I recently finished The Hunger Games trilogy. I know I’m late to the party, but I always am when it comes to new Young Adult book series. I don’t know if it’s my inner, snobby professor, or my loyalty to The Little House on the Prairie series of my youth. Perhaps some part of me hasn’t wanted to betray the Ingalls family by falling in love with the Potters, the Cullens, or even Katniss Everdeen.
But alas, I gave in. I usually do.
For those of you who haven’t yet succumbed, let me set the stage. The Hunger Games are an annual, reality TV show set in Panem, a futuristic North America. Think Survivor gone dark – very, very dark. There are alliances, betrayals, and back stabbings (literally in this case). Twenty-four “contestants,” children between the ages of 12 and 18, battle to be the sole survivor. Everyone else must die. In the wealthy Capitol of Panem, the citizens watch on big screen TVs and cheer as one child after another is murdered.
In the books, a Mockingjay is a songbird, which becomes a symbol of rebellion – against The Games, against oppression, against the tyranny of The Capitol itself. When a song fascinates a Mockingjay, it will repeat it perfectly, even after hearing it only once. Other Mockingjays join in and the song, begun by one lone human being, is spread everywhere.
In the Districts, the poorer outlying areas of Panem, the Mockingjay is useful. In District 11, it sings the song of ‘quitting time,’ the end of the workday for the beleaguered population. In District 12, its songs bring some measure of joy and beauty to the grey-faced inhabitants of the coal-mining province. In the contest arena of The Hunger Games, the Mockingjay helps the heroine and her allies find one another, a way of saying, “I’m okay. Are you?” When words are not safe, the Mockingjay sings for desperate humans, communicating things they cannot say. Ultimately the Capitol cannot silence Mockingjays.
Panem is a fictional America, but there are some striking and uncomfortable similarities to our culture today. In the affluent Capitol (which may be more like Hollywood, than Washington DC), the citizens are obsessed with cosmetic surgery and reality TV. They overeat and purge, while others starve. They rely on their high tech gadgets and silent laborers for just about everything and have little to no compassion for their fellow men and women. Above all, they are characterized by their smug superiority, their certainty that this is the way of the world, the natural order of things, simply the way it is supposed to be. If we are brutally honest, we might see versions of ourselves in the citizens of The Capitol. I am sure that was Suzanne Collins’ intention.
But I live near a canyon, and as I woke to the sound of dozens of songbirds out my window this morning, I thought of something else as well.
What if we are called to be Mockingjays?
Not The Mockingjay, the violent, desperate, rebel whom Katniss Everdeen, the hero, becomes.
I am talking about the songbirds, the ones who hear a beautiful melody and repeat it, taking the simple notes far and wide, sometimes for themselves, sometimes simply for the benefit of another soul, in need of hope.
Can we be Mockingjays? Do we have the courage to confront The Capitol voices in our heads? The ones that tell us how to look and behave, what to believe and treasure? The ones that tell us that the way things are, are simply the way they should be?
Is there another note being sounded in our lives, however faintly?
Can we sing a song of hope?
Of peaceful rebellion against authoritarian voices?
What if others are waiting to hear our song, so they can join us and repeat it, so others can hear it too?
I felt a little foolish writing this blog about a teen novel, but then I thought, Go on! Be the Mockingjay you imagine. And all I can do is encourage you to do the same.
When you hear a song of truth, beauty, hope, love, or peace, repeat it.
Repeat it beautifully.
Repeat it as many times as you can throughout your life, until your song is heard by someone who will sing it with you.
Don’t think it’s someone else’s job. Don’t think another Mockingjay will do it better. Don’t think that you weren’t made to do it.
Its not Suzanne Collins’ job as a writer; or Bob Dylan’s as a singer; or even Billy Graham’s as a preacher.
It’s yours. It’s mine.
We can all be Mockingjays.