Thursday, March 09, 2006

Off the Shelf: The Curious Incident of the Dog At Midnight

As mentioned in my last post, I'm going to take a deeper look at this book which has been chosen for the On The Same Page, Cincinnati project for 2006.

Christopher Boone, an autistic teenager, discovers a murder: his neighbor's dog skewered with a gardening fork. The police, the neighbor and his father all assume Christopher is to blame. Thus, Christopher determines that he must solve the mystery, just like his favorite detective, Shelock Holmes. Along the way, he uncovers secrets about his fractured family. The reader is sucked into this mystery because the entire book is narrated in Christopher's voice. He sees things that we might not see, and he's oblivious to things that are painfully obvious to us -- and we readers must sort out what is actually going on.

This book will take several posts to process. The first and most obvious theme is the dignity of the narrator. In an interview with, author Mark Haddon says "Here's a character whom if you met him in real life you'd never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world." Haddon writes with empathy for Chris -- there is little lecturing or posturing here. He doesn't shake the finger saying "You should feel for autistic folks!"

Instead, he writes the story straight -- doing his best to be true to the glorious insights and maddening insensitivities that come through Christopher's voice. Many of the characters treat Christopher as a lunatic: one sequence describes Christopher's train trip from his home town to London. Along the way, fellow passengers insult, sneer, and shy away from his curious and at times frightening behavior. We, the readers, see inside his head, and we gain empathy. We see his mind capable of great mathematical calculations and original observations. We see his capacity for affection, despite his inability to understand the concept of love.

What we really see is the innate dignity of humanity. All humans are born bearing the imago Dei, the image of God. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). God doesn't reserve this dignity for only the healthy or functional nor is it set aside as the domain of the attractive or wealthy. God has not given this dignity as the province of a particular ethnicity. God has given dignity as a gracious gift to ALL humans , even those whom we would label as disabled or dysfunctional.

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor." The creation of humanity entails a unique kind of glory and honor. And this honor is due to those who are Autistic, Downs Syndome, Lou Gerhigs disease, and any other form of disability. As a hospital chaplain, I was at times called to neonatal intensive care -- there I saw children born with horrible disabilities who would not survive more than a few weeks. I saw a mother of a child born without a recognizable face -- and she cradled this child in her arms and gave it what love it's short life would have. That motherly instinct to give affecion is but another response to the dignity that every human being carries.

In a world that marginalizes and ignores people like Christopher, we as Christians are called to bring honor to them as best we can. Some have been gifted with more patience and capacity for dealing with the unique challenges that come from disabled folks. But all of us are to recognize that they are bearers of the image of God. Haddon's book is a stirring reminder of this deep foundational truth.

Soli Deo Gloria