On Thursday evening, I attended the “Writers at Work” lecture. Writers at Work is a new program held by the English Department in which authors come to Loyola to present their work and answer questions regarding the writing process.
Dr. Terre Ryan presented on her recently published book, This Ecstatic Nation. Dr. Ryand began her presentation with some items and memories from her childhood, which included favorite toys, pictures, and family members. However, the most impactful and frightening memory of Dr. Ryan’s childhood was not the typical innocent memories of a young child. Instead, Dr. Ryan clearly recalls the fear that she felt as the threat of nuclear war became a very real during her childhood. Growing up in a Catholic family, she found the name of the first atomic bomb, “Trinity”, ironic as this holy name was appointed to something that could cause so much destruction. Even as a kid, she began to wonder: “Had technology replaced the belief in God?” and “Is this the new Manifest Destiny in which we use the idea of God as a tool to romanticize the harmful impact we are truly creating on our environment and culture?”
Dr. Ron Tanner, the author of the fictional novel, Missile Paradise, wrote his novel along the same premise. Having grown up on a small island in the Pacific, he was able to recount what he had lived through in his writing. This small island was inhabited and developed by Americans during the Cold war as a missile base in close proximity to Russia. Although very strategic and successful for the American government, this project proved detrimental to the native culture. Today, much of the natives of the island are homeless, without proper food and water, and have almost fully assimilated to the American culture. The themes of both of these novels closely mirror the same overall themes that were highlighted when The Whale Rider was discussed in class.
In The Whale Rider, the author writes, “The mountains were like a stairway to heaven, and the lush sky was iridescent, swirling with the patters of wind and clouds; sometimes it reflected the prisms of rainbow or Southern aurora.” You could “see the sky forever” (Ihimaerea, p.1) Naturally, it is difficult for the average person to imagine themselves on a distant island in the Pacific Ocean or and island tribe in New Zealand. I found that both Dr. Ryan and Dr. Tanner used this same vivid imagery that was used in The Whale Rider to describe the settings of their books, which really helped the audience to picture themselves in the setting that they were describing. As you were engaged in the imagery and following the story, it is easier to imagine how destructive our culture can be to our environment and other cultures around the world. Additionally, I found it interesting that The Whale Rider actually addressed the issue of atomic bomb testing and how disruptive it was to the natural environment. Each of the novels end a common theme of what the future will look like and a call to action. Will we use technology to better our world, or will it be a tool for destruction?
In Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s speech, he directly addresses this very question. In fact, he criticizes the audience and world for their lack of initiative towards the Jesuit mission of service. He states, “How can a booming economy, the most prosperous and global ever, still leave half of humanity in poverty?” He also claims the most important Jesuit mission is to, “form men for others…”.
However, at Loyola, we may not have to create our change on an island in the Pacific Ocean. As Father Kolvenbach proposed, I believe that change can start by using our technology and recourses positively by volunteering in our local community and environment to help it grow and maintain its character as a City. We should practice our Jesuit belief of service to others, something that has been taught to us since we arrived on campus. Students at Loyola may not be familiar with the environment around us in Baltimore, but instead of building walls between people as portrayed in “Mending Wall”, it is our responsibility to break the barriers to learn and take care of the environment we share with our neighbors.