Earlier in the past century, Gene Stratton-Porter writes of similar themes in Freckles. An Irish orphan contracts himself to guard a stretch of forest in Midwest America. He is young, Irish, and one-handed, but he is determined. And in his soul, similar questions about life have festered until infection has set in. His parents obviously didn't want him, just like no one has ever wanted him.
"Me, whose people brawled over me, cut off me hand, and throwed me away to freeze and to die! Me, who has no name just as much because I've no right to any, as because I don't know it. When I was little, I planned to find me father and mother when I grew up. Now I know me mother deserted me, and me father was maybe a thief and surely a liar." (Stratton-Porter, pg. 304)Freckles' story holds the themes of resurrection in his body and his heart. While both of them seem broken almost beyond repair, it is not just the answers that raise him from the grave of his own pain. It is the people who show him they value his life. The young woman who gives him a drink and walks down the street with her arm in his. The rich man who gives him a job and a name. The sweet couple who provide him with a warm home and loving advice. They love him so much that they help him to healing, just like the supporting spouses and children on Relative Race.
Gene Stratton-Porter wasn't the only one to write of these themes. Four years later, another volume appeared in the literary realm celebrating the remarkable adoption of a red-headed orphan girl. She is still just as beloved today. While Freckles only starts to find people in his adult life who love him, Anne of Green Gables explores a child finding a home. Montgomery doesn't spend much time on Anne's inner questions about her parents, only having Anne remark that she's glad her father is named Walter instead of Obadiah. Instead, Montgomery focuses on the present goodness of Anne's new family as she winds her way around the hearts of the people of Avonlea. It isn't until her college years that she receives a clearer picture of her parents. When she returns to the home she was born in and receives the letters her mother wrote, Anne reads for the first time of the adoration her mother has for her. She tells her friend, Philippa, "I've found my father and mother. Those letters have made them real to me. I'm not an orphan any longer" (Anne of the Island). Years later, she names a son and a daughter after the people who valued and loved her, however briefly.
Half a century before these women, an Englishman fiercely contended for the value of human life. Charles Dickens confronted the world with the plight of neglected children and prostitution in Oliver Twist; as he said, bringing the mud of London right into the homes of the ignorant rich. He wouldn't stop. Oliver Twist explores the dark perils of an orphan child as he eventually finds a home where he is loved and welcomed. But Dickens' adults, too, are affected by whether or not they were valued as children. Arthur Clennam from Dickens' 1855 novel, Little Dorrit, contends with a mother who brought him up with sternness instead of love. As his friend Amy Dorrit, herself born to the Marshalsea Prison, learns more about his past, we learn that as a baby he was valued, but the grasping meanness of a shriveled woman blighted his life with harshness. Dickens upholds the sanctity of life in the young and the old, the poor, the mentally troubled. His heart beat for these people he so longed to see bettered. He doesn't only show the devastation of devalued life, but also characters who brought light to the oppressed. In A Tale of Two Cities we see life's value upheld through sacrificial love. In Our Mutual Friend, we see a woman generously reach out to help a suffering family.
In church this week we remembered Sanctity of Life Sunday. Our speaker said that there are many ways we can devalue life ranging from abortion to hurtful words. All of these stories agree with that. So also, they show there are many ways we can value life. In war. In home. In youth. In age. Even in the lives of the creatures we care for. There are so many literary characters we can name who demonstrate this value. Bilbo, who adopted a young orphan hobbit, little knowing he would change the world (Fellowship of the Ring). Bagheera, who saved a young boy from the jaws of a tiger (Jungle Book, live-action). The Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine (The Scarlet Pimpernel). The father on Call the Midwife who accepts a black baby so clearly not his own. Hong-Joo and Jae-Chan, who fight for rightful life in the courtroom (While You Were Sleeping).
It is fitting that we salute these stories. It is fitting that we imitate them. I am keenly aware this week that life is precious. I am also glad our precious Creator, Jesus, ensured that each life has value. Let us live that life to the full. Let us defend others' right to experience it. Let us grieve the loss of it. Let us celebrate those who stand up for it. Let us thank our God who gives it to us.
Who are your favorite characters who value life?