Like her namesake, Inara lets very little faze her. And after long troubles, she is growing fiercely and making up for lost time. She has a whole range of vocalizations now, more mobility, and is using her hands a lot more. She is shown here with her favorite toy, a giraffe that came in a cardboard box covered in French script. My wife tells me that la girafe is named “Sophie,” wisdom, which seems to me a good wish for our youngest. Whatever the years ahead bring her, I expect she will be both wise and feisty.
There is a special resonance in this toy for me. In second grade, my teacher, Mr. Giono, taught us about “the Giraffe Club,” which contained historical figures who “stuck their necks out,” taking risks on behalf of others or in the cause of justice. One week, we learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Other weeks, we studied the lives of Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, Cesar Chavez, and many other activists from varied centuries and cultures. Being a writer, I sat down at the Apple IIe computer during class and pounded out scripts to short plays about the Giraffe Club members, and my classmates performed the plays for the school. Mr. Giono helped us construct a life-sized wooden giraffe to stand outside our portable classroom, as a symbol; we all had a hand in painting its spots. We had a four-page newspaper called The Giraffe Club News that we sold for a nickel, and I led a small team of second-grade reporters around the school and community to interview potential Giraffe Club members. We wrote letters to President Bush (Senior) demanding action in response to the Exxon oil spill in Alaska, or pleading on behalf of endangered species. I have a vivid memory of typing out a letter to the White House pleading for help in “saving the eagles,” and of enduring the scorn of a tall fifth grader who snatched up the printout and read it aloud. I remember that our class adopted an orca. We learned all about being Giraffe Club members.
I think that stuck with me. I think I have tried to write novels about Giraffe Club members. If there is one governing, thematic impulse in my fiction, it is that. I write about people who become aware, desperately aware, of injustices, and who cannot remain silent. “Do you think I haven’t tried to be?” Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) demands in Death Has Come Up into Our Windows:
“I am silent, and my bones groan within me. I cannot sleep all the night for the roaring of the words rushing through me. I cannot be silent.”
Seeing Inara playing with Sophie, I am reminded that I need to share those stories, and the ideals of the Giraffe Club, with my children. Inara’s own life is full of Giraffe Club members: talented physicians, advocates for the blind, and teachers and therapists who have devoted their lives to children with special needs. We stand in an open path that has been carved from hard stone by other Giraffe Club members — such as Louis Braille, who was censured for inventing Braille but who helped other blind students smuggle makeshift books in Braille under their beds…
Ours is a world filled with illness and dismay and decay, but there have been (and are) many more giraffes than we realize.
P.S. I am still coming to terms with the likelihood of eventual brain surgery to treat Inara’s mesial temporal sclerosis. Seeing her playing with her giraffe seems a miracle sufficient to the day, and I am trying just to focus on that. Her name means a blessing, a beautiful and shining gift, and her name is deeply true.