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Friday, February 25, 2011

Characters in Grief

[I wrote this about a year ago, and just found it again to post here.]

An elderly missionary was asked to sum up his life which had been filled with sorrow and anguish. His words shocked many, especially those who were expecting something more profound. “Jesus loves me, this I know,” he said. Then he sat down.

Once upon a time, I wrote happy. As a little girl of ten, I wanted everything to turn out well. I thought that if you ate your vegetables and said your prayers life would be grand. I conveyed this in my writing. I also planned to save the world, although that was a bit later in life.

When my four-year-old son died, I could not write happy. Like the words in many of the Psalms, my tears were my food; despair filled every ounce of me. Writing helped to get the sad out, and pretty soon, I wanted to live again and had hopes for my fiction.

There is no surprise now that my novels depict both happy and sad, joy, light-heartedness, distraught, and confusion. My goal is to write real.

When I created Monet, the three-year-old in my first novel, Rain Song, some questions arose. Why was this child so loud and naughty? Was it the case of poor parenting? Her mother took her to many doctors to try to find out why she was the way she was, and while there was some conversation about autism, I never said that was Monet’s diagnosis. Yet, some readers were quick to label her with that and their reviews showed it.

Whether you like Monet in the novel or not, to me, she is the symbol that things are not always neatly-labeled in life. Everything is not black or white. My son was not immediately diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave him other labels first and eventually he had to go through a surgery and a biopsy. A lot of waiting was involved.

I believe life in novels should mimic life in reality. I don’t have all the answers, and neither do my characters. They don’t get over grief, they heal a little. They might overcome some adversity, but they still have wounds. Mentally-challenged Jonas, in How Sweet It Is, will never be a scientist or a professor, yet he has the qualities of a humble man that surpass most scholars. We don’t know why God made Jonas the way he did, but we like him.

Can we live with not knowing everything? In our lives and in our novels? Is grappling with our faith okay? Is it acceptable to some days barely hang onto the hand of the God? I believe that creative ways to show our characters have not yet arrived are necessary in our stories.

Just like in my life. And in yours.

Sometimes when our days are a blur of uncertainty, when the future looks dismal, when our spirits have been crushed, what comes from our feeble lips is both simple and profound, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” It is a sacrifice to say it, and yet, it rings true.

~ Alice J. Wisler

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please add my e-mail address to get your blog. Thank you. Susan steveac@bellsouth.net

Alice J. Wisler said...

Susan,

You will have to sign up yourself with a Google account and your password.

I'll email you about that now.