Do you believe in redemption?
My favorite stories are always the ones where the hero (or the villain) changes his mind at the last minute. Has the big revelation. Calls off the plan to detonate. Saves the hostages, frees his captive. Cries pretty, and sees the light.
You can redeem yourself if you choose it, or you can be granted redemption. Though, to be fair, it’s only redemption if you accept the second chance and actually reform yourself. If you don’t, then that’s just your redeemer continuing to make poor choices.
I was thinking about my favorite stories. The Last Time They Met (Anita Shreve), in which Linda and Thomas both have multiple redemptions, in which they make up for lost time and are able choose differently. (It’s the only book of hers I like; I highly recommend it.) I just finished When We Were Grownups (Anne Tyler), in which Rebecca also has a chance at redeeming herself in the life she could have led. (Tyler is a master.) An American Marriage (Tayari Jones), which was an Oprah Book Club pick this year, is about nothing if not redemption. (What happens to a man who is wrongly incarcerated? What becomes of his life? His wife?)
Even in You’ve Got Mail. The second arc is Joe Fox redeeming himself in the eyes of, ultimately, the only person in his world who deserves any respect; the person who loves books, and just doesn’t sell them (Kathleen Kelly/Meg Ryan).
Why do we love stories like this?
I think it’s more than just wanting to believe we can change. I think, at a deep level, we know that we can change. We have seen it. We have experienced it. We see it on the news: the man whose son was murdered visits the killer in prison for the rest of his life. The woman who participated in a hit and run visits the pediatric paraplegic unit. The man whose wife has been in a coma for twelve years, and he still visits and sings to her every single day, wishing he had when she was still conscious.
Stories of redemption are a reminder that the human being is a flower coming into full bloom. Soon, we will wither. The time to change is now. Our lives are short, and the sun only shines a certain number of hours per day.
Will we be consumed with what all the other flowers are doing, and thinking our petty thoughts about who blocked our light and who is taller and who is sucking all of the nutrients out of our patch of soil? Will we shove the others aside and think me, me, me for the rest of our days?
Or will we turn and face the sun, and become illuminated?