#259: On Witness And Respair
Happy Thursday, loyal readers, and thank you for opening today’s issue of The Highlighter. Back in March, when the pandemic hit and we began sheltering in place, articles about the coronavirus flooded my feed, but few included the depth of writing and perspective worthy of our reading community. That trend has shifted lately, and this week’s two lead articles — “On Witness and Respair” and “What Happened In Room 10?” — approach the pandemic in different, touching, heartbreaking ways. Plus, I have a general rule to read whatever Jesmyn Ward writes, so even though her piece will likely make you cry, I recommend it nonetheless.
If crying isn’t your thing this week, skip right to the pet photo (for tears of joy), then to an article about teacher trafficking (tears of anger), then finally to a piece on the dilemma of Black bookstore owners (tears of some-emotion-in-between). As always, my hope is that you’ll find at least one article that speaks to you, and if you like, please reach out and let me know what you think. Have a great week!
Jesmyn Ward: “My Beloved died in January. He was a foot taller than me and had large, beautiful dark eyes and dexterous, kind hands. He fixed me breakfast and pots of loose-leaf tea every morning. He cried at both of our children’s births, silently, tears glazing his face. Before I drove our children to school in the pale dawn light, he would put both hands on the top of his head and dance in the driveway to make the kids laugh. He was funny, quick-witted, and could inspire the kind of laughter that cramped my whole torso. He traveled with me often on business trips, carried our children in the back of lecture halls, watchful and quietly proud as I spoke to audiences, as I met readers and shook hands and signed books. He indulged my penchant for Christmas movies, for meandering trips through museums, even though he would have much preferred to be in a stadium somewhere, watching football. One of my favorite places in the world was beside him, under his warm arm, the color of deep, dark river water.” (10 min)
At the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, where the first American outbreak of the coronavirus killed 46 people, 85-year-old Twilla and 98-year-old Helen shared Room 10. This big, well-written article poignantly tells their story, revealing not only our lack of preparation for the pandemic but also our lack of care for the elderly, who account for more than a quarter of total COVID-related deaths. You’ll root for Helen, rage against the nursing home industry, and wonder why we’re so callous toward our country’s most vulnerable. (71 min)
Gracie, who belongs to loyal reader and VIP Sivan, expresses her appreciation of sunlight, fresh air, and a well-built deck. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter? hltr.co/pets
What do some school districts do when faced with a teacher shortage? Instead of increasing pay or improving working conditions, they recruit teachers from overseas, most notably the Philippines, partnering with shady companies with patriotic names, like Teach USA and Teach Quest USA. These agencies take advantage of the country’s J-1 “cultural exchange” visa program, promising teachers the American Dream while stiffing them with exorbitant fees, temporary work, and no pathway to citizenship. Some victims are going to court, arguing that the exploitation and abuse they faced constitutes human trafficking. (33 min)
Linking Allies To Action In The Heart Of The Black-Bookstore Boom
When former teacher Onikah Asamoa-Caesar first thought of opening Fulton Street Books & Coffee in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she dreamed of building a community-gathering space for Black people. But then white people started buying thousands of books, prompting Ms. Asamoa-Caesar to wonder whether her bookstore had become a “center of intellectual triage for white people.” Here’s the story of how a Black bookstore owner works toward realizing her long-term vision while navigating a short-term clientele. (11 min)
+ Reader Annotations: Last week’s article, “Un-Adopted,” sparked strong emotions, including this response from loyal reader and VIP Angelina:
The adoption and “re-homing” of a child from another country who has autism really rubbed me the wrong way. I caught another article a few weeks back about the Stauffers and was enraged. Ridiculous these people: Children are not animals!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Angelina. You make our reading community better. Loyal readers, if an article this week moved you, please feel free to reach out by hitting reply.
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