Today concludes our discussion of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” A comment yesterday from Rebecca Reynolds touches on the one character we haven’t really discussed yet: Lucynell the Younger. It was too insightful to leave in the comment thread. Enjoy…and if you are moved to read more from Rebecca, check out her excellent blog, Little Boots Liturgies.

I saw three dimensions to this story. Pragmatic (the old woman), philosophical (Mr. Shiftlet), and the “is-ness” of true spirituality (Lucynell). Lucynell shows several signs of otherworldliness. She is piercingly colorful against the dirty grey of the rest of the story. She has eyes the blue of a peacock’s neck and hair of pink gold. She is ageless. Her hands are useless. When Mr. Shiftlet toys with flame, she scolds him. (Powerful image I won’t explore here.) Lucynell is also a fool, making those awkward errors a person makes when he/she does not make transactions in the consciousness of the common. She has not the ability to hear the world, and no voice to speak into it. She is in the world but not of it. She has no use for philosophy or pragmatism.
As is fitting, she is the fool of the story. (When receptors beyond philosophy or pragmatics have atrophied, anyone who doesn’t communicate on those terms is considered a fool.) The single word she mimics (“bird”) is an often-used symbol for the realm of the spirit, yet she is not even wordly enough to connect verbalization to a physical bird or philosophical symbol. She simply is.

The older I get, the more I realize I have missed “IS-ness.” We busy ourselves with ruminations, and regurgitations, and plans to do things. Yet there is something altogether different to the simple act of being. Spiritually, in particular.

Lucynell raises the same questions of multi-dimensionality that persons of innocence often stir inside me. Perhaps I am projecting because I am an idealist, but I can never shake the feeling that folks with such gifts point to an untapped realm that I am too busy, too educated, and too responsible to hear.

In light of all this, I adore Jonathan’s comments about Mr. Shiftlet’s attempts to be his own savior. The old woman does likewise. Each person is his or her own “Jesus.” The only person in this story unwilling to save herself (including the boy, which is why I see him an accidental prophet, not an angel) is Lucynell.

The life you save may be your own? What irony. As if saving ourselves were the goal. What if Lucynell, sleeping fool on the diner counter, is the story victor instead of the victim?

Right on.

On Monday,we start “The River,” in which a little boy gets run over by some hogs–and that’s the least of his problems.


  • Chris
    6:08 PM, 15 June 2012

    Nice. When I saw her initial comment I almost posted, “And Rebecca just left everyone in the dust on the road to Mobile…”

    • Amy L
      7:55 PM, 15 June 2012

      Agreed.  I am in awe.

    • Rebecca Reynolds
      4:03 AM, 16 June 2012

      Aww, I don’t think that. I love being a part of this community, and the discussions here really urge me to think more deeply about these stories. I’m so grateful for all of you folks.

  • April
    8:01 PM, 18 June 2012

    I was hoping someone would address the “human heart” talk by Shiftlet. Help! 🙂 Is he declaring that his heart is empty, and when the old woman agrees, is she declaring the same about herself? And when Shiftlet repeats this idea after the wedding, is this a reminder to the reader that he has not changed? That the law has not changed him? I may be off here, but it’s safe to say that Shiftlet could use a new heart, but that idea is not even on his radar.

    • Rebecca Reynolds
      8:24 PM, 18 June 2012

      Maybe I am projecting my interpretive grid, but I thought it was sort of like this:

      The truth of human heart cannot be perceived physically. (I.e.: Surgically cutting it out. Exploring it scientifically)

      The truth of the human heart cannot be perceived philosophically. (I.e.: he holds up his hand as if there is weight in it. Exploring it theoretically.)

      Shiftlet says, “”he [the doctor] don’t know no more about it than you or me.'” (He makes that comparative statement twice, BTW. O’Connor seems to be trying to emphasize this.)  In my view, that is one of the truest statements he makes. In all of their worldly wisdom, they cannot understand the human heart.

      The heart is something understood in the spirit realm. Shiftlet continually proposes that he can’t be known, but he is only willing to acknowledge two realms: physicality and philosophy.

      I’m not sure I’m right, but it’s what I heard in that…

      • April
        9:07 PM, 18 June 2012

        Of course! I’m laughing at the fact that I completely missed it. And my 18-year-old daughter just read your reply and said that she had the same thoughts you had! Thanks so much for replying to that. I think I was trying hard to fit some Law v. Grace theology into it and it just wasn’t working and I was frustrated. I expected this reading to be deep, but I am discovering that it is also fun!

    • Jonathan Rogers
      9:35 PM, 18 June 2012

      I would just add that the old woman’s agreement has a lot to do with the fact that she’s not at all interested in any kind of ultimate truth. She’s simply pragmatic. You don’t get the impression that she’s put much thought into her agreement; in the same breath she’s off to the question she really wants to talk about: “Where you come from, Mr. Shiftlet?”

    • Jonathan Rogers
      9:36 PM, 18 June 2012

      And, April, your observation that Mr. Shiftlet needs a new heart but doesn’t much want one–right on. I’m not sure what that has to do with the law…care to elaborate?

      • April
        10:16 PM, 18 June 2012

        I apologize for not having the book with me at the moment, but it had to do with the dialogue after the wedding, the legal action that “satisfied the law” but didn’t satisfy Shiftlet. Shiftlet again mentions the heart and I thought perhaps FO was letting us know that the legal action of the marriage has not brought about any kind of change in Shiftlet, because he’s still talking the same way he did before the wedding. Becca’s reply helped as well as your second reply.

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