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As the protagonist of Phantastes awakes under the beech tree (which wants to be a woman), he reflects on his desire to stay with her, and then narrates, “I sat a long time, unwilling to go, but my unfinished story urged me on. I must act and wander.”
Isn’t that a great summary of almost every moment of life? My wife wrote some beautiful words about Hutchmoot, which I cannot even begin to parallel. Please read the whole thing, but let me quote the ending:
I am home. And while my time on this street has been short, I can clean up this neighborhood in what little time I have left. I can plant trees and I can teach people to garden and I can paint buildings. But closer to the heart of what it means to revitalize, I can tell stories. With words, I can shape a context for those roaming this bleak landscape. God comforted me with story. I will care as I have been cared for.
Tricia and I are wrestling deeply with what was, three years ago, a seemingly clear call from God to move into a tough part of the city, and what is now a seemingly clear call to leave. There are conflicting emotions: Are we leaving because we’re afraid and pulling a Jonah? (I guess we’ll find out if a whale spits us back up on Grand Avenue.) Or would hanging on here simply be an act of pride? (“What will they say if we leave – that we failed God’s calling?”)
The “For Sale” sign is stuck in our yard. We know we’re supposed to go. Our unfinished story urges us on. We must act and wander.
Why do I mention this? It struck me, as I read it in Phantastes, that all of us are part of unfinished stories. This is obvious enough, and in MacDonald’s book, the protagonist makes that decision in isolation, and moves on. In our world, we bump constantly into other people who are also in the middle of unfinished stories. A hundred of us gathered at Hutchmoot, and we were a hundred unfinished stories, all intersecting in the same time and space.
We intersect with other unfinished stories every day, and this should cause us to be filled with grace toward one another. I think we’re often like the taunting fairies just a few pages earlier in Phantastes: “Look at him! Look at him! He has begun a story without a beginning, and it will never have any end! He! he! he! Look at him!” It’s easy to forget that each of us is stumbling through fairy land with hardly the faintest clue what direction we’re heading in, and it’s easy to taunt each other instead of encourage one another.
For my part, this whole transition into and out of the city will hopefully remind me that I’m as clueless in my unfinished story as everyone else is in theirs. I hope it helps me to walk with others when our stories intersect, rather than taunt and jeer, because they’re not walking like me, or in the same direction.