An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.
I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.
In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.
Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.
My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”
As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.
Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?
Or am I wrong?
I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.
Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.
Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.
When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.
To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.
After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.
Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.
What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.
We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.
Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.
Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.