One strength of novels is that we recognize ourselves in the characters. We see how they fight their Appolyons and win or lose, how they make decisions with good or bad results, how they aspire or despair.
August Boatwright is a character who shows me what a wise mentor is like. She’s the kind of person I’d like to be: diligent, forward-thinking, patient.
More often, though, I see myself in May, August’s sister. She’s a sensitive woman, happy and delighting in simple things–until she hears or sees something that’s sad or broken, and then she starts humming “Oh Suzanna” as if her life depends on it. (No, I don’t do that.) What endeared me to her was when she put socks on the cold feet of the old-fashioned bathtub because she worried about anything that is distressed.
May’s sensitivity was tragic when she eventually killed herself. And no, I don’t see myself doing that. But some days it feels that the aches of the world are going to crush me. Anything can set it off: a broken flower, a staggering drunk, a mother shouting at her son in the parking lot, a friend’s mother filing for divorce, an old man rifling through a dumpster. This morning it was a traumatizing picture I hadn’t chosen to see on a headline connected to the Gosnell trial. I want to vomit. I want to find a dark closet and curl into a ball and not come out until the sun shines again. It’s too big for me. I don’t have the emotional elastic for it. I have to run away.
May’s sisters, August and June, helped her by devising a plan patterned after the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. When May felt one of her spells coming on, she’d keep humming “Oh Susanna,” grab a scrap of paper, and write the trouble on it. They would lead her out to the stone wall behind their house, and she’d wedge the paper between the rocks and leave it there. Periodically, May would haul up more rocks from the river to use as she needed them, and the wall kept growing even after ten years, sporting little bits of paper sticking out all over.
I think writing helps process things and get it out of our system. More than that, I’m learning that I when I have no answers and am whimpering, overwhelmed in the blackness, I can only fight with light. Light is the only antidote to the dark that smothers me.
Like May, I tend to absorb the pain I see around me and carry it with me. But Jesus did that already–carried on His shoulders the cares and aches and intolerable agony of every life. What He wants me to do, I think, is invite Him, the Light of the world, into every terrible, twisted darkness that threatens me and those I love.
Curling into a ball or shouting in rage at the wrongness–neither is redemptive or finally helpful. Today I choose to fight with light, not denying the dark of midnight, but resting all the weight of my heavy heart on the sureness that morning will come and the darkness will run away.
The sun will come.
Meanwhile, singing and writing help.