Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"A life for a life"

“What the heck is ‘Magis’?”, I remember asking myself the first week of high school. I cannot remember whether I daydreamed through those first couple of days or if I was so mesmerized by being in high school, and being in “the city”. Then September 11th happened; there are parts I remember very vividly, and those memories which I can only vaguely recall. I remember being in French class and hearing the news over the loudspeaker as the Dean spoke of the two towers being hit. I especially remember feeling a sort of weird feeling -- hearing both the chaos from the events as they unfolded and a kind of silence that seemed to come from within everyone around me. As we headed back to homeroom, I spoke to my homeroom advisor (who also happened to be a guidance counselor at the school) about needing to just get as close to 241st and Broadway, to get to my mother’s work as soon as possible. I remember mentioning that if I could just get to a subway or bus stop, then I could make the trek. Whether that was out of the question, or if he just didn’t understand me clearly, he had volunteered to drive me all the way to my mother’s work (or rather the train station by her work, but either way, I didn’t end up realizing this until after the day was over). It was during the following weeks, and those subsequent high school years that I learned and built upon my understanding of what ‘Magis’ really was. It essentially translates into “the more”, i.e. doing more for the greater glory of God, and therefore for others. The stories told by the children of loved ones lost on that September day, the seemingly instantaneous coming together of a melting-pot community, it all seemed to make sense now.

“’A life for a life’ could mean that you give your life to someone who has already given you his own” (12). All biblical references and allusions aside, I believe that Toko emphasizes not only the above quote, but even parts of those philosophies behind ‘Magis’. His sense of “knowing”, in being a child-but-not-a-child, strikes me as quite remarkable. As Mike mentioned in class on Monday – i.e. “this must be what it’s like to be in the mind of a genius”—we truly get a vivid description of what it is like to be in the mind of someone who ‘just knows’: “I remember the sureness that I had. I remember clearly that I knew. I knew that I would go. I knew that there would be a big fish for me” (47) or even “I knew that my brother would be in the meeting-house” (182).

I also enjoyed reading about Toko and the “heart growing too big [for him]” (182). I like the way Grace makes the connection between the living-memory carving (with the “large heart” that was “patterned over the chest in a spiral that covered it completely...a spiral heart that had no breaking –no breaking and no end” (172)) and with the story of Toko – in having some ambiguity in Toko’s character, it seems appropriate that he would be a kind of ‘living-memory’. Toko is himself a story – after all, the book is named for his being the youngest son –but in having his death surrounded by the telling of stories by the community, Grace shows Toko’s story as embodying the saying “A life for a life”. As is said many times in the novel “We’re all in charge” (168), the whole community is one big story of life. While the ‘non-Maori’ reader like myself may not be able to comprehend aspects about the culture, the notion that a simple-worded saying can evoke such complexities through the stories -- the lives-- of these people definitely unites us all in our humanity: that ‘something more’ that intertwines our stories than just external details and ‘dollarmen’.

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