Friday, February 24, 2012

Remember that you are dust...

With the the start of Lent on Wednesday, many of us have begun a season of fasting and penance where we reflect on our mortality and the fleeting nature of human life. Earlier this week I had a visitor ask me if I thought Flannery's lupus contributed to her rather dark outlook on human nature. It's hard to say to what, if any, extent it did. However, I believe that the diagnosis of the lupus and the disclosure of that diagnosis had much to do with her choice of literary themes. When Flannery came down with the disease she was only 25 years old, an age when most young people (especially these days) still think they're invincible. Death isn't even on the radar. Not so for Flannery O'Connor. Since her father died of lupus nearly a decade earlier, the diagnosis was withheld from her as it was thought at the time to be the kind thing to do. It was during a return trip to Connecticut in June of 1952, however, that her friend Sally Fitzgerald told her the exact nature of her illness (Brad Gooch: Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, pp. 214-216). Realizing that her life was going to be cut short, Flannery went to work at once writing so many stories where death is a major theme - be it physical death (e.g. Greenleaf), spiritual death (e.g. The Life You Save May Be Your Own), or both (e.g. A View of the Woods). This post is not the place to delve into a topic that could be the subject of a book, but it is clear to me that O'Connor's acute awareness of her impending mortality profoundly affected her writing. Flannery, however, was not one to indulge in a glum moroseness. Instead, her stories reflect an artistic vision that is ultimately comic. She makes us laugh, yes, but also, and more importantly, O'Connor affirms that the human drama is a divine comedy. In the end, as the visionary Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
- Mark