Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This is a Story About faith

There is this from the play “Our Town”, Thorton Wilder’s masterpiece:

EMILY:  "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"

STAGE MANAGER:  "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

So often in this journey of writing and now especially in promoting May the Road Rise Up to Meet You, I have asserted to people that it is a story about faith.  The book is written to be a metaphor of the idea contained in the prologue, that our lives are great embroideries that we see mostly only from the wrong side of it, the side where all the knots and tangles and the disparate, seemingly disconnected threads fall limply to the floor.   Imagine the young slave girl Mary watching her adoptive mother Gertie finishing an embroidery - a stitchin’ as she calls it - in their tiny cabin by the light of a dwindling fire.  From her perspective on the floor, Mary can see only the mess that is the back of it and complains, as we often do, that none of it seems to make any sense!  To which Gertie replies:

“You cain’t tell nothin’ ‘bout whachu seein’ when you layin’ over there,” she says. “Cain’t tell nothin’ ‘bout nothin’ in dis worl’ when all you seein’ is th’knots an’ tangles an’ ever’thin’ goin’ ever which way, lookin’ like a buncha mess.   How you gonna unnerstan’ when you layin’ dere seein’ jus’ th’messa it all, when th’mess only one parta it, no matta how it seem sometime?  Cain’t see how all dese little bitsa thread be connected togetha, jus’ like all th’bitsa yo’ life gonna be, cause you ain’ lookin’ at it the way it meant t’be seen.”

An’ then she smiles…an’ turns ‘round that stitchin’ she been workin’ on so you can see it straight off.  An’ it’s pretty as a picture ever was. 

“Dis here,” she says, “what aaaall dat mess look like…when you gets t’seein’ it frontsways.”

It is not the first time such thoughts have been uttered.  In fact, it is one of the great themes of the human endeavor…the search for meaning, the thirst for understanding, the desire to make some sense of it all.  It is the reason I created the characters I did and imbued them with that philosophical spirit, that spiritual inquisitives, and all the knots and tangles they would face along the way.  It’s the reason I gave them each their own style of prose, their own narrative voice, representing the strands that they each contribute to the stitchin’ that is the story as a whole. 

But in the sale of the book and the promotion of it, that message had been pushed to the rear, brushed aside in favor of marketing strategies and ways to most easily link the book to prospective audiences.  After all, we do not live in a spiritual society, and faith is often looked upon with great suspicion and even fear.  We live in the cultural age where virtually nothing is taboo anymore…except the matter of faith.  So we oversimplify the truly complex, finding supposed answers where there are only glorious mysteries. 

It has taken this winding road for me to see this.  Just recently I was fortunate enough to have a book signing at a Barnes and Noble just a few miles from the school at which I taught years ago.  It was virtually five years to the date since I took that leap of faith believing there was a book I was being called to write. (And no…not in the burning bush sort of way, but in the subtle, sometimes barely perceptible ways we are led from point A to point J without knowing there are points in between.)  It has been five years of doubt and uncertainty punctuated by moments of seeming inspiration, only to be awash again in the unknown.

And I find myself there again, as I write the second book in this now become trilogy.  But, as in any journey of faith, any voyage worth traveling, there are moments of clarity that confirm the importance of the belief in that which remains unseen, and the understanding that we are often closest to God when we are in mid-flight, whether after the great leaps or just the ordinary strides from one point to the next…but moving, active in our journeys, weaving the threads we are given into the brilliant stitchin’s we are called to create.  And amidst this (perhaps fleeting) moment of clarity, what can there be but gratitude?  And the comfort in knowing that yes, for my characters and for me, this most certainly is a story about faith.