This is one of those blog entries that couldn’t wait until full morning, instead dragged me from my bed at 1:00am to get the thoughts in print as fast as I could. It starts as a book review but is really me setting some parts of the record straight as best I can..
Back at Christmas one of my longtime friends, the woman who is most directly responsible for me meeting my husband, urged me to read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. I waited until now for the mood to strike me, and have swallowed it in great gulps over the last 48 hours.
I both love and hate this book. It’s very hard to explain. But I’m going to do my best; unfortunately my best will necessarily involve major spoilers. I can’t discuss my reaction to the book without letting go of some of the key incidents of Russell’s story.
The basic premise is that a Jesuit and his motley crew of pals discover life in the Alpha Centauri system and jet off there on a repurposed asteroid (it works in the book…) and have about as much luck as 90% of the 15th & 16th century explorers had in coming here for the first time. There is pestilence, misunderstanding and–eventually–tragedy.
The Jesuit at the center of the story is also the center of my problems. I had to sort of chuckle to myself because when we meet him at the beginning of the book he is visibly crippled by some sort of maiming to his hands. If you make it to the end of the book you discover what that grisly disfigurement was for and how it was done. You also discover that the problem with his hands was, perhaps, the least of the violations he suffered.
We are then treated to the usual question that arises when people are dipping their toes into the waters of philosophy; specifically–why does God allow evil to exist? If there is a God, that is. Much of The Sparrow deals with this question in the most inelegant of ways as we are treated to watching Father Emilio Sandoz, S.J. vomit and cry and bleed and whimper “Why Me?”
That’s where I come in. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t even have complete recollection of my multiplication tables for crying out loud. 9×7=? This I can only figure out by using the Finger Method that Edward James Olmos taught me in Stand & Deliver. Which figures neatly into my little parable.
When you first look at your hands you see things that belong to you. They are tools fundamental to your existence. They feed you, clean you, allow you to express yourself in gesticulation and shows of force. As you grow they become rudimentary mathematical aides, your first paint brushes and your first writing implements. Two hands together have 10 smaller appendages. In that way they are very much a reminder of God, of the mystical perfection of the Number 10. Hands are far more important that we often give them credit for because we’re generally used to them by the time we’re two and a half. The hand is sadly overlooked.
My hands first started tingling seven years ago. They did that for awhile. Then they ached. Then they started to twist and bend and gnarl and clench and would send me into screaming fits. Visually they aren’t as bad as the poor fictional priests’, but I venture to say I know a thing or two about the loss of use and the gain of excruciation in hands.
I also know a thing or two about the business of Why Me? And I’m here to say this unequivocally.
You are not the whole story. The world is not a movie about you, starring you, directed by you. You are a tiny piece in a long chain of things. You are the sum of that which came before you and a tool to effect those who live around you, to instruct those who come after. You are not all there is to be done and seen. The world goes on after you leave it.
And that’s why bad things happen to good-ish people. Because those bad things–miscarriages, lost jobs, invalidism–help you to leave better evidence about living behind you. They pull you into a dialog with God or about God. They remind you of the insignificance of timebound creation and the majesty against which that creation pales.
Right now as I type this I’m up to 745 words, each letter of which causes an impact to my fingers that feels somewhat like what a normal person would experience if they got their finger pinched in a household door. But I’m grateful for the fact that I can at least still type. And grateful for all the days that I’m reminded of my insignificance, then further reminded of the usefulness of seemingly insignificant things like hands.
Would I recommend the Sparrow as good reading? I don’t honestly know. It was a good story for most of it but then it tried to become something more than story and lost me when it sent me off on those larger tangents.
But I do SO enjoy tangents!