In junior high or early high school, I found the novel Nor Crystal Tears, by Alan Dean Foster, published in 1982.
The novel exposes the reader to the Homanx Commonwealth and the Thranx, an ant-like species.
AAnn, a reptilian race, are the historical enemy of the Thranx, and readers are submerged into the novel through the life of Ryo, who grows from larvae to adult Thranx as an outsider to his own people, more engaged in learning than his peers, and unable to embrace just one line of work with the passion and dedication of a typical Thranx.
When Ryo eventually encounters humans for the first time, he is repulsed by their spongy skin and fascinated with their existence.
Ryo breaks laws and customs as he works with the humans to get both of their species to meet as friends rather than annihilate each other out of fear.
Ryo has been one of my all-time heroes, and when I met the novel’s author at a writer’s conference in Arizona, I made sure to let him know how impactful the book was on my young mind.
Some books are so vivid and strike that chord in one’s mind, that it is sometimes hard to remember if it was a book or a movie that exposed the story line.
For me, Ryo represents someone who is excited to meet and eager to learn about others because they are different.
Too often I hear of people who will not talk to other people because they are too different and make them feel unconformable.
Others refuse to talk to new and different people because they think the conversation would be a waste of time, or they pre-judge and assume that the person is stupid, or too loud, or too quiet, or too Indian, or too white — and with each of these judgements comes a history of hearsay, experience, or media representation.
We often assume the worst of one another before we know each other, or based on one incident, or based on a pattern of incidents.
What I find so interesting about human nature is that we need to be cautious to protect ourselves, yet we also need to be adventurous and bold. We need to hold back, and we need to explore.
However, we also need to learn to work together to find the balance between reaching out into the unknown and protecting ourselves.
I have a history of venturing off into the unknown, although I have not traveled out of this country extensively, I have moved to new places where I have known no one to start a new chapter in my life.
As a youth, I read science fiction and fantasy because I have always wanted to discover new frontiers. I thought of becoming an astronaut or pilot.
I even took an air force ROTC class in college, but I determined I am not obedient enough. If someone tells me to do something I disagree with, I will not do it — not a good trait to have in the military.
Even being a teacher has been a challenge for me, as I have had to learn to balance my free mind and spirit with the constraints of an authoritarian, compartmentalized education system, which I think is evolving into a more collaborative and free-thinking system one educator and one school district at a time.
I have come to realize moving into teaching and working at a small newspaper is ideal for me, because education keeps me centered, and writing for a small newspaper allows me to explore new ideas, new people, and new places.
I continue to read novels that explore the possibilities of human physical, mental and emotional exploration, because I want to continue challenging myself to think differently, to recognize that the impossible is possible, and that like Ryo, no matter how different a person may be, he or she has a purpose and a place in this world — or better yet, multiple purposes and multiple places.
I am forever altered by Foster’s novel, by my travels to new places, by the people I meet and the stories I write.
I am also eternally grateful to have been born in this country, where despite our still long journey to a nation where everyone is truly considered equal, we have the freedom to turn our dreams from words to reality with minimal constraint compared to other places on this planet.
In a 1996 review of the novel, the otherwise positive critic wrote, “As somebody who grew up to accept the reality of cold war, I found Nor Crystal Tears a very beautiful and deeply moving novel, although I’m afraid its ending is a typical case of wish fulfillment with little plausibility.”
I think part of our problem in being able to realize change is that we often scoff at the happy endings, claiming they are not plausible.
Anything we imagine is plausible if enough people believe in it and are willing to take the time, energy, effort to work through passionate debate to a solution.
To imagine that we cannot make our world a better place, that we cannot achieve peace because of man’s dubious nature, is to condemn us to misery.
Instead, we need to embrace the contention between caution and reckless abandon for peace.
I choose peace. How about you?