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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/27/15

Meeting Lila

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"The world can only be changed by people who don't like it," wrote Bertolt Brecht in explaining why radicals have a negative attitude about the society we live in. We don't like the way things are. Sometimes our dislike can even become loathing.

It was in just such a fit of loathing that the idea for my new novel, Lila, the Revolutionary, came to me. I was appalled by how capitalism has become so pervasive and aggressive, a globalized madness. In despair, I saw all these predatory men and women in dark suits commanding us, marching us resolutely towards war and poverty. They're so powerful and blind...and they're everywhere. What's the way out of this? How can we overthrow this murderous system? Then a phrase from the Bible in the came to me: "A little child shall lead them."

The idea of a child leading a revolution was so farfetched that I knew there must be something to it. After all, we adults haven't managed it so well. But I wondered, What kind of a child could lead a revolution? A little girl popped into my mind and said, "Me!" What's your name? I asked her. "Lila." How old are you? "I'm eight." How are you going to lead the revolution? "I'll tell you about it." And she did.

Lila turned out to be smart, charming, and tough as can be. No one ever told her she couldn't end poverty and inequality, so she didn't doubt that she could Just Do It! Starting with the Nike shoe factory where she worked. Like the boy in "The Emperor's New Clothes," Lila saw the reality that adults were blind to. And she wasn't shy about pointing it out. This got her into trouble, of course, but that didn't stop her.

Like the "The Emperor's New Clothes," her story is more of a fable than literal realism. It's not entertainment for children but a call to action for adults. Lila convinces us that if she can do it, so can we. Yes, she tells us, a better world is possible, and we're the ones to create it.

Here's how her story opens:

Lila reached up and scratched the cow's forehead the way she liked it, then stroked her cinnamon fur smooth. Their four brown eyes met in wordless communication. Lila was smiling and she thought the cow was smiling too. Cows smile differently from people; you can't see it so much as feel it. The way the cow gazed at her and swung her tail told Lila she was happy. When Lila poured the bucket of oats into the manger of her stall, she got even happier. Her nostrils widened and she snorted and stamped the ground with her hoof. Her long pink tongue licked at the groats, and her beige lips plunged into them. She hummed deep in her throat.

While the cow was eating, Lila set the empty bucket under the water pump. She pressed with both hands as hard as she could on the pump handle. The pipe coughed and gurgled, then splashed water into the bucket, smelling of iron and earth. She poured this and three more loads into the water trough, put the bucket away, and picked up the scoop next to the bag of chicken feed. She thrust the scoop deep into the seeds and grains but then poured some back as she remembered her mother saying, "Don't give them too much." With the scoop half full she walked out of the cow shed and over to the chicken coop, whistling to them through her chipped tooth. The birds ran clucking towards her, some flapping their wings in eagerness. "Breakfast, birdies!" she called and flung the food in a wide arc over them, scattering it far enough so they wouldn't fight over it. The ducks who'd been floating on the tilapia pond took off and flew the ten meters, landed on the run, and began gobbling and quacking.

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William T. Hathaway is an award-winning novelist and an emeritus Fulbright professor of creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher (more...)

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