Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters

Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters
by Jean Pendziwol

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing
Elvis, Joan M. Baril, customer poet Rob Lem

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What More Could We Have done? by Valerie Poulin

 What did I do, after all, what did any of us do to interrupt the chain of events that led to catastrophe?

I AM AVID READER. I read the newspaper every morning, I read novels, scripts, books of poetry, I read course text books (even when not enrolled in the class). Mostly though, I read fiction and I like to buy the books I read, which are often award-winning novels and those that were short-listed. There are bookshelves in four different rooms my house one of them stacked two-deep with books.
In my bedroom, I keep books of poetry, spirituality, and Julia Cameron’s inspirational books about writing. In my office, two floor to ceiling bookshelves hold reference books, magazine, my journals, my poetry workbooks, business books, writing course assignments (past and present), drafts of a screenplay comprised of a stack of paper measuring 14 inches, and on the bottom shelf of one, hidden by the top of my desk that butts against the unit, sits a dozen or so Bobbsey Twin books from my pre-adolescence.
In my dining room there’s mostly fiction: hardbound and soft-cover novels of books I’ve purchased over the years. Books by some of my favourite authors sit on a shelf with family photos in the stairwell to the second floor. You can count Atwood, Davies, Findley, Govier, Munro, and Urquhart among the others here.
The enjoyment, and knowledge, I’ve gained from reading these books cannot be summed in an essay of this length. And would any avid reader really want to? It’s enough just to say that I think about the characters from time to time. Plots and story lines don’t always stay with me, but characters do.
Most recently, it was one line from a book that grabbed my attention and would not let go.



Words that Jane Urquhart wrote on page 242 of Sanctuary Line resonated with me, in part because I read about it at a time when a potentially tragic event occurred in the lives of personal friends of our family. And it made me wonder what more, if anything, we could have done to have averted the crisis.
What did I do, after all, what did any of us do to interrupt the chain of events that led to catastrophe?
I stopped reading and thought about the boys I knew who were in the hospital recovering from severe injuries resulting from a serious car crash. I thought about how, too often, we remain silent when we ought to speak up. I thought about the regrets we have when we don’t say something, when we don’t stand up for ourselves, or for others, when we allow fear—of reprisal, of appearing nosy, of being embarrassed by our vocal reaction—to counter our intention to help someone.
Pondering this question, I realized that it’s not just me. If it takes a community to raise a child, minding your own business doesn’t pass muster because it’s not just one person’s responsibility. It takes many turned heads that allow a crisis to build to a tragedy, we see this again and again in the news—with child abusers, bullies, murderers. They get away with it because we ignored signs, didn’t want to get involved, looked the other way.
But, it takes only one person to create a turning point. And his or her action is often followed by a second, then a third. Doing the right thing is catchy.
This was one line, 22 words in hundreds of novels I’ve read in my adult life that moved from fiction to reality. Not since Thomas King wrote “Forget it. But don’t say in the years that come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” in The Truth About Stories have words held me accountable for inaction.
In both cases, the words may be asking what I’ve done in the past, but they also remind me to act in the future.
It has nearly been a year and the teens involved in the accident have recovered physically for the most part. Two of the injured passengers continue to spend their weekends partying, from what I hear; the driver has been in trouble with the law, again; the third passenger may live with the results of his head injury for the rest of his life. I’m not sure if any of the passengers—all hockey players—will be able to play sports at a competitive level this season, or in the future.
A little closer to home, in a variation Urquhart’s line, I often ask myself if it’s truly possible to interrupt a chain of events in order to avert a future crisis in my own life, or in the lives of those closest to me. If only we could read ahead a few chapters to know for sure.
Valerie Poulin is a former Thunder Bay resident and a member of NOWW, who resides outside Toronto (but, she says,  please don't hold that against me!) She is pleased with the efforts of the Thunder Bay Arts community to bring guest speakers and raise the profile of local/regional writers. "It's really nice to see that happening. I thought ithis article might strike a chord with your readers because it's about how effective a book, a novel, or in this case, one line in a novel, can have on us as writers and individuals."

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