You never know what might happen when you pick up a book, even a book that has sat on your bookshelf for years like an old bottle of wine aged good and long for just the right moment.
Such a book might even wake somebody up.
That is the beauty of books, of course, their ability to rile the stodgy and complacent.
In this case, the book — you may know it – is called The Giver. After I cracked it open one day, I later found myself listening to the audio version with The Children on the daily school run.
Not long after, my above-mentioned 12-year-old, looking through a stack of pirated DVDs in Uganda, (virtually all the DVDs in Uganda are pirated), said “Hey, Dad. Look. It’s The Giver!”
So then we all watched this recent Jeff Bridges film of the original Lois Lowry novel.
For those familiar with the story, I need not say much more, and for those not familiar, without being a spoiler, I can say that this story deals with both the beauty and pain of life, the joys and thrills and hopes as much as life’s hurts and sufferings and fears: life in all its colour, really.
It shows a future world where people discover the hard way that if you lose the pain and suffering at one end, you lose the joy and feeling at the other.
I couldn’t imagine a more suitable story for kids who aren’t all that young – The Giver is marketed for kids as young as my pre-teens – and My Three Schnooks assimilated the themes as much as Their Old Man did.
So one recent day when I had nothing better to do, I imagined myself as literally an old man – good and ripe and having seen a thing or two — living in some future time and place not all that different than in The Giver, and, not so different from, well, our time.
Suffering and end-of-life questions, after all, are what the Children’s Mother is now dealing with. As a Canadian physician, (and a highly regarded one), she is dealing with her new physician mandated role, even through referral, in what will be Canada’s new laws on doctor-assisted suicide.
This is all the genesis behind my latest offering for the Spectator, which is on this tender subject of doing yourself in.
Which brings us to those people who would rather put their head in the sand and not look at truth conveyed in great novels even as truth is conveyed in everyday life, that suffering in this world is not for nothing, not pointless, not any more than joy and laughter are for nothing.
You don’t have to be particularly religious to come to this conclusion, not as much you simply have to be honest with what you see and experience as the years go by.
Of course, others will tell you other things and in no uncertain terms, such as one reader did (Froese is an Evangelical, (therefore all Froese says about anything can be discounted); Froese should get his big mitts off my decisions and my life; Who is Froese to tell me? and Froese yada yada, you get the picture) at the bottom of my column posted here on thespec.com
The reader was also especially concerned that I mentioned one of the more disturbing moments of The Giver, when a baby is injected in the head (very lovingly of course) and then, dead, thrown away.
Sensitive Reader suggested that it’s even immoral of me to share this sort of story with children. Hmm. Would that be because it’s such a dark scene?
In fact, I recall exactly what my 10-year-old son said when listening to that scene on our morning school run. Jon said, “Dad, that’s just creepy.”
Yes it is, son. Creepy is the point. This is why some writers, such as this particular novelist, is not only a good writer but a courageous one.
My son, and his two sisters, based on all of their comments and interest during our various other interaction with this story (a Newbery Medal winner, I may add), understand all this rather well: To give a shake to the sleeping can be the purpose of story as much as anything.
This is apparently more than some grown-ups are willing to swallow, any more than they’re willing to think very hard about that great propensity we humans have to kill one other (and ourselves) in the most quiet and innocent of ways.
As The Children’s Mother said this morning about it all, “Don’t tell the kids that Grandpa is gone.”
No. Why would you say a word to the children?
Here is the original Spectator piece.