My worldview has been shaped by the novels I’ve read. I’m the author of many, many how-to and self-help books, so I appreciate the irony of that statement. It wasn’t The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that taught me to work on my priorities, not someone else’s; to do my work, not whatever shows up in the inbox. That honor goes to Spenser, the detective created by Robert Parker.
So when I recently picked up David Morrell’s Scavenger, I was delighted not just to get a good read, but also a new religious concept. In the novel, Morrell posits (with the help of mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers) that God is a novelist, not an omniscient creator who knows how all of this is going to end. He creates the characters and the plot, and watches to see what happens. Most of the time people do what they are supposed to do, according to the plot. But some of them don’t, and they surprise God, and, by surprising God, attain salvation.
Now if you’ve paid any attention at all, you know that I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in gods, lower case, either, or any kind of guiding intelligence in the universe. I don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, or the flying spaghetti monster. I look around and I think, “Hell, if I could do it better than it’s being done, obviously no one is in charge.” (Possession of hubris and arrogance? Check.) I am not a deist, or agnostic, or undecided. I am a belligerent atheist.
But in the beginning, there was the Word, and if there was a Word, then there must have been a Writer. I can believe in a Writer, maybe. Someone who told a story, and then it came true. I can’t reconcile a loving, benign God and the ebola virus in the same breath, but I can imagine a Writer looking at the story and thinking it needed some conflict to be interesting. Writers can be very brutal people, when it comes to their characters.
Here’s the thing. We make our lives so ordinary. We see the plot laid out ahead of us, and we step into it, and we muddle through, and we never stop to think, you know, maybe it doesn’t have to be done this way. Or sometimes we get hit with an unexpected plot twist, and all we can think is to get back to the way we were. Instead of seeing where the new plot might take us.
Someone wrote to me recently about my essay, “Snow Falling on Dogs,” telling me they were there now, in the place where things fall apart. And maybe did I have some advice? I did, and it consisted mostly of, let the things fall apart. Let it all break to pieces. The cracks are how the light gets in. I know this only because I have stood under the falling rain and tried to make it stop, and mostly you just look stupid doing it, and the rain still falls down.
Let it pour, and then make a story out of it. Like a Writer would do. How you were intrepid, and spunky. How no one handed you anything, and you managed anyway. How eight good friends rode to the rescue, and you never had to ask.
What if life knocked you on your ass, and you looked around before you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, and you asked, “What can I learn, being down here on the ground? On my ass?”
Maybe compassion. I don’t know; I’m just saying. You might see someone else who’s landed on his ass, and instead of thinking of all the ways he earned it, and what he did to deserve it, maybe you’ll just say, “Hey, it sucks that it happened to you, too. Got a light?”
I don’t know; I’m just saying. What if the horse threw you, and you didn’t get back on? What if you quit the rodeo? What if you said, I’m tired of holding on to so much pain?
What if you had the courage to surprise God?
I don’t know. I’m just saying.