Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, edited by Chris Van Allsburg, (of Two Bad Ants fame)  is a collection of short stories that left me in an altered state. Fantasy, horror, revenge, wonder, nose-thumbing towards the status quo, and much else is to be found here, written by the best award winning writers. Think Linda Sue Park, MT Anderson, Walter Dean Myers and Stephen King to name a few.  Check out the New York Times review by Leonard Marcus.

I loved all the stories, and as I enjoy a good nose-thumbing, I particularly loved the story entitled, "The Seven Chairs" by Lois Lowry. It provides, in my view, a voice to Catholic nuns who have been criticized of late by the male clergy, for misbehaving, not towing the conservative line. This might not have been intended at all by Lowry, and may be just my take on the story.

The story begins in 1928, in a hospital nursery in Wilkes-Barre, PA. First the cleaning man, then several nurses notice that one of the newborn baby girls suddenly "Floats upward." The baby hovers in the air and then plops back down in the bassinet. Only baby girls have the ability to hover as newborns. They all do.  But the author tells us:

Gradually, though, as toddlers, they forgot. Their attention turned to walking, talking, allergies, tantrums, and potty training. . . . The astonishing moments of brief soaring became fragile memories buried deeper and deeper until, like recollections of birth itself, they were too deeply hidden to call back.

But the main character Mary Katherine Maguire miraculously retains her ability and passion for hovering. She is special.

The nuns at her school admire Mary Katherine. "'She has a spirit to her, doesn't she?' one said at dinner one evening."

At confession, Mary Katherine levitates and the priest, if he'd paid attention, would have seen her hips instead of her lips through the grill.

She finds certain chairs that will rise with her, seven to be exact.

But when she became a nun, she became part of an under appreciated group. When she asked permission to attend the Second Vatican Council, her letter was completely ignored. It's hard to have a soaring spirit when your letters aren't answered.

Still, Sister Mary Katherine's spirit is indomitable. In the final scene, when she is scolded and frowned at by priests in a Paris church, what does she do? You'll have to read the story to find out, but when she does it, she feels "The familiar sense of being part of a great body of humans . . .all female."

The idea that girls and women are special, with special powers, is captured by Lowry.

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