Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Narrative Thins Out

In literature, we find several styles of narrative. Consider the thick, psychologically complex story-telling of Dostoevsky on the one hand; on the other, think of Hemingway's sparse, thin, and muted accounts of people and events.

Many those now stricken with debilitating chronic illness once had robust and Dostoevskiannarratives: their minds were active, their memories deep, their affections complex and well-suited to the varied circumstance of life under the sun. They were quite fully alive: complex, but robust and fascinating.

Then, it struck: one of the sickeningly many chronic illnesses. You supply the one that has most wounded you the most. The narrative now alters, even dramatically; it thins out; loses weight and depth: the sentences are shorter, as are the paragraphs; the page count diminishes. One is shunted into a kind of Hemingway world. Much is lost. (I am not pitting writer against writer, but simply using their respective styles to illustrate a point.)

As a soul's narrative moves from thick to thin, part of the person is lost--or strangely changed. The body refuses to perform the acts of the old story line. The mind slows and cannot summon its former memories, cannot accomplish skills so easily done yesterday. Survival becomes more important than adventure. One tries to endure, not prevail.

Those who witness this painful peeling away, this cruel diminution of faculties must learn to read a new story--not forgetting the old, thicker life, but not expecting it to return either. The wounded person, made in God's image (come what may), is still there, there, there. But the newer chapters of the life story seem to be composed by someone not a little different than the one who composed the earlier ones. The stylistic shift is jarring, wearing, and lamentable.

Yet, "love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13). We must love the person who is there, no matter how withered, wilted, or wronged by this groaning world of woe, still awaiting its final redemption.

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