The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Apparently, Eva Cameron from Algonquin, Illinois, drove her 19-year-old mentally disabled daughter all the way to Tennessee only to abandon her in a bar.  The woman now refuses to take her daughter back.  Life imitates art and vice-verse.  It reminds me bitterly of a short story by Flannery O’Connor entitled “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”.  It is the story of the itinerant Mr. Shiftlet, a tramp, who finds a haven in the widow Mrs. Crater, who offers him room and board in exchange for his expertise in carpentry.

Mrs. Crater’s property is beautiful.  The porch faces the west so that the sunset is visible in all its glory every night.  He is even coerced into marrying Mrs. Crater’s deaf and mostly blind daughter Lucynell.  But driving along the highway toward their honeymoon in Mobile, Mr. Shiftlet abandons the innocent girl at a diner.  Mr. Shiftlet is a man who has been offered grace.  He has seen beautiful sunsets, gained room and board, and married the most innocent creature imaginable.  But, as it is with the things of God, grace changes him.  And the change is painful.

He rejects the grace he’s been given.  He abandons it, preferring sultry, nagging guilt to the crucible of deification.  One of the last images in the story evokes a feeling of dread and misery.  Pay close attention to the fate of the sun, which is seen as a symbol for the transmission of grace.

A cloud, the exact color of [gray] and shaped like a turnip, had descended over the sun, and another, worse looking, crouched behind the car.  Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him.

Such will be the fate of this negligent buffoon from Illinois.  Her daughter, mental disabilities and all, is a unique channel of grace, both actual and sanctifying.  She is a means of transformation: a vessel of the uncreated energies of God.  Miss Cameron, like Mr. Shiftlet, has rejected grace, rejected participation in the divine life.

Flannery O’Connor often wrote of freaks and disabled persons in her stories.  The hermaphrodite in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”, the General in “A Late Encounter With the Enemy”, Enoch Emory in “Wise Blood”, the Misfit of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, and of course the deaf and blind Lucynell of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”.  She recognized the suffering of these individuals as parallel to the sufferings of Christ who was, in his day, a bit of a freak.  In fact her favorite peacock was missing a leg.  I suspect she would have seen Miss Cameron’s daughter in a similar light: as uniquely participating in the sufferings of Jesus during the crucifixion.  And she would have seen Miss Cameron as one of the Romans or Pharisees who rejected his message and his offer of salvation.

Read the original story at THE HUFFINGTON POST.

This entry was posted in Flannery O'Connor, Pious Indulgences and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Life You Save May Be Your Own

  1. D says:

    I loved this. It was very informative.

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