Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin

I wasn’t planning on writing a eulogy this winter. But life and death wait for no writer, least of all me.

Ursula LeGuin was someone who I never had the pleasure to meet but consider a mentor with an inestimably profound influence on my life and growth from a very young age into adulthood. I shared this with a small group of friends who met downtown at a local cafe to remember her work and what it meant to us all:

I am, like so many others around the world, indebted to her persistently subversive approach to political and social utopias (including her intentional subversion of utopia itself), and if her readers never read deeper than this admittedly very deep surface level, that is excellent and a fine and good thing. However, as i think back on my years with her work, I am even more indebted to the subversive moral and ethical philosophy that runs strong and clear throughout and beneath her work: Be patient and be kind to others. Seek truth before mastery. Listen to silence as well as the word. Be wary of easy answers and simple enemies. Strength does not come from dominance but from wisdom, wisdom comes from kindness and kindness develops from struggling to know truth in an ambiguous, complex and infinitely rich world of contradictions. Growth doesn’t come from vanquishing evil, but resolving imbalance. Violent means beget violent ends. Names are meaning full and full of meaning. Words have power. Love may not always win, but it always, always, always persists, not to conquer hate, but to know it, to accept it, to name it and perhaps, someday, to heal it.

Her politics shaped many of my ideas as a young adult, but it was her ethics that won my heart years and years before, when my parents first read “A Wizard of Earthsea” to me as a young kid, before I could read on my own. People who believe in the promise of a better, kinder, more peaceful world would do well to remember this way of teaching.

I once wrote her a letter, about the power of words and imagination to open hearts, minds, and remake the world. She wrote me back, told me she agreed wholeheartedly. I have always treasured this interaction, and everything her words have given me and taught me to give to myself. I am not sad that she is gone. She lived a very good life, and accomplished many things, the best of which were immaterial: changing hearts and minds, teaching children and adults to know themselves know their world and know each other, and most importantly to care for the whole thing, inside and out. I am not even sad I never got to meet her. I’m just sad that another kid won’t get to write her a letter and receive something in return, like I did. Guess that means it’s our turn to do the same for the next people.

The form of Utopia is always two steps ahead of us, one step out of reach. But its content has always been with us, and, no matter where we journey, we really are “always coming home” to it.

Reed Ingalls lives in Olympia and participates in local movements.