I first visited Omelas as a young teen, joining the processions, listening to the dark eyed youth play his flute. Ursula K. Le Guin was a marvel, new, exciting, a writer who dared talk about *giggle* gender in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and this sad child locked in a broom closet in. Awwww. . .
I returned to Omelas in my late twenties, enthralled Ms. Le Guin's sense of narrative and rich prose. I rolled her words around in my mouth like butterscotch hard candies, lingering over the rich sweetness long after I put the book aside. I had begun to come into my own as a writer, and Ursula K. Le Guin shone like a bright star in my quest to improve my writing. THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE BEGINNING PLACE, CITY OF ILLUSIONS, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, "The Day Before the Revolution", "Solitude", "The Eye of the Heron", and the butterscotch words of "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas".
Bent on another journey, I made a side trip to Omelas in my early thirties after the diagnosis of my youngest son with Cri du Chat (the first diagnosis of many) and my oldest son with Aspberger Syndrome. The city had changed, grown dark, haunted by the reflection of a perfection I would never know. The child in that broom closet was my own, feeble-minded, defective from birth, a freakish exception to an otherwise perfect world, and don't you forget it. Thank goodness other parents' children were healthy and normal, little baseball team angels, exceptional program cherubs. Look at that woman's unfortunate child; it never speaks, except when it does: "Please let me out, I will be good!" Well, there but for the grace of our good genes, our parenting skills, our cleanliness, our education, go we.
The suffering of the child in the broom closet became the ableism of those who refused to see all my boys had accomplished, the strong, capable young men they would someday become. Many years later, I carried the story with me as, hand in hand with my partner, we gathered our sons and walked away from Omelas, never to look back.
Ursula K. Le Guin died Monday, leaving behind a legacy that spans decades and hearts and imaginations. I met her once at the Locus Awards in 2010, exchanged brief compliments, thanked her for the joy her work had brought me over the years as fans are wont to do. Now there is an echo in my heart where there was not one a moment ago and only her words can soothe the ache. Before I settled at the computer to write this, I dug out my battered copy of THE WIND'S TWELVE QUARTERS, settled in my chair, and stepped through the gates of Omelas while sucking on a butterscotch hard candy. The taste was as sweet as I remembered.