Great Story it contains.
Always remember that you have kindred in this Book, family in this Redemption, and do not fear to greet those who bear it with love.
This essay was originally written for the September, 1998, newsletter of the Seymour Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.