Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: How We are Not Doomed to Reunion Lost

By Carolyn Weber —  February 28, 2012

Frankenstein sketch, 1831, Theodore von Holst

Sketch by Theodore von Holst from the 1831 edition

Post #9 in the blog series “I Read Dead People” on faith and great literature. Part 2 of 2. See Part 1 with my usual author information template here

Personal Reflection: How this text speaks to my faith walk (continued)

Frankenstein – the novel, not the various cinematic variations of it – came to mind as I went to visit my ailing father at the hospital recently. Although greeting him hooked up to all sorts of wires didn’t help me dispel either representation of the story from my thoughts …

Perched on the edge of the hospital cot, I watched my dad and my brother perform that awkward dance that people who love each other desperately, but have not forgiven each other, do.

My dad pulling himself out of bed, suddenly seemed so much older and frailer in his tissue paper hospital gown. My brother rose up next to him, a younger, stronger reflection of my father’s athletic past, silhouetted against the sunless midwinter sky, as he leaned over to give my father a stiff hug. Both of them framed, for a moment, by the window that let in no light.

My father thanks him for coming, looks at him with a certain yearning, but says no more.

My brother nods his greeting, bright blue eyes glistening (oh, those eyes! Just like those of his father’s father). He ducks his head down, clears his throat.

My small, busy children spill out like baby chicks around me, clucking and hurling themselves into every corner. We have a way of dominating any room let alone a hospital room shared with other patients, and especially one in a geriatric wing.  My daughter gives grandpa a golf magazine she picked out in the gift shop for him to read; my twin boys hand him grubby bags of candy, into which they have already indulged. They avalanche him with hugs, homemade cards, pats on the cheek. They ask him endless questions about the IV, the wires, if they can watch a cartoon on the heart monitor.

My dad laughs, painfully shifts over to the bedside chair (at his insistence), and lets them climb onto the cot, which – to their great delight – pulsates with the inflation-deflation rhythm of the air pads to promote circulation. They sit there happily for some time riding the cotton sheeted surf and munching on grandpa’s candy.

I turn back to my dad and brother, studying their profiles like two coins from the same mint. Thinking about how each generation imprints and echoes the other, from the very beginning of time. From our very first image, made in God’s.

Forgive each other. I beg inwardly, with all I am. Forgive each other! I try willing them into action.

Lord, have them forgive each other. I finally remember to pray.

But they remain silent.

Lord have mercy. The words ring in my head. The go-to prayer when nothing else is possible. My desperate last ticket. The prayer before moaning … let the Holy Spirit take it.

I fuss with the children to give the grown men a little space: I tie a shoe, check a diaper, cuddle someone who just accidentally banged his head on the bed’s metal rung.

All the time I pray …

Lord, remind us to have mercy with one another, as you have shown to us.

Love is a circle of forgiveness: the crux of marriage, the lifeblood of any relationship, really, I think. Even when it comes to God and us. In God forgiving us, we forgive ourselves (and sometimes, even God, at least from our limited perspective) and accept His great gift of grace. And then we extend that grace to others as we have been forgiven, and loved.

The art of faith on this side of heaven is in the living out of the grace, from deep within (where the Kingdom lies) to the very ends of our being (far, far into community with others).

“A new command I give you,” Jesus teaches, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34, NIV).

I glance at my brother, I think of his name. Matthew: gift from God. I think of both Matthews, of Jesus’ reply to one of the Pharisees when asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law?:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:37-40, NIV).

My brother fidgets some questions, shifts his weight. He has to go. He’s on his work break. He will try to stop by tomorrow, maybe. The kids jubilantly yell their love to him as he goes, ducking furtively through the doorframe. I can feel his sigh of relief, his intake of pain, through the walls from the other side.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch my father wince. I cannot tell if it’s because of his physical discomfort as he shifts his weight, or his pain at something else. We sit for a few moments together in the silent yet turbulent wake of my brother’s exit.

Inside, I pray.

Still.

The attraction of the wavy bed has waned for my children. They begin banging bed pans, climbing in window sills. My twin boys race two abandoned wheelchairs and then climb in and attempt to play bumper cars. Their older sister scolds them for me. A warm nurse with a knowing smile brings me paper and crayons. Oh, such unrandom acts of kindness from strangers!

I use my borrowed time carefully. I hug my dad, sit close to him, hold his hand as he tells me his fears and shares how his newer symptoms have stumped his doctors. There is fear in his eyes. But love, too. And still a surprise, a gentle almost disbelief, at my touch, and at all the grandchildren buzzing with so much love around him … after all these years of separation, loss, the fatigue of anger … the difference now is that Christ sits here with us, too.

He asks about the little one growing inside me. His eyes smile over the fear, and I relish, truly relish, being his daughter, having such delicious attention from someone so important to me. And giving it in return.

We all want to be inquired after, sought for, responded to. We even want to matter enough to be forgiven.  We desire to be mercied – to be brought into relationship and hallowed there.

We want to belong, and be loved.

Beloved.

My children scramble off the bed, with new pictures scribbled in crayoned colours for grandpa. We tape them to the sunless window, filling the winter sky with rainbows.

With promises.

With prayer.

We hug our goodbyes, help grandpa climb back into bed. He laughs again as he removes a rogue crayon from beneath him. I fuss and fluff and adjust his pillows. He resists but loves it. I kiss the top of his grey head, grateful for the lack of any awkwardness now. Only the graceful brushing of lips across skin that still smells like the ocean and pipe smoke, the same smell from when I was as young as my own children now. I feel the circle of grace, as safe and subtle and precious and glinting as the wedding band around my finger.

Carolyn. Feminine form of Charles.

I was named for my father.

We yearn to be named.

And for that name to be known, called back, shouted for in danger, whispered in prayer, blessed in life, mourned in death.

The first step in realizing we are not monsters is to rest assured that we are named. Each of us, by God, from the very beginning of His plan to the final revealing of our new, very personal and very precious name (Rev. 2:17).

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me man?

 

Did I ask to be born?

Did I ask to be died for?

Perhaps the gift is all the more dear, precisely because I did not ask.

While the monster intimates he shall commit suicide soon, Mary Shelley does not actually show her monster die at the end of her novel. Rather, he wanders off, “borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.” The ambiguity of this final sentence haunts us all. How shall we be re-borne? Where shall we wander? Will the monster appear again? Does he loom without, or within?

In the outpouring of grace I have received from my heavenly Father, all monsters disappear. Monsters cannot exist once they are named. Demons casted out cannot stay … in the name – in the naming – of Jesus.

In the relative smidgen of forgiveness I have experienced with my earthly father, I have gleaned that even a few moments lived submerged and lifted in such grace is entirely worth being here – and then some.

Just ask the thief on the cross at our Lord’s crucifixion who “stole” paradise at the last earthly moment (Luke 23:39-43), and whom, aptly here in our discussion of Frankenstein, our Savior re-members.

Perhaps, somewhere deep inside us, we have asked – from the very birth of our being …

And we have been answered, by name, and called home.

 

RELATED POSTS

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein and our Struggle with God (part 1)

I Read Dead People (launch post for series)

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11 responses to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: How We are Not Doomed to Reunion Lost

  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from this series, and already dread the end of it. I move that “I Read Dead People” become a continuing regular feature!

    • You made my day, Dean! I will probably hang in for a few more installments – I love the intersection of literature and faith. Thank you for your kind support!

  2. I was on hold with the Dept. of Revenue while I read this, and was so engrossed that I dropped the phone when someone finally came back on the line. I am almost finished with Surprised by Oxford. It is only the second book to make me smile while blinking back tears. The first was A Severe Mercy (I was only a little surprised to see your reference to it). Now again, I am smiling at the image of your happy children, and I am holding back the strong emotions stirred up by your tremendous writing. My husband’s name is Matthew. He is one of my most precious gifts from God. He is also crippled – it serves as a daily reminder of how imperfect we both are and how desperately we need the grace of God. Your words truly resonated with me today. I will be praying for you and your family, and I am looking forward to reading what you post on Friday!

    • Thank you so much, Elizabeth. I’m especially honoured that any words of mine could come as a reprieve to “on hold” music, let alone the dept of Revenue! Thanks for sharing, and for praying. I hope you enjoy SBO to the very end. God bless you and Matthew!

  3. I love the line “we even want to matter enough to be forgiven.”

  4. I am undone by the grace in your words and the connections between life and this literature. This is so beautiful in so many ways. It is a gift to be named and to love and then to do those things in return.

    • Your response is far more beautiful than my post! I love the connection between life and literature, and I’m delighted to join in this praise with thoughtful readers like you, Leigh. Thanks so much.

  5. Beautifully written…the gift you have been given to touch other souls….priceless.

  6. Just finished Surprised by Oxford. My husband and I honeymooned in England 33 years ago – visiting Oxford and wishing later we could have stayed longer. Your writing gave me that longed for visit to the streets, buildings, and life of that incredible place. Having read A Severe Mercy years ago as well as devouring most of C.S. Lewis I felt connected to just have you refer to these “lampposts” from my life. God’s ways amaze me again as I read the journey he prepared for you at Oxford and in which you found His love and grace. I shared the book with my daughter, who is your age. She found it compelling and has recommended it to a friend who has a friend who in her self-assurance and intellectual abilities and self satisfying answers does not see her need yet for a Savior. May God use what you have shared to stir her heart and draw her to Himself. Thank you for sharing your gifts. God bless you and your family.