I remember when I first read ‘The Stand’; I remember the nightmares in which a tall black figure stalked me across endless rows of corn fields so that I woke shivering in cold sweat. But that is the price you pay for loving Stephen King and the products of his twisted imagination. And I wasn’t female, (still am not, come to think of it), wasn’t a hundred years old (though I feel it some days) but there was something inside of me that wanted to identify with the character of Mother Abigail. Or maybe wanted to identify with her. With her acceptance of what God had given her, for good or for ill, her stoical trust that He was right. Not understanding, just trusting. That was something I found hard, which is why I say I wanted to identify with her.
I guess you must have read ‘The Stand’, or be a fan of Mr King (the natural successor to Dickens, if you ask my opinion) or otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading this (hell, wouldn’t have started, am I right?) so you know that the backdrop of the novel is an titanic struggle of good and evil; the death throes of a corrupt civilization and the painful birth pangs of a new one. Pretty immense stuff, huh. But do you know the bit that really sticks out for me?
Go on, guess. Shut your eyes and guess. ‘Cos you won’t be right.
Not the bomb at the end. Not the plague at the beginning. The bit where Mother Abigail walks eight miles there and back to collect some chickens so she can feed her guests. (If you guessed correctly, I apologise. But I’m surprised.)
Against such an apocalyptic backdrop this might seem puny. Silly even. Irrelevant. The whole world’s coming to an end, and she’s concerned with what to have for dinner. But I took two great things from this.
First, sometimes, circumstances are beyond our control and we can only do what is in our power.
Secondly, each action of ours is in some small way a microcosm of that struggle between good and evil. Mother Abigail’s challenge was to fetch those chickens and she accepted it and faced up to it.
Sometimes it’s hard to face up to those challenges. Sometimes we’d rather not, no matter how puny or irrelevant they might seem to others. I’m not going to start even thinking of putting myself in the same league as our old friend S.King, but that is why Mark, the hero of my book, ‘The Bunker’ isn’t quite as brave as Mother Abigail.
Because he’s a lot like the rest of us; he does things he shouldn’t and doesn’t do the things he should. The challenges that sometimes we all don’t face up to on a daily basis. Tragic heroes in the works of Sophocles to Shakespeare have had that fatal flaw in their personality, and often they don’t overcome it. Mark does. Finally. After a great struggle, after he is haunted by guilt and regret. And that is what makes him the hero, in my opinion. Because there is heroism in doing the small things, the things that don’t get noticed by the world, that don’t make the news. There is heroism in the ordinary, humdrum lives of millions of people. The mother with the disabled child. The guy who does the job he hates to feed his family. The people that are busy just getting by, the people that know that love has a price.
You look at the world today and you see the problems; the environmental disasters, Iran building the bomb, the starving thousands and you feel the world needs a hero. But in a way it already has them. The people like Mother Abigail, like Mark, the people who do the tiny, invisible acts of heroism every day. God has given each of us our role to play, and it might not seem like much, it might be puny, but it’s our role and we should accept it. So where religion and horror meet is in us; where good and evil conflict in the world we can decide whether to accept the challenge, or walk on by.
Just a couple of quotes to think about.
Human beings who leave behind them no great achievements, but only a sequence of small kindnesses, have not had wasted lives. Charlotte Grey, b.1937
Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, to rule, to lay up treasure, to build, are at most but little appendices and props. Michel de Montaigne 1533 –1592