Literature Circle Extension Project Submitted by Rita Favata Professor Susan Silverman Language Arts and Technology EDLA-615 F01, FTU1/FTU2.
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Literature Circle Extension Project
Submitted by Rita Favata
Professor Susan Silverman
Language Arts and Technology EDLA-615 F01, FTU1/FTU2
My understanding and appreciation of Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen, was greatly enhanced through this extension project. It provided me with countless opportunities to revisit the story and dig deeper as I thoughtfully sought and selected passages to achieve my goal. My quest was to create a visually-engaging PowerPoint version of the story, its characters, events and themes through authentic imagery and carefully chosen narrative. Choosing to organize the project in ABC format was ambitious, and at times, challenging (oh, that letter x!). It is my ardent hope that this culminating presentation not only captures and effectively conveys to you the essence of the literary work, but further stimulates and affirms deep connections for you as well.
I selected this slide design because it evoked feelings of turbulence and disorder, symbolizing Cole’s pain, feelings of rejection, confusion and loneliness. The sharp strokes and grey-blue hues are full of emotion and are complex, like the literary piece itself. It is much like an ocean storm, paradoxically offering a sense of hope . . . for there is always a calm after a storm.
With upheaval comes opportunity for growth and change. So, let the journey begin . . .
Anger is a predominant driving force in this story. Cole is a victim of his father’s violent anger and his mother’s emotional abandonment. He struggles with his own feelings of hurt, neglect and anger.
“Anger keeps you lost.” (Edwin, p 18)
“You drink until you can’t stand up, and you’re gone all the time. A devoted parent doesn’t whip his kid until a shirt can’t hide all the bruises!” (Cole, p 46)
“Cole has will and courage, but he also has ugly anger. So what do we do with him? Do any of us know what caused that anger? And what if those same events had happened to each of us? How would we have reacted?” (Garvey, p 49)
Cole’s vicious, heinous attack on Peter Driscal causes irreparable brain damage. Untold emotional trauma haunts Peter to the point of two suicide attempts.
“Cole figured he wouldn’t even be here if Peter Driscal had known how to fight back.”(p 8)
“Cole felt no regret for having burned the supplies and the shelter. Nor did he regret hurting Peter. This was somebody else’s fault.”(p 45)
“Life is a circle.” (Garvey, p 34)
Themes of circles resonate throughout the book . . .
Some are malevolent, cycling through untold generations . . .
“Your father isn’t a bad person, but when he was younger, he had parents who beat him for everything he did. That’s all he ever knew.” (Mother, p 121)
Others are benevolent, like circles of friends, who stand by you and support you in your hour of need.
“Why do you help me?” (Cole, p 107)
“Because we’re friends.” (Garvey, p 107)
Still, other circles are life-affirming . . .
“Cole’s gaze wandered in a big circle around him. All of the landscape, the air, the trees, the animals, the water, the rain, all seemed to be part of something bigger. They moved in harmony, bending and flowing, twisting and breathing, as if connected.” (p 70)
“A lifetime of hurt, a lifetime of proving himself, a lifetime of anger controlled his muscles now . . . He flung the spear with all his strength, fully intending to kill.” (p 64, 65)
“It didn’t matter who was at fault for his dismal life. All that mattered was living. Cole wanted to live and once again make choices.”(p 84)
After Cole defiantly challenges the Spirit Bear and is savagely mauled, he lays for some time facing death. In his desperate thoughts and aloneness, he finds clarity and experiences a revelation . . .
“In death there was no control, no choices, no nothing. To be alive was to have choice. The power to choose was real power, not the fake power of making others afraid.” (p 83)
“Stars glistened overhead like frozen fireworks. Curtains of northern lights out over the bay danced wildly under the Big Dipper. Cole turned his head and stared into the black nothingness of the shrouded woods. That was how he felt inside – empty. There was no beauty.”(p 60)
The near-death experience and the storm were life-changing events for Cole:
“As Cole stared at the tiny bodies, sadness flooded through him.
The sparrows were so frail, helpless, and innocent. They hadn’t deserved to die.”(p 82)
Forgiveness is essential for healing . . .
“Being angry is giving someone else control of my feelings so they own me. Forgiving gives me control again. . . It isn’t enough to be sorry and forgive. Somehow I have to figure out a way to help Peter.” (Cole, p 196)
Cole fought back his own tears. “I’m part of some big circle that I don’t understand. And so are you. Life, death, good and bad, everything is part of that circle. When I hurt you, I hurt myself, too. I don’t think I’ll ever heal from what I did to you, but I’m sorry, Peter. I really am sorry.” (Cole, p 237)
“People change two ways – with slow persistent pressure, or with a single and sudden traumatic experience. That’s why people change so much when they have a near-death experience. I believe something significant happened to Cole on the island.” (Edwin, p 128)
Edwin was wise. Cole’s near-death experience awakened profound insights in him that helped him to begin to heal and to grow.
“The storm raged on as Cole lay trembling . . . Never in his life had he felt so exposed, so vulnerable, so helpless. He had no control . . . Cole blinked in stunned realization. He had always been this weak. How could he have ever thought he truly controlled anything?” (p 78)
There is nothing nobler or more rewarding than giving of yourself to help others . . .
“Why live if you can’t help others and make the world a better place?” (Rosey, p 107)
“Cole, . . . In a few months your body will heal, but time won’t heal your mind as easily. Helping others can help heal your wounds of the spirit.” (Rosey, p 107)
“Give me something to take away the monsters.” (Cole, p 108)
“Only you can do that.” (Rosey, p 108)
It will be up to Cole to fight his inner demons and make right with the world, and with Peter.
“Nobody’s going to babysit you here. If you eat you’ll live. If not, you’ll die. This land can provide for you or kill you . . . up here you live and die by your actions ” (Edwin, p 17, 18)
Time alone to reflect, live amongst God’s creatures and find meaning in life . . .
“Life is up to you now . . . This is a good place to find yourself.” (Edwin, p 18)
“Justice often fails because it seeks to punish, not to heal. Jails and fines harden people.” (Circle Keeper, p 38)
Cole is a rebellious juvenile delinquent. For his crime against Peter he is given the opportunity to choose between prison and the Native American Circle Justice. Cole chooses Circle Justice and is banished to a remote island for one year.
“Justice should heal, not punish. If you kill my cat, you need to become more sensitive to animals. You and I need to be friends, and I need to forgive you to get over my anger. That’s Circle Justice . . . But healing is much harder than standard punishment. Healing requires taking responsibility for your actions.” (Garvey, p 12)
Karma is not fate. All of us, on our journey through life, act with free will, creating our own destinies. We are responsible for our actions. Our choices can bring forth goodness or they can bring forth suffering.
“You aren’t the only creature here. You’re part of a much bigger circle . . . Whatever you do to the animals, you do to yourself. Remember that.” (Edwin, p 16, 17)
“Nobody cared about him. Nobody understood him. Nobody knew what it was like living with parents who wished he wasn’t alive.” (p 26)
“Then he became aware of another feeling. Stronger than any burning in his arms and belly, more haunting than the darkness that surrounded him, was the realization that he was alone with himself. And it scared him.” (p 43)
“A bitter loneliness swept over Cole as tears clouded his vision. He felt so small here, puked up on a remote forgotten shore and left to die. Was this how the world was going to get rid of him?” (p 73)
“All of his life he had squandered his choices, wallowing in revenge and self-pity, keeping himself down. Now, as he lay near death, those he hated were safe and warm. Those he blamed were still alive and well. He had hurt himself the most. Life was empty and meaningless unless he found some meaning.” (p 84)
This is a story of an evolution of self: Cole’s self, yet not unlike many of our own. We are all seeking to find our place in the world and understand our significance. Without meaning, we are lost.
We can find meaning by helping one another on our journeys though life and by appreciating all of nature’s beauty and gifts.
“Yes the world was beautiful . . . Staring at the delicate patterns, he wondered why he had never noticed this all before. How much beauty had he missed in his lifetime? How much beauty had he destroyed?”(p 97)
Through nature we can find serenity and wisdom. Nature holds so many secrets, if only we would listen.
“A person is never done being mad. Anger is a memory never forgotten. You only tame it.” (Edwin, p 110)
Edwin understands what it is like for Cole and teaches him a lot about life . . .
Cole learns to trust Edwin and opens up to him . . .
“My mind gets to thinking and won’t quit. Like it’s chewing on tough meat. It won’t swallow a thought, and it won’t spit it out. It just keeps chewing it over and over.” (Cole, p 110)
Edwin explains to Cole that anger will always exist, it is not something you can rid yourself of. But, we do have a choice of what to do with it. We can focus on it and remain angry. Or we can choose to focus on more positive emotions.
“It’s what you make of it. What you focus on becomes reality. . . I [can] focus on the sunrise or the dark clouds. It [is] my choice.” (Edwin, p 145,146)
Pain pervades our story and haunts our characters . . .
“You don’t know what it’s like being hit over and over until you’re so numb you don’t feel anything!” (Cole, p 28)
“When I saw him start doing it to you, I kept telling myself things would get better. Drinking helped me ignore reality . . . Can you ever forgive me?” (Mother, p 121)
“How scared must someone be to actually go searching for death?” (Cole about Peter, p 203)
“If animals existed in a world of instincts and senses beyond the conscious thoughts of the mind, what happened to people in their frantic worlds of noise and hectic rushing? How much of the world did people miss because they were not calm enough, empty enough, to experience it?” (Cole, p 189)
“We’re going swimming,” said Edwin. “Are you nuts?”exclaimed Cole. “It’s freezing!” “Trust me,” said Edwin. “Half of being trusted is to trust.” (p 143)“How long do we sit here?” Cole asked impatiently. “Unitil your mind is clear and you have a choice between anger and happiness.” (,p 154)
Almost every morning thereafter, Cole came to this icy pond. In fact, this soaking ritual helps save Cole. Here he learns to clear his mind and reflect on the choices in his life. This meditative practice helps him to focus his thoughts and emotions and, ultimately, helps him to heal and grow spiritually.
The Spirit Bear saves Cole’s soul . . .
“Cole’s fingers sank into the bushy white hair until he touched solid body. With his fingertips, he felt warmth. He felt the bear’s breath and heartbeat. And he felt one more thing. He felt trust.” (p 95)
“Off the coast of British Columbia, there is a special black bear called the Spirit Bear. It’s pure white and has pride, dignity, and honor. More than most people.” (Edwin, p18)
“He felt content. Before the end of life he had seen beauty. He had trusted and been trusted.” (p 97)
“What are totems for?” “They tell ancestry,” Edwin explained. “And they tell stories. . . Your totem is your story, your search, and your past. Everybody has their own. That’s why you carve. That’s why you dance the dances. That’s why you live life – to discover and create your own story.”(Edwin, p 183)
“Pretend that rock is your ancestors,” said Edwin. “Climbing this hill is your life. With each step, you carry your ancestors with you, in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul. If you listen, your ancestors reach out from the rock and teach you the lessons of their struggles. Hear your ancestors. Someday, you’ll pass those lessons on to others.” (p 155)
Every day after Cole’s icy soak, he carries the ancestral rock up the hill thinking on all of the things Edwin told him and reflecting on his life. Once Cole reaches the top and sets the rock down, its meaning changes. It becomes his anger. He then symbollically rolls the rock and his anger down the hill. He learns valuable lessons:
“When I was carrying the rock this morning, I realized that I won’t ever get over my anger unless I quit blaming others for everything.” (p 167)
“Mom said his parents beat him up, too. I don’t know where the anger all started. All I know is I don’t ever want to have a kid and beat him up.” (Cole, p 132)
“I know that my dad’s not going to ever come back to say he’s sorry. Even if he did, he couldn’t change what he did. He couldn’t take away the memories.” (Cole, p 132)
“All around us there are powers. There are animals like the whale, the bear, the wolf, and the eagle . . . We can feel all of these and dance to them. They all have much to teach to us.” (Edwin, p 150)
“Patience, gentleness, strength, honesty. Animals can teach us more about ourselves than any other teacher.” (Edwin, p 17)
Cole gains much wisdom from the animal dances and learns about himself in the process . . .
“A whale migrates but it doesn’t have a home. . . I feel like the whales.” (Cole, p 152)
“He wished that somehow he could always stay part eagle in his mind. How could he remember to stay strong and proud, seeing everything from a distance?” (Cole, p 181)
“. . . you need the help of others, like a wolf pack.” (Cole, p 162)
“To be invisible he had to clear his mind. That was the secret. . . Being invisible had nothing to do with being seen. Being invisible meant not being sensed or felt.” (p 189)
“. . . Even the present, ceased to exist. He no longer thought of himself as Cole Matthews, a juvenile delinquent from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Instead he was part of the landscape, without a beginning or end. Rain dripped off the rocks that lined the shore the same way it dripped from his forehead and flowed down across his cheeks and lips.” (p 191)
“. . . Being invisible was being part of life’s circle and accepting it.” (Cole, p 239)
“Discover yourself,” Edwin said. “Celebrate being alive!”(p 139)
Cole’s experiences on the island, his relationships, and his reflective and meditational practices help him heal and grow and eventually lead to his spiritual growth and transformation.
“. . . he breathed more deeply, feeling the rhythm of the world around him, an endless rhythm where time disappeared. As the past, present, and future become one, the droplets on Cole’s cheeks dripped to the ground, melting into the landscape to which they belonged.”(p 190)
Let go of self to find self.
Touching Spirit Bear, Ben Mikaelsen, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2001.
Book images: http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/038080560X/ref=sib_dp_pt/102-3133015-3048115#reader-link
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