I suppose it could be worse, this pandemic.
“I’m so glad we don’t have teenagers right now,” my husband commented one night shortly after our town instituted a stay-at-home order.
It’s interesting that there is no economic challenge within the book. Even those who are penniless end up getting what they need. The characters, presumably since they have already suffered enough by the swift loss of their loved ones, have life generally easy. Laws, schooling, expectations (about anything) are lax enough to allow them to avoid challenging themselves at all. They give into their desires, their grief and their obsessions, and they act selfishly. Even those who attempt a religious response seem lacking in genuine love.
The story centers around one family, oddly intact having not been taken in the “Sudden Departure” and yet drifting apart. The parents’ marriage crumbles. The mom wanders away to join a cult. The college-aged son seeks purpose in another religious movement and fails to find his way back home. The teenage daughter falls into the wrong crowd and loses herself. The father somehow becomes rich and the mayor of the small town but focuses on keeping everyone even keel and content rather than push anyone to right wrongs. The real rapture is one of those things that’s hard to wrap your head around, even for the Christian I am. But should it happen in our lifetime, I pray that we react in a better way that the residents of Mapleton!
I agreed with my husband though. At least we don’t have teenagers right now. On the other hand, homeschooling young children has been challenging enough, especially in a small house that, as the pandemic continues, feels like it’s shrinking.
While I’ve been complaining about our lack of space during this pandemic, within their sole eleven foot square room, Jack’s mother (who is never named) demonstrates heroic creativity, weaving math and language exercises from the food they eat and the TV they watch, supporting physical education by designing running, climbing and jumping games, encouraging health and hygiene by teeth brushing and regular bathing and laundry, and above everything, providing the security of a consistent schedule that all young children need. And then...in almost biblical obedience, the mother is willing to risk the most important thing in order to free them both -- Jack’s very life.
After subsisting in a state removed from all other contacts save their captor, the mother and son must wear masks once they finally escape -- to avoid the germs for which they don’t yet have immunity. Jack has to catch up on every vaccine he missed...and come to terms with the fact that “when our world was eleven foot square it was easier to control” (236). Wearing masks...losing control...living in an ambiguous state of the world where you don’t know the rules… I find these days I can relate to Jack. I can relate to Jack a lot.
As the story unfolds, the mother explains that having Jack gave her purpose and allowed her to be “polite”. While ours is obviously a different scenario, I’ve been telling friends that having homeschooling to focus on, in addition to attending church regularly (though virtually), has given our family purpose and structure. Perhaps I’m underestimating our creativity to suggest that without schooling we would be even more stir crazy, but our family rhythms have been anchored in this cause, work that has given us fodder for conversation that otherwise would be dry and monotonous by now.
The mother survived seven years in captivity. For us, it’s only been a few months. Perhaps with a little ingenuity of our own, we can make it a few more… But at the end of this, my wish is that with hope and persistence, we’ll have enough of our rhythm and enough of our relationships to enjoy as leftovers.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.