Books, Grief, and #Outlander

Sometimes you just know things. A thought, unbidden, rises with certainty. Not something hoped for. Not something expected. But something Known.

When I heard my mom had a mass in her lung, I knew it was cancer. And before the radiation and chemo and pet scans, I knew–just as sure as autumn’s days grow shorter–that when the season’s chill gave way to cold, she would also give way to something, to whatever comes After.

This brave, wise, and faithful woman taught me to live. Now, as these numbered days march on, she teaches me the Final Lesson. How to die.  The one thing that she cannot teach me is how to go on without her.  This lesson I must figure out on my own, and a lonely, stumbling journey it is.

Raised with books as I was, I look there for solace: I try to find escape; I try to find guidance.  Something to hold onto when I can no longer hold her.

image

A pile of books waits for me next to my bed.  The spines cracked with use.  Pages dog-earred.  C. S. Lewis shared his own journey in A Grief Observed, and I cling to it like a map out of the abyss.  I spare a thought for the repose of his own soul, and in the next ragged breath I say a word of thanks for Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series.  Mere words on paper, to be sure, but words that have helped me untangle thoughts, find hope and faith, soothe both anger and fear… Now I turn to those beloved books in the blind panic of a grief much dreaded.

Considering the span of years (and the time period) which Gabaldon’s books cover, it is only natural that death and loss occurs.  Claire’s parents.  Jamie’s parents.  Murtaugh. Ian Murray. Frank. Mrs. Bug. Faith. Even merely presumed deaths cast a long shadow across the page.

We see death through the eyes of so many characters.  And, in them, we see ourselves  Every stage of grief is represented:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then finally…acceptance.

Last night I reread the pages of Ian Murray’s death.  I grabbed the book off the pile and took it with me to my son’s football practice.  The heat of the day had dissolved into a crisp breeze, and the Oklahoma sun was blazing pink and yellow behind the black of the shadowed tree line.  Under dusk’s shadows, I flipped through the pages until I found it.

The death was neither easy nor poetic, but his soul’s final passage was a gentle slipping away.

He didn’t speak again but seemed to settle, his body diminishing as life and breath fled from it.  When his last breath came, they waited in dull misery, expecting another, and only after a full minute of silence did they begin to look at one another covertly, stealing glances at the ravaged bed, the stillness in Ian’s face–and realized slowly that it was over at last.

Despite the fact that we know it is coming, we never quite expect it; we wait for a breath that never comes, and glance at one another for confirmation.  Is this it?  Is this all?  We always want there to be more.

They move on.  Then we move on.  We proceed with preparations.  Busy ourselves with What Must Be Done.  But realization finds us in the quiet moments.  It always does.

When Jamie and Jenny find a quiet moment together, Jenny asks her brother the thought that has lingered in her mind despite her distractions:

“Where d’ye think he is now?” Jenny asked suddenly.  “Ian, I mean.”

He glanced at the house, then at the new grave waiting, but of course that wasn’t Ian anymore.  He was panicked for a moment, his earlier emptiness returning–but then it came to him, and, without surprise, he knew what it was Ian had said to him.

“On your right side, man.”  On his right.  Guarding his weak side.

“He’s just here,” he said to Jenny, nodding to the spot between them.  Where he belongs.”

This is what I am holding on to…that long after I stop waiting for the breath that never comes, I will always find her, just there, guarding my weak side.

Casting Claire (or How To Stop #Outlander Casting Bashing)

 

Claire_Fraser_(Outlander_TV)
Wait…are her eyes brown in this picture?

Her hair is brown, curly, and rather unruly.  Her eyes are the color of whisky; they are hawkish and observant[i].  At 5”6, her nose fits neatly in the hollow of Jamie’s chest.  Despite her generous bum and her full bosom, she is trim.[ii]  In the first book, Claire responds to Jamie’s blurted inquiry of “How much do you weigh, Sassanach,” with the unguarded answer of “Nine stone.”[iii]  These are the physical attribute of Claire—this is what she sees when she looks in the mirror.  Although, to be fair, considering the fictional life she lives, she doesn’t always have one to hand.  But that’s perfectly fine, because more often than not, Claire does give a rat’s ass if she looks “proper” or not.

Besides her lack of preoccupation with appearance, one of the things I love best about Claire is that her appearance is not static.  It changes.  She changes.  During times of trial and hardship, she loses weight; her stomach becomes nearly concave.  One cold winter, when activity is understandably limited due to the weather, Claire describes herself as “squidgy.”[iv]  Her hair starts to turn, some strands fade to white while others take on a silvery sheen.  Her ankle is marked by a broken vein.  Faint stretch marks are a testament to her feminine form.

And yet, based on (or in spite of) the words on the page, readers undoubtedly find themselves in Claire:

She is tall like me (…or short like me…)

She is curvy, like me (…or thin, like me…or has a round rear-end, like me…)

This seeing ourselves in the characters may be one of the reason that readers be so emotionally invested in the appearance of their beloved book characters when they do finally make an appearance on the screen.

Unfortunately, whenever a character is cast, it seems that the Appearance Police make their own appearance…

Hmmph, Brianna’s hair is so not that shade of red.  Cant’s they just use the dye they use for Jamie?

Claire’s eyes should be whisky colored.  Seriously, how hard would it be to wear contacts?

Brianna should be taller.  Geez, can’t she just, like, wear some platform shoes?

Roger’s hair should be blacker.  *produces bottle of hair dye and waves it threateningly*

Claire is too thin (…or too curvy).

Jamie’s hair is too short (…or long….or red…or curly…or fuzzy…)  Because, you know, they totally had some great hair products back in the 1700s… Bear grease, anyone?

Admittedly, it seems like the screams of outrage are louder for the casting of the female characters.  Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall having heard too much drama over the casting of Dougal (Disclaimer: I love Graham.  Seriously.  Not hating on Graham.  But, if you want to get picky, he really doesn’t look like Book Dougal.  And yet…no drama.  But geez, let poor Catriona rock her own eye color rather than some boozy hue and OMG! The Skye[v] is Freakin’ Falling!).

It seems that of All The Things I Stage Whisper To My Husband While Watching Outlander, none of these things are about physical attributes.  Mostly, because I tend to read characters and develop a “sense” of them rather than a mental image.  So I’m kind amazed when I see how absolutely rabid some[vi] of the Mental Imagers have with regard to the casting.

I just don’t get it.

But as I read all of the Twitter (and Facebook) outrage over the latest round of castings, it made me want to understand.  The best I can come up with is this:  maybe those qualities that the Casting Blasters believe they share with the main character weren’t retained, and it makes them sad to miss that perceived connection.

Maybe not.

I dunno.

But I do know that Jamie loved Claire when she was bony and when she was squidgy.  He loved her when she was his brown haired lass, when glints of white shone in her curls, and even when her head was shaved.  He loved her pre-stretch marks, and he loved her even more when the marks—these tangible evidence of the life they created– wove their silvery web across her stomach.  He loved her unconditionally.  Because Jamie loved the essence of Claire…not her appearance.

While lovely, Claire was so much more that that.  Jamie knew it.  Hell, even Lord John knew it:

“When he began to speak of you, both of us thought you were dead,” he pointed out.  “And while you are undoubtedly a handsome woman, it was never of your looks that he spoke.”

To my surprise, he picked up my hand and held it lightly.

“You have his courage,” he said.

 *Clears throat.*

*Wipes tear.*

*Drains whisky glass.*

So, I am thinking that maybe it would help if instead of Casting Bashing, we channel our inner-Jamie and wait and see how an actor/actress actually acts before we judge him/her.  We need to give them time to “show us what they got,” so to speak.

This approach works really well with fictional characters…come to think of it, it works pretty well for Real Life People, too.

 

 

[i] “She turned to Roger, her gaze an unsettling amber.  Her eyes always reminded him of hawk’s eyes, as though she could see a good deal father than most people.”  Voyager.
[ii] And this is where I would tuck in the quote about her flat belly that I recall from Voyager, when she is appraising her appearance and wondering how she will look to Jamie, after all these years… or at least this is where I would put the quote if I had book to hand and could find it at the moment
[iii] Or 126 pounds.  I rather like that she “owns” each pound; her answer is neither coy nor self-conscious.
[iv] To which Jamie responds something like, “I like ye fat.”  A response that made me crush on him pretty hard, and which every male would be well advised to learn and use when needed.
[v] See what I did there?
[vi] Please notice that I said “some,” not “all.”  If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t assume I am trying to shove your foot into it.

Why I Encouraged My Teenage Daughter to Read #Outlander

When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too.  I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).

Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.

So this was what grown-ups read!

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.

No, that was a given.

This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.

Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.

I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.

Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.

So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.

In fact, I encouraged it.

I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.

So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.

“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.

The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust.  We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.

I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.

 

Depression, #Outlander, and a New Year’s Wish

When you take away the twinkling lights and beloved carols, the bustle of family underfoot, and the sweet anticipation, winter can seem just…cold. Maybe the feeling is held at bay until after the last of the wadded up wrapping paper finds its way to the trash bin, or perhaps it creeps in not long after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. But it comes. It always comes.

The frightful weather outside no longer seems delightful, instead of throwing another log on the fire and shouting for the storm clouds to do their worst you wonder just how much firewood there is left, and worry how the roof is holding up, and if your pipes might freeze.

Laundry piles up as you put off the wash until the temperature can fight its way back above freezing, and suddenly the same four walls that seemed so cozy and inviting now seem to close in around you. The family you love seems to get on your nerves, and you spend an inordinate of time hiding in the bathroom just for a moment’s peace.

You start to notice the gaps . . . Those dark spaces that used to be filled by someone you loved. You are reminded of the traditions that fell away this year, since the one who carried them out is no longer around to do so. Perhaps there were angry words before the absence, or maybe there was no time for words at all. The were just . . . gone. Or maybe they lingered until there was nothing left to remind you of the person that once was, and you wished you could recall something more than the weakened shadow with which you were left.

For all the joy the holidays bring, too often they also bring sorrow. Maybe this is why I read so much around the holidays. It isn’t because there is more time (because there isn’t), or because the cold keeps me nestled indoors (because I tend to get cabin fever), but maybe it does have something to do with the fact that books remind us that we are not alone.

Books remind us what adventure feels like, the joy of possibilities, and the intimate pleasure of a story well told. They give us a taste of love when our own life might be lacking it, and a sense of justice of which the world too often seems sadly devoid. Books remind us what honor looks like, and loyalty. They can show us joy, and peace, and light.

But some books, daring books, also remind us what darkness is . . . and how to find our way out of it.

Harry Potter reminds us what true friendship looks like. Friendship with all of its faults and flaws. Friendship that acknowledges both selflessness . . . and jealousy. Friendship that has room for shortcomings, for missteps, and that still finds its way to forgiveness and loyalty. The series shows us love in all of its myriad of forms: the love of true friends, yes, but also the love of brothers, of parent and child, and of mentor and protégé.

But, in these dark days of winter, sometimes love and joy can seem as scarce as the fleeting daylight. Sometimes the emotions more easily identified with are those that mirror the steely grey sky.

J. K. Rowling gave the dark emotions form in the Dementors. These creatures sucked the joy out of those around them, just as depression can steal away whatever joy we try to embrace. If only chocolate could stave off the effects of depression as well as it did the after-effects of a Dementor attack . . .

While Harry Potter may have personified depression with its Dementors (and while a dear friend and I often refer to ourselves during inexplicably cranky/depressive moods as feeling rather “Harry Potter Book Five”), few stories summon forth the darker side of humanity better than the Outlander series.

Diana Gabaldon allows us unimaginable intimacy with her characters. We bear witness to violation, to self-loathing, and to grief. But, more importantly, she leads us through to the other side of the dark journey.

[SPOILER WARNING….]

JAMIE ~

From the beginning, we know that Jamie has had to endure Dark Days. His mother died in childbirth, he believed his sister to be in ruin, his father died of a stroke during Jamie’s flogging, he believed his uncle to have tried to kill him, his wife is nearly burned at the stake, and he tried to return her to her rightful time even though such a move would mean losing his true love. Later, he endures unimaginable brutality to try to save his beloved Claire. And that’s all just in the first book!

The end of Dragonfly in Amber always results in an ugly cry. (Yet I keep reading it, again and again.) Whatever joy he found is ripped from him as he is separated from Claire for twenty long years. In her absence, he fully expects to die and does nothing to try to avoid death. Instead, he embraces the relief he expects it will bring.

Slowly, his life finds purpose again. First, as a de facto chief of the prisoners at Ardsmuir. later as provider for Laoghaire and her daughters. He is uncle to Young Jamie and surrogate father to Fergus. Sometimes, we are reminded, it is enough to keep going for the sake of others until you can find your own reason to continue.

CLAIRE ~

Claire’s strength is one of her defining characteristics. When ripped from her husband and the life she knew, she did not fall apart or expect to be rescued somehow. Other that one brief moment of tears while perched on the lap of a certain highlander, the woman was unwaveringly strong. But even Claire has her limits.

In Dragonfly in Amber, when Claire lost her Faith, her beloved first child, she did in fact seem to have a crisis of faith. The darkness surrounded her and she found little reason to go on. As angry as she was with Jamie, she felt ungrounded and without direction or purpose. Only after she realized that she was needed, that he needed her (what with being imprisoned and all), did she start to regain her sense of action.

In a later book, even when Claire was brutalized at the hands of kidnappers, she did not succumb to the darker emotions that might easily have drowned her. Although there was still much to be dealt with and worked through, she did not give up. As long as Jamie was by her side, she seems able to withstand nearly everything. He is her strength, as she is his. In fact, it seems that Claire is most vulnerable when Jamie, her emotional bulwark, is absent.

Undoubtedly the lowest point for Claire was when she feared that Jamie was lost at sea. Without Brianna to care for, there seemed little reason to continue. She contemplated suicide and found what solace she could at the bottom of a bottle. And the readers bear witness to her nearly ruinous grief. We want to shout to her that Jamie is alive! We want to tell her to hang on, that things get better, and that there are still so many others to live for . . . just as, in real life, when we wish to whisper these same consolations to our own real-life friends and family members who suffer from depression or who are struggling with grief. Hang on. Just hang on . . . it gets better.

YOUNG IAN ~

Young Ian suffers from his own grief. The pain of being separated from his family time and time again has to weigh on him. He also confronts the nearly unbearable struggle of trying to do the “right thing,” and of trying to put others first as he offers himself as a substitute for Roger and, in doing so, must turn his back on his family, his faith, and his heritage. Then, when he finally builds up a life with Emily and they try to start a family, to then suffer the loss of child after child until finally his own wife turns from him. And the aching loneliness he quietly endures as he tries to make peace with his loss . . . only to see in his Uncle Jamie and Auntie Claire the kind of love that he longs for. Remarkably, the constant reminder of their joy doesn’t call forth bitterness, but rather hope. Hope that if they can find their way back to one another, that perhaps he, too, can find his way back to happiness. Young Ian still has the soul of a poet and there remains in him the young lad that, on that day long ago in a brothel, when confronted with his Auntie Claire, long since presumed dead, finds the whole thing to be incredibly romantic. Although he faces his own torments, Young Ian meets them like the poet-warrior that he is.

Not everyone is as lucky.

FERGUS ~

Perhaps that is why, for me, the character whose struggle with his own internal demons touches me most is that of Fergus. Fergus, who in his youth made light of his missing hand and joked about finally being a gentleman of leisure, who never complained about his motherless childhood, who always seemed confident and jovial . . . that this is the character who tried to take his own life, that we didn’t see it coming, THIS is the character, the moment, the desperation that I feel sharpest. Because sometimes you DON’T see it coming. Sometimes, no matter how well loved they are, no matter how many people care, sometimes we just don’t see it.

That is why, in these dark days of winter, as we take down the tinsel and tuck away the garland, it is well to take stock of ourselves and those around us. Depression can set in like winter’s chill, and sometimes you don’t realize how cold you are until you can no longer feel.

A new year approaches. Perhaps instead of resolving to fit into a size four dress or buy something bigger, better, or more expensive, we could resolve to take better care of ourselves . . . and of those around us

My wish for the new year is simple: May your home be filled with books that speak to you, friends who care for you . . . and time enough to enjoy both.

Sons and Brothers and The Weaker Side in #Outlander

As I get older, I choose my friends more carefully (or at least I try to). Those closest to me have been there for quite some time. Some friends have been in my life since…well, since we were the age that my own children are now. So it is easy to see my children’s friendship through the eyes of a child as well as with the wisdom of years—not that my motherly wisdom necessarily accounts for much in their eyes, yet.

I stand back and try to let them learn their own lessons of friendship, if I can. I bite my tongue a lot. Some friendships I know will burn out fast and, sometimes, I am grateful for it. Other times I watch bonds being forged, strengthened, and fortified by time and shared experience, and I find myself hopeful that the bond will stay solid without becoming fetters.

These early experiences with friendships…these earliest relationships…can color what we expect from later relationships. And, to be honest, I want them to expect a lot from their friends and from themselves. People will make mistakes, of course, but how they address their mistakes shows a lot about their character. The ability to say “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong,” and “of course, I forgive you,” give more insight into a person’s soul than if they never had need for forgiveness…whether to ask for it or to receive it.

In case you were wondering when I was going to bring this around to some Outlander reference…wait no more! {SPOILER ALERT}

So, as I am working through yet another re-re-re-reading of the Outlander books, I find myself calling my kids over to listen (yet again) to some of the snippets that tug at my heart. Lately, my son, especially, seems to be the getting the lion’s share of my fair attempts at Scottish-brogued recitations from the stories.

My son, youngest and brotherless, used to beg me for a little brother. So I was so glad when we moved and he found a family of boys down the street ranging in age from nearly new-born, to three, to just-his-age, and to just-one-year-older. Finally he had a band of brothers of the heart. I think it eased his own heart a bit, to feel less alone; in a house full of women, he and his father are woefully outnumbered. It reminded me of Jamie speaking Ian:

“I thought I’d have a new brother,” he’d said suddenly. “But I don’t. It’s just Jenny and me, still.” In the years since, he’d succeeded in forgetting that small pain, the loss of his hoped-for brother, the boy who might have given him back a little of his love for his older brother, Willie, dead of the smallpox. He’d cherished that pain for a little, a flimsy shield against the enormity of knowing his mother gone forever.

Ian had sat thinking for a bit, then reached into his sporran and got out the wee knife his father had given him on his last birthday.

“I’ll be your brother,” he’d said, matter-of-fact, and cut across his thumb, hissing a little through his teeth.

He’d handed the knife to Jamie, who’d cut himself, surprised that it hurt so much, and then they’d pressed their thumbs together and sworn to be brothers always. And had been.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 81, “Purgatory II.”)

When I read that bit to my son, he blinked away some alleged allergen that suddenly seemed to make his eyes a bit watery. I must have suffered a similar affliction, because I suddenly needed a tissue, myself.

As my son gets older, I realize his need for a “brother”–for someone to stand with him, to “have his back” when things get tough. Apparently growing up male is a hazardous business. Hell, growing up at all is rough enough. So I shared this bit between Jenny and Claire with him:

“I remember, when they were young, auld John told Ian it was his job to stand to Jamie’s right, for he must guard his chief’s weaker side in a fight. And he did— they took it verra seriously, the two of them. And I suppose auld John was right, at that,” she added, snipping off the excess thread. “After a time, nobody would fight them, not even the MacNab lads. Jamie and Ian were both fair-sized, and bonny fighters, and when they stood shoulder to shoulder, there was no one could take the pair o’ them down, even if they were outnumbered.”

She laughed suddenly, and smoothed back a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Watch them sometime, when they’re walking the fields together. I dinna suppose they even realize they do it still, but they do. Jamie always moves to the left, so Ian can take up his place on the right, guardin’ the weak side.”

(Diana Gabaldon, From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, chapter 33, “Thy Brother’s Keeper.”)

*grabs another Kleenex* Stupid allergies.

Perhaps just as important as having a brave brother to stand at your side, is to know that the loyalty is unending…to know that it is a loyalty that has need of asking.  It. Just. Is. Friendship like that transcends time. It even transcends death itself:

(Fair warning: grab your Kleenex now, and perhaps a wee dram to fortify yourself.)

After Ian’s death, Jamie and Jenny share a quiet moment of wonder (…and said moment may have resulted in some not-so-quiet ugly-crying at our house):

“Where d’ye think he is now?” Jenny said suddenly. “Ian, I mean.”

He glanced at the house, then at the new grave waiting, but of course that wasn’t Ian anymore. He was panicked for a moment, his earlier emptiness returning–but then it came to him, and, without surprise, he knew what it was Ian had said to him.

“On your right, man.” On his right. Guarding his weak side.

“He’s just here,” he said to Jenny, nodding to the spot between them. “Where he belongs.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 84, “The Right of It.”)

The thing about a true friend, though, is that they never really leave you. It can take a while to understand that. Certainly my ten year old self could never imagine having a friendship continue beyond the grave; but my 43 year old self finds great comfort in that.

I read my son the passage where Young Ian comes across Jamie preparing for battle:

“And what are ye doin’ out here in your sark, then?”

“Washing,” Jamie said, but in a tone indicating that that wasn’t all of it. “And…talkin’ to my ain dead.”

“Mmphm. Anyone in particular?”

“My uncle Dougal, and Murtagh, him who was my godfather. They’re the two I’d most want with me, in battle.” Jamie made a small restless movement. “If I can, I make a wee moment to be alone, before a fight. To wash, ken, and pray a bit, and then…just ask if they’ll bide with me as I go.”

Ian thought this interesting; he hadn’t known either man himself; they’d both died at Culloden, but he’d heard stories.

“Bonnie fighters,” he said. “Did ye ask my Da, too? To go with ye, I mean. Perhaps that’s why he’s about.”

Jamie turned his head sharply toward Ian, surprised. Then relaxed, shaking his head.
“I never had to ask Ian Mòr,” he said softly. “He was always…just with me.” He gestured briefly to the darkness on his right.

(Diana Gabaldon. From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD.)

So, yes, THIS is the friendship I want for my children. THIS is the kind of bond I hope they forge with their friends…their family…their future spouse. I wish for them the kind of love that is constant, and unflinching, and loyal, and without fail. Because the world is hard enough…and knowing that someone is guarding your weak side can make all the difference.

Fragments of Faith and Ian Murray (Religion in #Outlander, Part III)

Balance. It’s all about balance.  At least that’s what I tell myself when Life goes all Black Jack Randall on me. When there are too many bills and responsibilities and too little money and laughter and sleep.  And it’s my birthday later this week, and I despise birthdays.  Long story.  Anyway….

Balance. Yep. And faith. Lots of faith. And perseverance. So. Much. Perserverance.

image(And since my husband assures me that I can relate ANYTHING to Outlander…)

SPOILERS FOLLOW.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  NO SERIOUSLY, THERE ARE LOTS OF SPOILERS.

The past week has required quite a bit of faith and perseverance. It’s been enough to make a woman feel a bit like Job…or maybe some other man I’ve read quite a lot about lately who, likewise, seems to have more than his fair share of troubles, namely: Young Ian James Fitzgibbons Fraser Murray (a/k/a Okwaho’kenha, or “Wolf’s Brother”).

Let me start by saying that I adore Young Ian. Adore him. He may be young, but he has an old soul, and Lord knows he has lived more in his young life that many an older man, and his spiritual journey reflects this.

Young Ian first finds blood on his hands in Voyager, not long after Claire and Jamie’s reunion (excuse me while I grab a wee dram…and some Kleenex…plenty of Kleenex). He seeks solace in the pleasures of the flesh as well as the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Not at the same time, of course.) This seems an early hint at the back and forth, the push and pull, that seems to color the wee lad’s life.

In Drums of Autumn, Young Ian is ordered to leave behind his old ways…to leave himself behind.*

“They say that after that I will be Indian, and I must not speak any tongue but the Kahnyen’kehaka; I canna speak again in English, or the Gaelic.”

He is, in effect, being told to shed his identity.**  Also, of course, he would have been expected to leave behind the religion that had defined him since birth. How could he possibly make such a sacrifice, to turn his back everything that made him who he was? It’s unthinkable. But the wise and selfless soul finds the words for us….

“Ye said to me once, that my life wasna meant to be wasted,” he said. “It won’t be.” He held out his arms. “I willna forget you, either, Uncle Jamie.”

(Please ignore that noise…it is just the sound of my heart breaking.)

Of course, Young Ian doesn’t forget Jamie. Nor does he forget his religion. It does, however, change over time.

Young Ian struggles with reconciling his Catholic religion and Highland heritage with the things he learned and experienced while living with the Mohawk tribe. We get a glimpse at this struggle when he confides in Brianna at the Mammoth site.

At one point, he mutters under his breath.

“What did you say?” She paused, a half- hulled nut in her fingers.

“Oh, it’s no but a— ” He’d struck once more and caught a spark, glowing like a tiny star on the square of char. Hastily, he touched a wisp of dry grass to it, then another, and as a tendril of smoke rose up, added a bark chip, more grass, a handful of chips, and finally a careful crisscross of pine twigs.

“No but a fire charm,” he finished, grinning at her over the infant blaze that had sprung up before him.

Ian confides in Brianna that he has been thinking about God. She seems taken aback.

“What I am thinking,” he said after a moment, his voice much too controlled, “is this. Was it me?”

“Ian! You mean your fault that the baby died? How could it be?”

“I left,” he said simply, straightening up. “Turned away. Stopped being a Christian, being Scots. They took me to the stream, scrubbed me wi’ sand to take away the white blood. They gave me my name— Okwaho’kenha— and said I was Mohawk. But I wasna, not really.”

* * *
“But I wasna what I had been, either,” he went on, sounding almost matter- of- fact. “I tried to be what they wanted, ken? So I left off praying to God or the Virgin Mother, or Saint Bride. I listened to what Emily said, when she’d tell me about her gods, the spirits that dwell in the trees and all. And when I went to the sweat lodge wi’ the men, or sat by the hearth and heard the stories … they seemed as real to me as Christ and His saints ever had.” He turned his head and looked up at her suddenly, half- bewildered, half- defiant.

“I am the Lord thy God,” he said. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. But I did, no? That’s mortal sin, is it not?”

Over time, bits of beliefs and fragments of faith war for dominance, become intertwined, and finally weave themselves in a tapestry of faith. Like his Uncle Jamie, Ian is faith is complicated and hard-won.

His faith is shaped by this sense of duty and obligation. And, at times, by guilt and forgiveness. Sometimes he is the one to forgive and, other times, well, he is mere flesh and blood (okay, okay, he is fictional, I know)…and, as such, sometimes he is the one desperate for forgiveness. Like when he unknowingly takes the life of Mrs. Bug in An Echo in the Bone:

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said gently.

“I know,” he said, and swallowed. “But I dinna see how I can live.”

He wasn’t dramatic about it at all; his voice was simply bewildered. Rollo licked his hand, and his fingers sank into the dog’s ruff, as though for support.

“What can I do, Auntie?” He looked at me, helpless. “There’s nothing, is there? I canna take it back, or undo it. And yet I keep looking for some way that I can. Something I can do to make things right. But there’s … nothing.”

I sat down in the hay next to him and put an arm round his shoulder, pressing his head toward me. He came, reluctantly, though I felt small constant shudders of exhaustion and grief running through him like a chill.

“I loved her,” he said, so low I could barely hear him. “She was like my grandmother. And I— ”

“She loved you,” I whispered. “She wouldn’t blame you.” I had been holding on to my own emotions like grim death, in order to do what had to be done. But now … Ian was right. There was nothing, and in sheer helplessness, tears began to roll down my face. I wasn’t crying. Grief and shock simply overflowed; I could not contain them. Whether he felt the tears on his skin or only the vibrations of my grief, I couldn’t tell, but quite suddenly Ian gave way as well, and he wept in my arms, shaking.

The thing about actually believing in something, really believing, is that it marks you. Ian’s soul has long been marked by his faith, his heritage, his values…and when he unknowingly violates the code by which he lives, it weighs mightily on him.

At the funeral, he faces Arch Bug with to offer compensation, just as his did before when he offered himself to the Mohawks in place of Roger.

“It was by my hand that this”— Ian swallowed— “that this woman of great worth has died. I didna take her life by malice, or of purpose, and it is sorrow to me. But she died by my hand.”

Rollo whined softly by Ian’s side, feeling his master’s distress, but Ian laid a hand on his head, and he stilled. Ian drew the knife from his belt and laid it on the coffin in front of Arch Bug, then straightened and looked him in the eye.

“Ye swore once to my uncle, in a time of great wrong, and offered life for life, for this woman. I swear by my iron, and I offer the same.” His lips pressed together for an instant, and his throat moved, his eyes dark and sober. “I think ye maybe didna mean it, sir— but I do.”

I found that I was holding my breath, and forced myself to breathe. Was this Jamie’s plan? I wondered. Ian plainly meant what he said. Still, the chances of Arch accepting that offer on the spot and cutting Ian’s throat in front of a dozen witnesses were slim, no matter how exigent his feelings. But if he publicly declined the offer— then the possibility of a more formal and less bloody recompense was opened, yet young Ian would be relieved of at least a measure of his guilt. Bloody Highlander, I thought, glancing up at Jamie— not without a certain admiration.

Wrong made right. Making things square, as best as one can. Reconciliation.  Balance. Yes, perhaps that’s it. Balance. Equal parts Catholic and superstitious Highlander and Mohawk…all in perfect balance.

So, yes, it has been a rough week…but I haven’t had to take another’s life, or offer my own as compensation for a wrong, nor have I accidentally killed someone (*knock on wood* the week’s not over yet, and there’s no need to tempt Fate) so, all things considered, I suppose my week could have been worse.

Yes, balance.

Lesson learned, Young Ian.  Lesson learned.

* “He will never come to his house again / his place will know him no more.”  Job 7:10.

** Yep. Shed his identity.  Never fear, though, he manages to forge a new kick-ass self out of all that suffering.  May we all fare so well.

The Conversion of Claire Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander Part II)

Rosary01If Jamie Fraser has the faith I wish I had (the unwavering faith that I strive to have), then perhaps Claire’s faith is a bit closer to my religious reality.  Like Jamie, Claire was also a “cradle Catholic.”  But when we first meet Claire she was (and had never been) a practicing Catholic.  (That isn’t to say that she didn’t have some core beliefs tucked away under the foul mouth and headstrong ways that we all know and love.  That’s just to say that, well, Claire changes over the story.  And her religious beliefs are one of the things that change…or at least deepen and evolve.)

Claire’s initial brush with organized religion might have tainted a lesser person… Certainly her run in with the local priest, circa. 1743, wasn’t an event likely to make her feel welcomed into the proverbial fold and, when later faced with an abundance of Highland superstitions, a visit to Auld Nick’s kirkyard, and charges of witchcraft, one might be able to see her, ahem, disinclination.

But Life (even Fictional Book Life) has a way of making you have to rethink things, and often results in the need to eat your words, totally change alliances, or otherwise transform yourself.  (*Ahem* Not that I’m speaking from experience here).  Yep.  Claire has one of Those Moments.

After saving Jamie from the Wentworth, and their subsequent escape to France and to the abbey, Claire finds a kind of spiritual advisor in Father Anselm.  (And yes, this was one of the scenes that I really, really wish had been on the show.  Feel free to lament the loss with me.)

When Father Anselm and Claire discuss her religion, she tells him that she isn’t Protestant, but she isn’t really Catholic, either.  She isn’t much of anything.  But he explains to her that if she was baptized Catholic, then the mark is still on her.  (You know, kinda like that “J” scar that we all secretly…or not so secretly…wish we had on the base of our hand. *swoon*)

It’s Father Anselm who introduces Claire to the ritual of Perpetual Adoration (and it’s a ritual that Claire takes comfort in more than once in the books).  This time spent in quiet contemplation, alone and yet so very NOT alone, marks the turning point in Claire’s religious metamorphosis.  (And, yes, I do see the change in Claire as being exactly that pronounced.)

Of course, falling through time, having everything you know ripped away from you, and finding yourself in constant danger are certainly enough to make one call out for the help of someone, or something, greater to intervene on your behalf.  Except Claire didn’t.  Or rather, those things weren’t what finally pushed Claire to examine her beliefs.  Those things weren’t what finally formed a prayer on Claire’s lips.

Nope.

Old time, old life, old world be damned.  It was the thought of losing Jamie that made her reach for something, anything, to save him.  It was Jamie that finally evoked a prayer from Claire’s lips.

It was always Jamie.

When situations warranted, the Claire of the later books makes the sign of the cross without hesitation.  The Claire of the later books also routinely blesses Jamie before battle, and she is clearly moved when Jamie invokes the same blessing on her behalf when she goes to deliver a child.  She often utters prayers to saints over the course of the later books.  (Something that Book 1 Claire was not likely to do!)

However, her Catholicism is colored by Jamie’s own and, like his, there is a certain spirituality rooted in Jamie’s Celtic homeland that permeates her beliefs as well.  While not quite as superstitious as her Highlander husband, she finds great comfort in the fact that Jamie knows just the right saint for every occasion, and that he knows that salt keeps the spirits from walking.

Her perfectly rational 20th century certainty definitely took a blow once she went through the stones.  When science and reason can’t find explanation, one must look elsewhere for answers.  Is it any wonder that the things that finally give her grounding, are things based on faith…religion, love, the hope for a future?

Not bad things to build a life around, if you ask me.*

*  Of course, having a strapping Highlander husband around to share that life doesn’t hurt, either. Speaking of which, I’m very grateful for my own Scottish-blooded husband.  (See, honey, I don’t just talk about Jamie.)

NOTE:  For those who might wonder about the use of “conversion” in the title, since Claire did not initially identify as “Catholic,” or anything for that matter, it seems to me that by adopting any form of religious identity she actually did undergo a religious conversion.  (Plus, I’ll be honest, I really like alliteration.)