For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Updated: May 22
There is a famous short story, one of the shortest stories ever written, that fits into the title of this post. Six words long, and yet it resonates with depth and tragedy. This story is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although similar versions predate him. Hemingway understood the power of such extreme terseness when he wrote, "If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows, and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water." With "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." we are told sufficiently little to inspire feelings in us that fill the voids. The paltry facts create a sense of mystery (and loss, based on individual interpretation) about what actually happened. But the facts do not capture our imagination by themselves: our attention is caught because we fall into the larger narrative imbued by these words. How does this short story relate to the pressing narrative of taking climate action? In addition to the hard facts and the emotional debates, we also need the power of literary compression. As we struggle through the current pandemic, there is added poignancy to our story in knowing that we are the last generation immune to climate change. What are those few chosen words that will strike a chord with everyone? With the risks from climate change hanging over all of us, the personal story about why we should take collective action where we live is perhaps no more and no less than this:
Where are you? I am safe.