Old books remind me how unusual our ‘normal’ experiences are today.
In The Death of Ivan Ilych, on page 53, is this simple statement:
Though the salary was higher the cost of living was greater, besides which two of their children died and family life became still more unpleasant for him.
It seems very normal for Tolstoy to include that sentence, even in the life of a rising professional with access to doctors and resources in 1880’s Russia.
Yet how strange it seems in our own North American context. We think we know what ‘unpleasant’ means, and that does not include the death of children. We do not consider it normal at all within professional, middle-class families.
Maybe we should.
Buried in an article on a school for children with disabilities was this sentence:
Almost every year, a few medically frail students die.
That has been true at Paul’s school as well. A short, sad announcement from the principle comes home in Paul’s backpack about a student who has died. It isn’t every year. But we have gotten several such notices over the years. In seven years that has not happened even once at the school my other three ‘normally developing’ children attend.
Many people look at our lives, with all the doctors and complications and expense, and consider it strange and to be avoided at every cost. Yet the ‘cost’ of avoiding it is usually the very life of our little one, the one God himself has given us to parent.
And when we look around the world, our ‘abnormal’ existence is experienced by millions and millions of families. It is frequently the very thing that keeps bringing us back to God.
There is something else that seems more normal in old books: the presence of God. I just finished A Narrative of The Mutiny, on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty by William Bligh and noted how freely he spoke of prayers and Providence:
For my own part, I consider the general run of cloudy and wet weather to be a blessing of Providence. Hot weather would have caused us to have died with thirst; and perhaps being so constantly covered with rain or sea protected us from that dreadful calamity.
So, though our experiences are abnormal in this culture, maybe we have been granted special insight into what normal life is really like, both historically and for much of the world’s population today. What should we do with that insight?