I do enjoy it when a fictional character bucks conventions and throws caution to the winds. This very mien permeates my own life choices. Cousin Earl, when I professed my desire to move to the big apple, called me insane and a human-lover, among other things. But I paid him no heed, and here I am today – larger than Life (speaking of that, who is this Monsieur or Mademoiselle “Life?” I am dying to meet him/her so that we might compare our respective statures and put this debate to bed once and for all).
Kristin Valdez Quade has dreamed up a character who fits this model of non-conformity to a T. In Quade’s recent story in The New Yorker, “Ordinary Sins,” we meet a young pregnant woman named Crystal working as a bookkeeper and administrator for the parish in a small community. The bland routine of her job is interrupted by the prying of the effusive, formerly-alcoholic Father Paul, who believes his tenure in the parish is being threatened by the arrival of a stern new priest from Nigeria. We learn of Crystal’s vague dread concerning her impending motherhood, and a spate of indiscriminate promiscuity that occurs in tandem with her growing worries. In a tense confrontation, Father Paul reveals that he has “fallen off the wagon,” and Crystal surprises herself by demonstrating a genuine and decidedly maternal compassion for the priest who she had so recently despised. However, Crystal must make a sacrifice in order to truly support Father Paul.
Quade – one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Honorees this year – offers us a strikingly heartfelt look inside the psyche of a young woman facing the inexorable approach of a life-changing event. She writes:
She’d thought that she could disdain Father Paul’s kindness, and that it would somehow remain intact: unconditional, holy, and inhuman. Astonishing that she had been capable of such faith.
We all face moments where we must make a sacrifice for our own good. In my case, it was leaving the creature comforts of the forest for the blare and bellow of the urban jungle. You might think of these moments as forked paths in the lush wilderness of life (or Life?). In one direction lies a mystery dragon, and in the other, a mystery chimera. They each carry a delicious sandwich clenched in their jaws… And, ah, money as well. Yes. $12 American dollars! Er. You see, the point is, that they offer great riches, but also danger. Ahem. You see my point?
Have you ever been forced to make a sacrifice, dear reader?