PINE NUTS: Four boys on skateboards |

PINE NUTS: Four boys on skateboards

Yesterday while out for a walk, I ran into four middle school boys on skateboards and hailed them, “OK, men, I know you’ve been out of school, but I’ve got a pop-quiz for you.”


“Who wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”

First Boy: “Oh, that’s easy, man, Huckleberry!”


Second Boy: “Tom Sawyer.”


Third Boy: “Mark Twain.”

“YES! You see, being out of school has not hurt you at all.”

Fourth Boy: “Yeah? Well I forgot my locker combination.”

We all had to laugh … one more good reason to take a walk every day, we just might get to laugh.

Mark Twain gave us a book about Black Lives Matter. He called it Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck challenges America to be better when he says, “What you want above all things on a raft is for everybody to feel right and kind towards the others.” Twain is telling us, through the voice of a 13-year-old white boy, what Huck has learned from his black friend Jim … What you want above all things in America is for everybody to feel right and kind towards the others.

And too, there are these prophetic words attributed to Twain, words that are ever so poignant today, “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Well, whether Twain said that or not, it rings true in an American society of 2020 that plays host to more sight impaired and hearing impaired people than at any time in our history. And yet our eyes are opening and our hearing is improving, thanks in large part to sentiments expressed by some very kind and caring folks …

President Ronald Reagan told us: “In the decades to come, may our schools give to our children the skills to navigate through life as gracefully as Huck navigated the Mississippi. And may they teach our students the same hatred of bigotry and love of their fellow men that Huck showed on every page, and especially in his love for his big friend Jim.”

Toni Morrison cautioned us: “The cyclical attempts to remove Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from classrooms extend Jim’s captivity into each generation of readers.”

Ralph Ellison asserted: “Twain made it possible for many of us to find our own voices.”

Huckleberry was the first English language novel to be translated into traditional Chinese following the cultural revolution of 1972. In China they call Mark Twain, “Maka Tuen, our most faithful American friend.” A Chinese Twain scholar once told me, “We teach Huckleberry Finn in our schools as an example of Mark Twain’s love for the black people.”

For the American soul of 2020, moral development and self-identity can come only through questioning accepted norms. And as Huck reminds us, a sound heart is a safer guide than an ill-trained conscience. This year of the pandemic might yet go down in history as, “The Great Awakening of America.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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