He was probably four, maybe five and his mother was helping him walk from his car to the grocery store entrance. He had prosthetics for legs and oh, he was working so hard to walk. He was concentrating and his mother held her arm around his waist. I wondered, as I watched from my mini van, with my two-legged, two year old and with eyes full of tears, whether she ever rages at God. Does she ever think, why my son?
My goddaughter is suffering from severe OCD and Anorexia, her mother, my very good friend came into adult-hood already bearing things that people shouldn’t have to bear in a life time. It’s not fair.
I was sitting in the pick-up line at my kid’s school watching all the kids, backpacks slung over the shoulders and walking from their school day to whatever is waiting at home or an afterschool care situation. One boy in my daughter’s class caught my attention, because he’s the one who gets bullied, and so I watched him walk up the small grassy hill to the sidewalk toward home. I wondered if his heart could speak and I could hear it, what would it say? What is he hoping for?
I saw a little boy with blue hair and sister with pink hair (Asheville, NC for you…) walk through the crosswalk together. The younger sister jumped down off the sidewalk to the street and her blue-haired brother pulled her up by the backpack and made sure for a few moments more that she stayed on the right path. Is their mother waiting at home for them with homemade granola baking in the oven? Will she sit them down to do their homework and pat their heads because they are learning so much. Or will she be sitting on the couch, seconds before they arrive, willing herself to wake up after a night shift in the hospital or after a night of pain med sleep.
As I continued to watch kid after kid hold their heavy loads, I once again had a moment where sadness, grief, prayers for justice, unexplainable joy hit me all at once. All at once. And I knew again why I am a fiction writer and why I specifically want to write for children and young adults. I want to tell the truth, but I want to be able to spin the truth toward hope. My version of hope. Of justice. I can’t bear the thought that a kid who has a particularly tough reality won’t ever taste uninhibited joy, that his life won’t be restored to that original state of awe and wonder when he was first born and his parents looked at him as if he was perfection. So I create a story where I get to control all that, where I can escape into a different world. A world in which I invite God to help me create. Or at least that’s the idea.
I am reading A Sense of Wonder by Katherine Paterson and am loving it. In case you aren’t familiar with her, she has written a number of young adult books including, A Bridge to Terabithia. She talks about a handful of limitations when writing for kids. Regarding one of them, she writes, “I will not take a young reader through a story and in the end abandon him. That is, I will not write a book that closes in despair, I cannot, will not withhold from my young readers the harsh realities of human danger and suffering and loss, but neither will I neglect to plant that stubborn seed of hope that has enabled our race to outlast wars and famines and the destruction of death. If you think that this is the limitation that will keep me forever a writer for the young, perhaps it is. I don’t mind. I do what I can and do it joyfully.”
Now I have to say that I don’t always feel joyful while I’m writing especially when I feel like I’ve written myself into a dark and lonely cave with no logical way out or when I know that I have a hard scene ahead of me and I’m afraid that it won’t turn out at all like the picture in my head. But I wonder as I think about the dark caves, how writers with no religious faith deal with the idea of redemption, especially in child and young adult fiction. I know that some writers don’t strive for even a hint of hope in their writing, but I can’t help but believe that everyone, faithful or faithless, wants the caterpillar to become a butterfly, not to shrivel up and die in the cocoon. That longing seems to be what fuels good fiction. I guess it’s a God-inspired longing whether one chooses to acknowledge the source or not. And it’s the same source that evokes the heart stirring that eventually leads to story – like a boy learning to walk with new legs, a girl sulking home from school with her big brother watching her every move, a boy bullied for being who he is made to be.
I’m certain that without the hope that Jesus infuses into my life, I would become like my grandmother’s west Tennessee thicket, overgrown and tangled with thick vines and sneaky rodents. I would yell more and say the f-word more and be in that depths of despair place more often. I really think I would. And I don’t think I’d have that giddy, writing-high feeling enough to actually want to write.
I guess Katherine Paterson would say that that “stubborn seed of hope” is in everyone. I wonder if you don’t believe that God created the universe, with love and creativity, would any part of you buy that? Just things to ponder on the day before Easter.