In an interview with The Gift series producer Stanzi Vaubel, writer Lois Lowry talked about memory. In her novel, The Giver, one person holds the memories for the entire community. When the Giver grows old, someone must be chosen to receive the memories. Jonah, the new receiver, is confused. “I thought there was only us. I thought there was only now,” he says. The Giver replies “No, there’s so much more. There’s all that is elsewhere. All that goes back and back and back. It’s how wisdom comes. It’s how we shape our future.”
Jonah’s confusion and the Giver’s response speaks to us, reflecting the negotiation that must always take place between the present and the past. Can we have one without the other? Can we appreciate the immediacy of the now if we don’t feel the echoes and shouts, insights and wisdom of those who came before?
The Giver is weighted with his memories. He has been made old and tired by them. But as Jonah begins to receive, he realizes that there is pleasure mixed with pain, that opposite emotions are inextricably linked. That’s what a memory is. Jonah doesn’t understand why the community has sterilized themselves from memory, leading to a one-dimensional existence. What he has experienced from the Giver has changed him, but it is a change that is awakening, and one that he wishes to share.
Lois Lowry is the author of more than thirty children’s books, and an autobiography. She won the Newberry Award for Number the Stars (1989) and The Giver (1993). Two years after The Giver was published, Lowry’s son Grey was killed in a fighter plane crash, allowing her to more poignantly examine the pain – and beauty – of memory. Lowry continues to write and read from her work. “I am a grandmother now,” she wrote on her blog. “For my own grandchildren – and for all those of their generation – I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another.”
First launched in April 2013 to celebrate National Poetry Month, WBEZ now continues our weekly series, The Gift – produced by Stanzi Vaubel and curated by Rachel Jamison Webster, author of September: Poems. This project is a collaboration with UniVerse of Poetry, a station partner that aims to celebrate poets from every nation in the world. Each piece drops us into a poets’ inner life, reminding us of the gift of being human among others.