Posted by: ritagone | February 9, 2011

The Unnamed

I just finished reading a very interesting book called “The Unnamed,” by Joshua Ferris, about a man who has a most debilitating disease, so rare that it doesn’t even have a medical name (hence the title of the book).  He walks.  Impulsively, furtively, for miles and miles on end, until he drops from sheer exhaustion and falls asleep wherever the end of his walk finds him.

Sound fascinating?

Well, in the novel, the disruption to the family life is unbearable.  Tim Farnsworth is a successful Manhattan attorney and partner in the firm, but when he walks out on a case he is handling – a high-profile murder case – it’s downhill from there on.  And his wife’s life is upset over and over again because she has to be on call, ready and available at all hours of the night to go pick him up when he awakens on a park bench or under an overpass in a strange town.  She begins to drink because she can’t cope with the anxiety this produces.  Naturally the family endures incredible stress as they deal with this bizarre situation.

They try every doctor, every remedy, every country where a potential diagnosis and cure might be found.  Nothing.  The frustration is overwhelming.  Then, for years he is in remission, and life takes on a veneer of normalcy for them.  They downsize their lives, move to a smaller apartment in the city, appreciate what they have because they know how tenuous it might be.

And then, one day, she gets a call from him.

“It’s back,” he says into her cell phone.

And the downward spiral begins all over again.

I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to ruin the book should you now be captivated and want to know what happens.  Just let me say that it was a book that left me actually viscerally pummeled; when I finished, it was as if I had been actually punched in the stomach.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and it hovered in my mind for hours and days afterward.  As you can tell, it’s still lingering there.  I can’t really figure out why the impact is so strong, and perhaps it wouldn’t hit you like this, but while it’s still so fresh in my heart, I want to ramble on about it a bit.

One of the great lessons I learned from reading this novel is that life is precious and it can change from one minute to the next.  A great lesson for all of us to grasp and take to heart.  Some of us learn this lesson the hard way, by experiencing it firsthand.  Sometimes just reading a book brings it to light, and we can see it clearly for ourselves, as if what happened to Tim Farnsworth were happening to us, and so we can apply it to ourselves and our own futures, pondering it and praying over it and allowing God to let it pierce our very souls.

What, for example, has happened to you recently that allows you to see in your own life that there is much to be appreciated on a daily basis?  Surely something comes to mind.  A near miss at a stop sign, a feared diagnosis that didn’t materialize, a verse in the Bible that you interpreted differently for the first time: any of these happenings can sharpen our sense of appreciation that life is valuable and precious and to be cherished.

I tell you, when I read “It’s back” every time it occurred in this novel and he would eventually call his wife to let her know that the impulse to walk and walk and walk until he dropped had taken over his life again, I could feel my heart stop, because I knew that these characters – while not real people – were going to have their lives turned upside down, and that it wasn’t going to be pleasant.  That’s the sign of a good author writing a good story.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.  You expect it, you know it’s coming, but you try to go on anyway, living each day as normally as possible, but knowing also that one minute or one morning things will not be the same again.

So use it.  Let it work for you.  Accept the challenge of it, and wake up every day saying, “If I’m given today, if the ground doesn’t buckle out from under me on this day, I’m going to make the most of it.  I’m going to make something good and wonderful happen.”

It’s called a pep talk.  I give them to myself all the time now.  Maybe as I get older, I need them more and more to keep the juices flowing.  And maybe sometimes you need them too, so I’m sharing this one with you.  Because a major change in one’s life is no respecter of age or circumstance.

You know that cliché: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Gosh, how I used to laugh at that one.  But now, I’m not so sure it’s funny.  Now I think it might be harboring some pretty profound truth that I want to make good use of.

So enjoy the day if you’re reading this during the day, or the evening if it’s evening where you are.

Warm regards, Rita

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