Monday, October 29, 2012

No End of Thinking About Ender

Of the many powerful images and ideas in Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi classic, nothing stays with me like the Speaker for the Dead. This is the name of a book written by the hero at the end of the Game, and it is also the name of Card’s sequel to the Game. But to me, it’s just a beautiful idea. Without giving away the plot, here’s how the concept is explained in the text:

Those who read Ender’s book called Speaker for the Dead “began to live by it as best they could, and when their loved ones died, a believer would arise beside the grave to be the Speaker for the Dead, and say what the dead one would have said, but with full candor, hiding no faults and pretending no virtues. Those who came to such services sometimes found them disturbing, but there were many who decided that their life was worthwhile enough, despite their errors, that when they died a Speaker should tell the truth for them.”

This idea strikes me deeply and in two places.

First, I have been engaged in helping others speak for the dead since 1988. In my role as founder and chief bottle-washer of Memoirs Unlimited, I have helped over fifty people write and privately publish their life stories. These stories almost invariably speak of and for the dead more than they do for the living “author” or client. When a person sits down to write a memoir, with or without help, he or she usually does more honoring and less bragging than you might expect, especially by recalling their ancestors and others who loved and mentored them. A memoir is usually more homage than boast.

Second, I am finally writing my memoir. For twenty-five years, when clients and others have asked me, “When are you going to do your story?” my stock reply was I wasn’t sure I could. “There have been many bumps in the road,” ran one of my quips, “and some of the bumps are still living.”

Now, though, for several reasons I have decided to risk running over the bumps. Several things have given me the courage, not the least of which is this quotation from Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

I myself have misbehaved, and the people I’ve surrounded myself with and followed haven’t all been saints either. This is where the Speaker for the Dead comes in, a role that perfectly defines what I want to accomplish by writing my story—“with full candor, hiding no faults and pretending no virtues.”

It seems to me now that this is a service we all can perform for our dead, even those we remember with the most perplexity and resentment: To “tell the truth for them,” because “their life was worthwhile enough, despite their errors.”

There are few human beings of whom that can’t be said, deceased people for whom a Speaker should not be provided. Personally, I haven’t known anyone who did’t qualify for such service.

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