When Bad Things Happen
April 30, 2013
Sometimes, events occur that shake my image of the world. The bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon and the explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas are examples. They left me with an unfocused image, causing me to reflect and rethink.
I have found two books whose main characters face life shattering events beyond their control. Both novels lend me insight into the human condition and help me regain a little clarity.
Part of the prologue in The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell, reads:
"Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.”
Marnie and her younger sister Nelly are the daughters of highly dysfunctional parents. Theirs is a journey that involves the help of others, which reconfigures the image and purpose of family. Parts of the book are poignant. The overall tone is one of resilience. It is possible to overcome adversity. Reading this novel gives me hope.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng views tragedy in retrospect. Yun Ling Teoh has had to retire as a judge on the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her steadily worsening health gives her a sense of urgency to write down her story. During WWII, she was a prisoner of war and, at age nineteen, was the lone survivor of a Japanese internment camp where her sister had died. Her memories of that time and the next 10 years are slowly revealed.
Yun Ling’s healing involves creating a Japanese garden with the help of Nakamura Arimoto, who had once been the gardener of the emperor of Japan. She records that:
"He had left his home on the rim of the sunrise to come to the central highlands of Malaya. I was seventeen years old when my sister first told me about him. A decade would pass before I traveled up to the mountains to see him.
He did not apologize for what his countrymen had done to my sister and me. Not on that rain- scratched morning when we first met, nor at any other time. What words could have healed my pain, returned my sister to me? None. And he understood that. Not many people did."
Thirty-four years after seeing the garden for the last time, Yun Ling reflects on memory, forgetting, loss, guilt, shame, understanding, and forgiveness. I savored each paragraph as I gained insight into Yun Ling’s path toward healing.
There will always be tragedy and suffering. What matters is how these facts of life stimulate either growth or defeat. The Death of Bees and The Garden of Evening Mists illustrate the power of the human spirit. They nourish hope.