Friday, November 22, 2013

An Unusual Affection (for an unusual character)

"I always liked strange characters."
-Tim Burton

I didn't want to like Death, but it was inevitable.

Before you all get freaked out, I am talking about Death, the narrator of "The Book Thief", a young adult read that has just been released into theaters. A friend recommended it while I was describing the excellence of the demon narrator in C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters." He warned me that story was told from the perspective of Death himself, and I picked it up expecting an unlikeably angry and sadistic character. But he isn't written as such; Instead, he is portrayed as a calm voice, seemingly tired and a little sad. He weaves the story in a way that makes the reader understand the beauty of life from the perspective of the one who separates it. I didn't want to like him, of course, but he really is a compelling character.

I am an avid reader. All my life I have been taken in by stories, feeling myself fall into the fantasy world that words capture. I can't sit through too many movies, based on a short attention span, but a book is different- it requires your eyes and your mind to align and work together, and suddenly, your other senses are feeling all the same things the characters are. You are living in their world, hearing their thoughts and actions and hopes and fears, and until something breaks the spell... it's a wonderful thing. And since you become so intimate with these characters, you start to develop feelings and emotions toward them- some you fall in love with, and some you can't stand. I find that the more I read and get to know these personalities, the less I can control how I feel about them. Even when the writer finds the character wholly unlikeable (if you read interviews, you find which characters were favored, and which where despised), I sometimes find myself with a conflicting opinions.

I don't know when, but somewhere along the line, I stopped choosing which characters I like. They started to choose me.

There is a painting called "Charles Dickens in his Study" made by Robert William Buss. In it, the great writer is surrounded by a number of his characters, swirling around his head. His eyes are closed, and he is leaning in a chair. I feel for him, because I wonder what his characters are saying to him. Does he love them? Hate them? Want them to shut up so he can focus on their antagonists? I imagine they speak to him very loudly. I just wish I knew what he would say back.

In our lives, we are all parts of the great story written by a grand Creator. He loves us all equally and greatly, but He didn't make us to like all the others. We live in a world where the term "enemies" is a reality. One of my missions in life is to love everyone, and it's hard.

And it doesn't mean I have to like them.

But I wonder what it is that draws us to people. Why do we regard them? What connection is that we can make with even the most unsettling of souls that causes us to relate? I wonder sometimes if there is a formula for making friends (and it's a joke they've even made on television shows, so I know it isn't just me). It would have to be an individual formula.

Something in us + something in them = bonding. 

I just don't know what it is.

As for myself, I find that I appreciate honest people more than kind people or socially intelligent people. But I don't know why this value strikes me. How does the scale work? What is the top quality? Is it consistent? Does it change with age?

I have no answers.

But I think, now, in light of this new affiliation to a charter such as Death, that maybe it's better we can't deduce what makes us attracted to others. Perhaps, as with many other formulas, it would narrow down our vision and box us in. We might never be able to get past our own ideas of why we should be friends, and that would hinder us from making new realizations about others, and in turn, about ourselves and who we are. We don't get to choose who we like, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's what stops us from discrimination internally, and helps us to recognize the good in others. And maybe, just maybe, it makes us a little more human.


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