By Ann Skalaski
Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and in every story, I look for echoes of The Real Story.
This summer I found reminders of God’s good plans in the pages of The Giver. A work of fiction written by Lois Lowry for young adult readers. Although I have read this novel before, I chose to reread it because it is about a community devoid of pain and suffering…and, in the moment, that is exactly what I thought I wanted!
Our three weeks of fun-packed vacation began with a week at Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coaches Camp. It’s our time to reconnect with old friends, make new friends and recharge our spiritual batteries. One of our special family traditions in one of the most beautiful spots in all of God’s creation.
Camp included daily chapels, small group discussions known as “huddles” and “competitions” for the coaches, plus plenty of free time to connect with other coaching families. On the first full day of camp, my huddle time was a sweet time of fellowship with the women in my group. It left me excited about getting to know them better throughout the week.
As soon as huddle time was over, I saw the camp director walking purposefully in my direction. I sensed something was wrong even before she said, “Come with me.” My husband had ruptured the tendon in his quadricep playing softball. By 11:00 am, less than 24-hours after our arrival, we were packing the car and heading home for surgery the following morning.
On the long drive home, with my husband laying uncomfortably in the backseat and my son thankfully behind the wheel, I was left with plenty of time to think. As I thought about the way my husband was suffering, the long rehab ahead of him and all our cancelled summer plans, sadness filled my heart.
At some point during our drive, I recalled the “utopian” community described in The Giver. A community where pain, sadness, envy and even the awareness of death had been painstakingly removed and replaced with sameness, control, forgetfulness, and “release” to Elsewhere. I had read the book 20 years ago and, although many details escaped me, I remembered that there was a downside to this pain-free life. I thought this might be a good book for me to revisit now.
Jonas, the main character, is an eleven-year-old boy living in a society that has eliminated pain, fear, war, and hatred by eliminating differences, choices, and memories. Through technology, the climate is controlled, people do not see color and they do not retain memories. They follow rules and allow the community to make important decisions for them. At age twelve children are assigned a job based on their abilities and interests. People can also apply for and be assigned compatible spouses, and each couple is assigned two children. The children are born to Birthmothers, who never see them, and spend their first year in a Nurturing Center with other babies, or “newchildren,” born that year. Once children are grown, family units dissolve. Adults live together with Childless Adults until they are too old to function in the society. Then they spend their senior years being cared for in the House of the Old until they are “released.” Release is actually euthanasia by injection. The elderly, imperfect newchildren and those who fail to conform to the community’s rules are all “released” from the community. Everyone assumes this means they are living Elsewhere---even those administering the injections who later have no memory of the lifeless body that they discarded.
As the story opens, Jonas is apprehensive about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve, when he will be given his work assignment. He has volunteered in a variety of roles but has no real preference. He is a good student and follows the rules, but Jonas is different. He has pale eyes, while most people in the community have dark eyes. Jonas also has unusual powers of perception, sometimes seeing flashes of color in their colorless world.
When the day of the Ceremony of Twelve finally arrives, Jonas is given the honored assignment of Receiver of Memory. The Receiver is the keeper of the community’s collective memory. When the community moved to “Sameness”—its painless and mostly emotionless state of existence—it erased all memories of pain, war, and emotion, but the memories can’t disappear completely. Someone must keep them so that the community can avoid making the mistakes of the past.
Jonas begins his work of receiving the memories from the current Receiver, a wise old man who tells Jonas to call him the Giver. The Giver transmits memories by placing his hands on Jonas’s back. Beginning with pleasant memories, eventually the Giver must also transmit painful memories. Having knowledge of color, emotion and other pleasures, Jonas begins to realize how bland and meaningless life in his community is. He wants to share the happiness the memories bring with those he loves, but realizes that, without the memories, they are incapable of loving him back. Having never experienced pain, suffering and real emotions, they can’t appreciate the real joy of life. Life itself seems less precious to them.
Although no one in the community, including Jonas, had ever made a choice on their own, the memories bring Jonas to a place where he is faced with a pivotal choice. Would his community be better off with pain, if it meant that they would also be able to experience pleasure, joy, and genuine emotions?
I won’t include any spoilers, but I will share that The Giver pointed me back to The Real Story helping me better grasp Biblical themes such as: free will (Joshua 24:15 EVS) the purpose of pain (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV) and the preeminence of love (1 Corinthians 13 ESV)
I am certain I would never choose to live in Jonas’ fictional community, even if I could be rid of pain forever. Knowing this would be my choice, transforms how I think about the suffering God allows me to experience.
The Giver was a great book to for me to read in our current circumstances. I am grateful for both this story and for The Real Story.
What are you reading this summer? Share in the comments or on our Facebook page!