The Good Guide

G is for Flannery O’Connor’s story that wasn’t called “The Good Guide.”

That’s not a typo.

She wrote a story called “The Artificial N——” — I can’t even bring myself to type the word — and her editor pleaded with her to change the title to “The Good Guide.”  FO stood up for her title, saying it was the essence of the story.

At Laity Lodge, this story was the topic of Dr. Ralph Wood’s final talk for the retreat. It is a story of pride, betrayal, and grace.

As soon as Dr. Wood introduced the story, as soon as he said the word, as soon as he dropped that bomb, every heart turned toward the one man of color in our midst.

Every heart turned that way, I’m sure, though every eye politely stared straight ahead or focused on some speck on the floor.

He might as well have called a Jew to the front and offered to tattoo a number on his or her arm.

We are stung by certain words, by the sheer profanity of them, as we should be.

At the beginning of the retreat we were challenged to write two words on blocks of wood. One was to be the word that represents that thing that holds us back from our art. The other was to be a word that we would like to see eliminated from the English language.

I immediately knew my two words. I scrawled the first one onto a block, but couldn’t bring myself to write the second because, in my mind, it is such an awful word that it makes me want to throw up just to look at it.

I took a deep breath and finally scribbled it onto the block. Quickly, I laid the block face down on the sofa. I really didn’t want to see it.

Words can be such powerful things, can’t they?

Writing it down felt like I was empowering it, the last thing I ever wanted to do.

All those blocks were burned, though, in a vortex of fire on the last night.

The blocks were stacked on a potter’s wheel, doused with lighter fluid, and lit with the wheel spinning.

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

I wish it were so easy to rid our country of hate.

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3 thoughts on “The Good Guide

  1. These words are meant to sting- as much as we might want to eliminate them from the English language, hearing them used, particularly in context, reminds us of why the attitudes that used them in the first place are so wrong. One of the many reasons why Huckleberry Finn retains its power- it shows us so strongly why that kind of bigotry is wrong.

  2. Oh, I so agree, Sally. It is something that saddens me on a daily basis and one thing I will never understand. How can people be so hateful to others? It puzzles me.

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