The film The Reader was a compelling selection for two people who love literature and are intrigued by World War II-era story lines, so it won out last night over several other worthy releases on a rare trip out to the cinema. Just as expected, the work's powerful themes of guilt, redemption and misplaced loved resonated profoundly with pockets of my soul that still reflect at times on choices made across different epochs of my life. The film poignantly and tragically illustrated the impact of just one or two of these choices, and how they can affect countless others or simply change one person's way of relating to others for many decades.
As we drove home, I found myself particularly stuck on a series of poor choices I allowed between the summer of my 21st year and the summer of my 23rd. I realized last night that decisions I made or words I used caused hurt to three different people, each of whom were very different from the other and had roles in my life that were quite distinct from one another. The hurts all took place in a vacuum, none of them interrelated except for the common denominator of myself, caught up in my own reactions, desires and fears, unable or unwilling to see the larger picture at the time.
It's easy for many to chalk such things up to the immaturity and recklessness of youth, but as The Reader editorializes, harm you receive or harm you inflict can leave even the smallest nick upon your heart. Just a slight abrasion, perhaps, or the dullest of aches that is barely perceptible on most days. We can put lots of energy into segmenting buckets of our past from our present state of mind, but these rusty old containers continue their slow drip, and at unexpected moments a tiny drop lands on our tongues and we remember.
Just as the film ended on a note of atonement, I continue to find that unexpected, even larger drops of healing and restoration are always drenching the ground before me. Sometimes I am paying attention and taste the grace of this redemptive rain. Sometimes I even make better choices in the present as a result, not always. Similar to how The Reader depicted several time periods of the protagonist Michael's life in order to capture its textures and unfinished business, so I recognize how I am an incomplete work–ever groaning toward the fullness of the life I was meant to live and stumbling an inch or two closer on most days.