“Whenever I want to think hard, I need a river to help me lighten the load.”
South of Broad, Pat Conroy (Doubleday, 2009) Page 216
An hour on the riverfront to read and think. The book is about people who live in and the city of Charleston, itself. I am not relaxing, I’m trying to hone my craft and Pat Conroy is just the writer who can show me how stories should be told and the exact words to use.
I can smell the rivers and the flowers. I can see the streets and awesome houses as I read about a high school boy who does a terrible thing to two of his classmates. One runs back to his house of birth in the mountains just off the Asheville road. We have known for 350 pages that Niles and his sister are orphans whose mother was thirteen when he was born. His grandmother was twenty-seven. The only thing that has kept the sister and brother moving forward and running away from orphanages, it the hope that the mother will find them.
The author takes us along with Nile’s high school friends to that dirt floor cabin to talk him into returning to Charleston. It is there that we learn the thirteen year-old mother hung herself from a tree and her mother found her. She put a bullet in her own head. All reason to hope has been removed.
Weeks later, the high school boy goes to a home where some of those high school friends are hanging out. Niles is there as is his sister and the second boy harmed by the cruelty. The reason for the visit is to apologize—to attempt to undo some of the damage he has done. The apology is gut-felt confession and repentance—the kind that might lead to convulsive sobbing and vomiting.
“I turn my back on Chad and continue to work on the hemline of Starla’s dress. Sheba did likewise and Trevor resumed his Schubert. Niles walked back to my room, and Chad stood in the middle of the room looking thunderstruck.
“Just a minute,” Mother said. “Niles, come back here! Trevor, knock it off. Leo, you and Starla, look at me. You can choose not to accept Chad’s apology, but tell him so to his face. Your rudeness I will not tolerate. This is not about Chad, really. It’s about the kind of people you are.”
About the kind of people you are.
My favorite two words in the gospel narrative are, “redemption,” and “restoration.” Jesus Christ can change who we are by the power of grace. His restoration is about the process of molding us into the person He originally had in mind. But there are a thousand flashpoints and determining moments in the dark when we cooperate with Him or undermine his most brilliant grace-filled acts.
It’s about the kind of people we want to become—the kind of people we will become.
© Copyright 2016 D. Dean Benton