Monday, May 14, 2007

The Wasteland and Children of Men

By Andy.

In my last post I discussed how easy it was for me to be emotionally disengaged from the process of trying to conceive. For a good while, I was simply cruising along with life while Michelle was, largely unbeknownst to me, experiencing some pretty intense pain. To some degree, this has been an ongoing issue for me. Even after my initial realization that I had been living with my head in the sand for quite some time, it was still a challenge to identify with the pain my wife was feeling on a daily basis. As Michelle has already pointed out, it wasn’t my body telling me each month that I wasn’t pregnant, and for that reason (at least in part) it was nearly impossible for me to feel—I mean really feel—sadness on the scale that my wife did.

For some reason, things began to change for me when I started to view the problem of infertility on a universal scale. It started when I was reading T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Wasteland. Any English major who’s completed at least a few semesters can tell you that this poem is one of the most important pieces of American literature. What they could also tell you (could, but probably wouldn’t, since it would betray some lack of genius on their part) is that it is a brutally difficult poem to decipher. I usually get the itch once a year or so to pull out my volume of Eliot and give the poem a reading just to see if there’s some new part of its mystery I can uncover. It was about two years into our struggle with infertility and I was studying Eliot and suddenly things started to connect. It was really so simple. Here the poet was attempting to communicate the torment and spiritual bankruptcy of an era, and he’s turning to imagery from ancient fertility and vegetation myth and ritual. This is one of the first things you learn about The Wasteland when you study it in school, but I was just now really getting it. Suddenly I sensed on a deeper level not only the spirit of the poem but also the weight of what my wife was going through. In my mind, not being able to have a baby was now linked in some way to other forms of barrenness we experience in this life—things like a famine that destroys the food supply or the decay of a civilization ravaged by a war that claims the lives of most of a generation.

Maybe this sounds a bit over the top—I’m willing to admit that I have a personality inclined to make these sorts of far reaching connections. It likely comes from spending large quantities of time trying to make art. But still, I don’t think this line of thinking is completely off the mark. When we experience infertility, famine, or war, we are experiencing the results of the Fall—things as they were not originally intended to be. We sense this on a very fundamental level. Seeds are supposed to produce fruit. Eighteen-year-old boys aren’t supposed to die by the sword. And when a husband and wife make love, it should be a life-bringing act.

I know. It shouldn’t have taken some pretentious piece of poetry to show me all this, but it did. I’m thankful that God used it in that way.

Here’s an indication of how things have changed over the past few years: A few months ago I went with my brother to see a movie called Children of Men. It’s set at some point in the future, in a time where no woman has been able to have a baby in about 20 years due to some unexplained reason. Most of civilization has collapsed into chaos, and the only country with a government still intact is essentially a police state. It’s a pretty sick situation, and then, miraculously, this young girl turns up pregnant. The effects that her pregnancy and the birth of her baby have on this ruinous scene are pretty astounding (I’ll keep it vague in case you haven’t seen the film yet). Anyway, the movie killed me to watch. I felt like I was seeing on a macro level what we had been experiencing on a smaller scale for the past five years. It didn’t seem too far-fetched to think that if the whole world was infertile and barren that the result would be close to what the film portrayed.

In subsequent years, I have taken an interest in the various ways barrenness and infertility shows up literally and figuratively in scripture. It’s pretty amazing. But I’ve gone on pretty long, so I’ll save that for another post.

Next Post: 5/17/07

1 comment:

jimmy ( said...

Wow. I've never thought of infertility this way, in its more broad terms. It shows just how important it is to create in all kinds of ways, to speak and act against death and barrenness of our world. Yeah, who knew that old Eliot could actually point to some good, clean, coherent truth?

I'll be praying for ya'll today.