A Happy Home, finale


The next day it was as if the incident had not occurred at all. Miles came down for breakfast, apologized for having lost his temper, and the Youngs smiled knowingly at him. Nothing a little sleep can’t take care of, they thought separately and yet together. He had just had a hard day, they knew. Everyone was prone to occasional fits of temper when circumstances were trying, so they were able to easily excuse his behavior. They instructed him to tell someone if Billy started to bully him again, to which he calmly replied that telling someone usually only makes it worse. As long as Billy was merely insulting him, he said, he would be able to take it. They smiled at this, at the resurgence of the old Miles, the patient, dedicated, virtuous Miles, and asked him to report it if the abuse turned physical, which he agreed to do. Miles and his mother gathered their things and headed off to school, leaving Mr. Young to finish his coffee and morning reading in peace. Once the steam of cooking and bodies had vacated, Mr. Young noticed a slight chill in the house. The noise of cars rushing by and school busses squealing to a stop was unusually acute that morning, seeming to rain down from above him rather than seep in from around the walls as it usually did. For some reason he could hardly wait to get out of the house. As he pulled out of the driveway, he still felt minutely disturbed about the previous evening, and as he drove away had the vaguest sensation of relief, as if he were leaving the scene of a crime.

At recess that day, Mrs. Young noticed that Billy was not present at the basketball court. She wondered if there had been some disciplinary action against him, either from his parents or from the school, but soon dismissed the idea. Had he been suspended she surely would have heard of it, and certainly the Millers were not silly enough to think that keeping a boy out of school was in any way punitive. Perhaps he is just sick, and his absence is merely a coincidence, she thought.

She started to question her assessment when he wasn’t there the following day either. His cohorts still played basketball, but on the opposite side of the court from where they typically played. Perhaps Mrs. Young had put a scare into them and they were just keeping their distance from Miles, not wishing to stir up any trouble. Miles, for his part, was as peaceable as a sleeping puppy, reading each day in his usual spot, undisturbed, smiling secretly to himself about whatever his imagination conjured up.

That weekend Mrs. Young ran into Mrs. Miller again at the grocery store. She was greeted curtly, detachedly, absently.

“Hello, Mrs. Young.”

“Well, hello, Laura. How are you?”

“I am fine, thank you.” Obviously Mrs. Miller was upset with her, and she suspected it had to do with how Billy had been treated. Mrs. Young felt compelled to make sure the air was clear, so rather than make small talk, which Mrs. Young was clearly not in the mood to do, she plunged right in.

“Laura, I don’t mean to pry, but it seems that you are upset with me, and I can only think it has do with what happened the other day.”

Hardly had she gotten the words out than they were trampled upon. “It has nothing to do with that.” She paused briefly. “Is this really the place where you want to have this conversation?”

Mrs. Young was taken aback at the other woman’s aggression. “I suppose that depends. What conversation are we having?”

Mrs. Miller’s eyes narrowed like sword blades. “The one about Billy’s dog.”

Mrs. Young was stupefied. “I’m sorry?”

Mrs. Miller was sizing her up, gauging her sincerity. “You have no idea what I am talking about? I assumed you had heard.”

“I’m sorry, Laura, I truly don’t. Did something happen?”

Mrs. Miller looked down, then furtively around to see if anyone was nearby. When she spoke, her throat sounded suddenly raw and swollen, her voice quavered like a rickety porch, and her complexion was like ghosts.

“Someone killed Billy’s dog.”

Mrs. Young could only gasp in horror and raise her hand to her mouth. “How horrible! How do you, I mean, are you sure?” was all she could manage, a stupid question.

“I’m pretty sure, yes.” It was spoken sardonically, almost spittingly. “We found him…” The words stuck in her throat, and she had to swallow before continuing. She glanced about again, then, “Someone…stabbed him with a pitchfork…twice. We found him Wednesday morning.”

Mrs. Young could hardly move. Miles and Billy had had their run-in on Tuesday. “Surely you don’t think…”

“I don’t know what to think. I can’t imagine who would do that. I mean I know Billy has always been…” And suddenly she was weeping. She buried her head in the curve of her arm. A mother and her young toddler came by. The mother whispered something to the child, and they turned promptly down the nearest aisle. The boy was looking back at them intently. His mother scooped him up and placed him in the cart and spoke softly to him as they moved on silently and quickly.

Mrs. Miller looked up, her eyes desperate and pleading. “Who would do such a thing?”

Mrs. Young had no response except for the shaking of her head, a touch to the arm of Mrs. Miller, and horrified, chilling silence.

She could not shake the image from her mind on the drive home: some fearsome teenager, grinning fiercely and despotically, pitchfork in hard, poised ready to strike an innocent, sleeping animal. It wasn’t until she entered the quiet of her home that she was finally able to think of something else.

She found her son lying on the sofa, reading his favorite book, chuckling softly to himself, his face as round and ruddy as a cherub’s, his laughter bouncing off the yellow plaster walls, sounding as clear and free as it had when they had first heard it.


Billy never returned to school, and a few weeks later there was a sign in the Millers’ yard. The house was for sale. Mrs. Young noticed it as she and Miles drove past the house on their way to school. Winter had come upon the neighborhood as subtly as age, slow and unseen like senility. It was a frigid morning, and frost was conquering the corners of every pane of glass.

“I can’t believe they are moving! That’s so sudden!” she expressed. It wasn’t directed at Miles, nor intended to start a conversation, but said absently into the air, like snowflakes flung from a cloud of thought. For a long time, Miles said nothing in response, instead simply staring out of the window at the passing scenery, and for a few moments his mother thought that he might have actually sensed that no response was required.

But then he spoke, softly, coyly, as if he were coaxing a baby to sleep.

“They won’t be troubling us any more.”

No. It couldn’t be. Her head wheeled around to look at him, trying to catch a glance of his face, but he hadn’t moved at all.

“I told you,” he said, “I can take care of myself.”

When he finally looked at her, she thought he must have been freezing; his face was monochrome gray, the gray of ashes, the gray of ancient statues. Then he smiled, and she knew. She had seen that very smile before, but never, oh never, did she think she would see it on him.


a tale of two states


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.  – From “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens


Everyone loves a hero, and everyone loves a hero story. There can be a million variations on that story, but ultimately people want to see good triumph through the hero’s actions, and perhaps no story is more memorable than that of the hero who gives his life so that good may triumph. Such is Sydney Carton, the protagonist of Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” who swaps places with a man condemned to die not only so that that man may live and love, but also so that Carton may be redeemed from his previous purposelessness.

We are fascinated by the sacrifice of the heroic martyr. Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight (not the newest one, i wouldn’t share spoilers), Spartacus, Braveheart. Why does this story speak so loudly and painfully to us? Why does it need to be retold in a thousand forms and why does it have such a dramatic impact on us? The answer is twofold:

1) Because we were all made to live like this.

2) Because most of us don’t.

i certainly don’t. Movies like Braveheart, stories like A Tale of Two Cities make me literally burst into tears when i see a man is ready to give it all for what he believes. Every single disciple of Christ, to history’s knowledge, was martyred for what he believed, and many Christians after that. Still today i know people who have given away everything they have and moved to countries that i’m not even allowed to know the name of so that the kingdom of God might be furthered. They go to these places in secret, because to openly declare Christianity there is punishable by death.

And this is what i did last week: had a mediocre week a work as far as my production was concerned, shared the gospel with no one, and spent almost the entire week trying to figure out how to make more money and advance myself in the world. Now, had my aim been to make as much money as possible to give away, so that Christ’s kingdom would be advanced, that would be one thing. But it was not. It was simply wanting to see my own name lifted higher, wanting to see my own reputation built up, wanting to see my power and my glory amplified. i did not even see it as such at the time, because i was so immersed in the lie that is status, but in retrospect i have very clear memories of the motivations of my heart during that time. And interestingly, i still had the gall to be disappointed when the opportunity i was seeking did not pan out.

Everyone loves the story of the man who gives everything for someone else. No one loves the story of the man who takes everything he can for himself. Today’s sermon brought that to light in my heart, and i am grateful that God did not provide me with the career move i was seeking, because even though i would have certainly credited Him with the miracle, i cannot say my heart would have used that position for His glory. i know what i would do if i were Sydney Carton. i would wait for Darnay’s death, then swoop up to Lucie under the auspices of comforting her and seek to angle for my own benefit. i would serve her for the sake of getting her to love me, not because it was the right thing to do. i know i would do this because that’s what i do for my own wife.

i wonder when i am going to have my Sydney Carton moment for Jesus? When i am finally going to be so sold out to him that i will give anything, trade my entire life if need be, for the sake of another, even another i don’t really care for. There is some nobility, some dignity, in trading my life for another man’s, or for love, or for freedom, or for my nation, but noble though these things may be, all of them are perishing. The man whose life i save dies eventually anyway, as does the one he loves. Freedom lasts for a time, but nations crumble and falter and peace is perilous and precarious. Ultimately, there is only one thing worth selling out completely to, one thing that is worth my utmost commitment, because there is only one thing that outlasts decay, that outlasts death, and that thing is the love of Christ. Nothing else is worth living for, and certainly nothing is worth dying for.

i waver then between two states of being: seeking my own glory, and seeking His. My rational mind accepts that the former is absolute rubbish. i pray the Lord leads me ever more to the state in which i seek only His.


I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  – Philippians 1 : 20 – 21

existentialism, faith, and wanderlust


The Moviegoer was recommended to me by a friend who mentioned that it was his favorite work of fiction. It is well-acclaimed, the winner of the National Book Award when it was published in 1961. It is the story of a man who feels trapped in the “everydayness” of life, which produces in him “the malaise.” On the heels of his 30th birthday, Binx Bolling is frantically grasping at straws looking for “The Real Right Thing.” Given my life story to date, i can certainly empathize with the character.

These are just a few of the reasons why i really want to like this book, and strictly speaking i don’t dislike it, per se. i just don’t love it. i want to, but despite multiple readings, it just has not opened up to me that way. Stylistically it is at times ingenious, and utterly heart wrenching. Percy has an incredible gift for poetic imagery, and uses it adeptly throughout the novel. Thematically it is obviously not only applicable to my life, but i feel universal. There is a piece of every man, though he may not know it, that suffers through a certain element of malaise in his life; that same piece that feels triumph or connection when “in the depths of the malaise…he manages to sin like a proper human.” (200) I suppose this is Percy’s way of explaining sin: it is a way for us to feel real and alive and connected. The trouble is, as Binx discovers, these sins never fill the void. Every time he thinks he has done so, he discovers he is still missing something, and the joy runs away. He finds only short term joy in temporary endeavors such as success at work or affairs with his secretaries. Percy is, of course, quite right in this theme: these temporal pleasures, these “memorable moments” in people’s lives are fleeting and transitory and cannot for any length of time satisfy. That is why every person whom Binx encounters, especially the ones who seem to express the most joy, seem to him to be lifeless. “This is another thing about the world which is upsidedown: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.” (100)

Ultimately, to Binx, it is a blessing to him that he can at least identify that he is not happy. Everyone else thinks they are happy, and thus they are, technically speaking, worse off because they don’t know how bad off they truly are. He uses movies as an escape mechanism, a means to live vicariously through people that have something to live for. But even this is just a stop-gap solution, and he knows it:

The movies are on to the search [‘what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life'(13)] but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place–but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian…and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead. (13)

Philosophically the book speaks to me, and its language is powerful and well-crafted. Where i tend to get bogged down is in the particulars of the plot. There is not very much that transpires throughout the course of the novel: he goes to visit his aunt once or twice, talks to his cousin a few times, who happens to be the only other character who is aware of the existence of “the malaise,” and takes a trip to Chicago and back. Most of the time i feel that Binx’s contemplations drown out the plot of the novel, and though i am certain this is how it was meant to be, as it tends to be with people who are wallowing in despair, i am left just the tiniest bit uninterested in the details of the plot. There are a few too many characters to keep up with, many of whom are irrelevant, and there just doesn’t seem to be that moment when the plot escalates to a point of denouement. There is a conclusion, mind you, and it makes sense, i just struggle a bit with the reality of the character’s wanderlust. I have read through the novel a few times now, and though it did become a bit more clear to me the second time around, i can think of equally complicated novels stylistically and equally minimal plot structures that somehow managed to grab me and not let go. (Richard Powers’ “Plowing the Dark” springs to mind, about which i am sure i will soon write.)

Given the universality of the theme, the quality of the writing, and the genuineness and candor of the author, this book ought to do that, and for some reason it just doesn’t. i know it did for my friend, and obviously for many others, so i am willing to continue to give it a shot. If anyone has read it and can enlighten me as to why it is so good, i would love to hear from you. Until then, i cannot help but feel that the novel, due to the sad musings of the protagonist, just seems a bit too mired in despair, and all that wallowing just becomes tedious after a while. The work, as Binx himself, would benefit greatly from a little injection of hope.