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November 25, 2022
from “Dear Baby Bo”
by Ira Sukrungruang
in For Love of Orcas
“...my throat tightened the way it does when a cry comes over you.”—Ira Sukrungruang
What is this Paragraph of the Week about? It is about wonder, magic, and natural beauty. It is about fathers and sons. It is about writing as dream and incantation. It is about loss and tears. It is about deception as slight of hand. Above all, it is about the way it is about: all those repetitions which don’t repeat, but build like an emotion rising unstoppable within.
Ira Sukrungruang is the author of three nonfiction books: Buddha’s Dog & Other Meditations, Southside Buddhist, and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy. He teaches at Kenyon college.
We found “Dear Baby Bo” in the For the Love of Orcas, an anthology edited by Andrew Shattuck McBride and Jill McCabe Johnson. The paragraph is meaty and self-contained so we present it without further commentary.
The Paragraph of the Week
Dear Baby Bo
Let me tell you about the first time I saw a killer whale. One year, we drove the long hours from Chicago to Orlando so my mother, your ya-ya, could meet up with old classmates from Thailand. To entertain the rambunctious boy I was, my father took me to Sea World, a place I cannot bring myself to go to anymore. A place I now see as an abuse to the natural existence of things. But I cannot lie. That first time, when I was six or seven, was magic. To say something is magic or magical seems banal nowadays. But every time we delve into memory, any memory, it is a bit like magic, the reaching into a hat to pull forth the rabbit of a moment. My father and I sat in the large outdoor amphitheater, surrounded by excited families. I was excited. Why wouldn't I be? I had touched a stingray. Had watched dolphins jump through hoops and observed colorful fish swim in neon tanks. Had eaten a lot of candy and soda so my body was in sugar overdrive. Waiting for the show to start, however, I grew tired. The Florida heat wore me down. I was thankful to be sitting and leaning against my father in the same way you do when fatigue comes to you. Then the show started. Loud music. Loud voice over loud speakers. And at first, nothing. The sunlight danced on the surface of the water. There was a hush of anticipation, the silent build up of something special. And then magic. A black fin cleaved the water. The black bump of a nose. The expulsion of water from a blowhole. "This," said the loud voice over loud speakers, "is Shamu, the killer whale." Instead of joining the excited chorus of awe, I cried. I was so close to Shamu. In the front row, on wet bleacher seats. I was witness to this otherworldly creature, sleek and shimmering, skin reflecting the late day sun. Shamu leapt into the air, twirling and twisting, water gliding off its body. Magic. I had not realized I held my breath. But I did. I held my breath and cried. Impossible. But impossible was possible because a killer whale danced in and out of water, because it moved in rhythm to its trainer in a tight bodysuit. My father sat beside me, hands on his knees, laughing that hyena laugh that drew the attention of the other kids. He was so caught up in the moment, so moved by Shamu, he did not see his boy crying. When Shamu flopped onto the water, water splashed four rows up. It was like a baptism, even though I had not a clue what a baptism was. I only knew we were soaked with water a killer whale had propelled out of its pool. And the water was cold. And the cold felt like magic. Finally, my father looked down and noticed my tears. "It's OK," he said. "It can't hurt you." I cried so hard I could not tell him I was not afraid of the killer whale. "Don't believe the name," he said. "Killer whale will not kill you." I cried so hard I could not tell him I was not afraid of being killed by a killer whale. I could not tell him because my throat tightened the way it does when a cry comes over you. A couple of the kids around me asked if I was OK, but my father told them I was fine, just scared. When the show was over, some of the workers at Sea World handed us towels to dry off. "My son," my father said to them, "thought the killer whale was going to jump out of the water and eat him." I did not tell them the truth, either, which was this: what made me weep was the animal itself. How beautiful it was, how enormous, swimming in a pool and not an ocean. It was beauty contained. It was beauty that choked the breath. Beauty that made me cry. I think I knew beauty like this was fleeting. Beauty like this would someday be gone. And then it would become a story. There are so many stories of things lost. Stories are where they live again. I tell you this story because I dreamed a killer whale tonight. Because there are not many killer whales left. Because when you get older there may be no more killer whales. But that dream—it felt like that first time. Magic. Just watching Shamu swim and be. I woke up crying. May you find, son, something that holds your breath and makes you weep. May you one day be so moved.
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Watch the new video trailer for
The Beloved Republic!
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Check out Steve's newly revised author site with photos, excerpts, and videos about The Beloved Republic here.
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Announcement: The Beloved Republic
I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays called The Beloved Republic is available now for preorder at Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here. It won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and will be published in February 2023 when it will be available in bookstores and websites. Thanks to the Press for this honor.
What is the Beloved Republic? E. M. Forster, who coined the phrase, called it “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky” who “have the power to endure” and “can take a joke.” Pitted against authoritarianism, the Beloved Republic is the peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people in a world of tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouthed bullies. Taking Forster’s phrase for its title, my book can be read as dispatches from that besieged land.
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Folly Beach is a book-length personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word. In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.
“In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.”
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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.
We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques. A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought. But what is a paragraph? And what, in particular, is a good one? You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith. So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary. We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life. Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work. We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.
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