Recently as part of my internship duties, I have been reading many short stories by different authors, collecting ones I find especially effective and striking. Through this process, I have found one particular similarity over many stories that surprised me. Talented writers, who are able to capture the human experience in a realistic and insightful way, often portray the decisions of their characters and the life paths those characters follow, as being unchangeable and inevitable. It’s as if the characters have no power, or not enough, to evaluate and alter the course of their lives. Consequently, most of the stories end full of regret and disappointment, and the characters become listless, almost apathetic.
In a story by Deborah Eisenberg, called Transactions in a Foreign Currency, she describes a character who constantly finds herself both drawn to and dissatisfied by Ivan. The two have been seeing each other off and on for many years. Eisenberg writes, “How many planes and buses and trains I had taken, over the years, to see Ivan! And how inevitable it always felt, as if I were being conveyed to him by some law of the universe made physical.” And also: “…well, Ivan was one of those men, and just standing next to him I felt as if I were standing in the sun, and it never occurred to me to hesitate or ask any questions” (163).
And yet, she ends up sleeping with other men during the times they are apart. She desires him to make a decision about her, to either commit or let go, but instead their intermittent relationship continues. In the final paragraph of the story, the author writes,
He put his arm around me, and I leaned against his shoulder while we looked out at the place where I’d been walking the day before. The evening had arrived at the moment when everything is all the same soft color of a shadow, and the city seemed to be floating close, very close, outside the window. How familiar it was, as if I’d entered and explored it over years. Well, it had been a short time, really, but it would certainly be part of me, this city, long after I’d forgotten the names of the streets and the colors of the light, long after I’d forgotten the feel of Ivan’s shirt against my cheek, and the darkening sight separated from me now by a sheet of glass I could almost reach out to shatter (191).
Ultimately, her relationship with Ivan doesn’t go toward anything, and finally she looks forward to a time where she won’t think of him at all, despite the years under his emotional influence. And yet she knows these experiences will still haunt her. Even the writing here (everything is all the same soft color of a shadow) suggests a sad nostalgia. The years that have slipped away have not helped her grow, but instead will continue to pull her backwards into bittersweet and frustrating memories.
I feel frustration for these kinds of characters, for their lives that follow a downward slope, not growing towards a goal but instead sinking continually deeper into their own disappointments. I want to reach out to shatter the glass that separates them from the lives they want to live. And spiritually, this is what we face also, unless we consciously choose otherwise. And, I believe, unless we have the help of God.
One of my English professors, John Witte, has under the statement portion of his online bio “Whatever the subject of our study, the object is the same: learning to live our lives more entirely and intentionally.” Physically, education is one way to make decisions and choose the kind of life an individual desires. Spiritually, by being given the truth and the aid of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability make choices about the kind of life God wants us to lead. And if we believe God created everything, and has our best interests at heart, it then follows that the kind of life He wants us to lead is even better than what we could have planned for ourselves.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Instead, trusting in what God has in store can lead to a more satisfying life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.”