To stop my brain from degenerating and possibly exploding during a 13-hour layover, I march to the airport bookstore and spend the next half-hour searching for the perfect book. When I read the synopsis of Me Before You by someone named Jojo Moyes, I know I have exactly what I need.
I head for the area I have pre-scouted as the least busy part of the airport, and settle in one of the most uncomfortable chairs I have had the privilege of sitting on, to begin my 13-hour long read. I really don’t know what to expect as I have discovered that when people say “don’t judge a book by its cover“, they aren’t joking around. Many times I’ve bought a book based on its cover (because in truth there’s little else to go on really) and been sorely disappointed.
Me Before You turned out to be one of the more thought-provoking books I’ve read in my life. I mean, the book makes you think. It is deep stuff, no stories 😀 . And I don’t think this was me just generally over-thinking. And now, a brief rundown:
Will is a vivacious man, high-flying job, top earner, handsome ladies’ man with a hot girlfriend. He’s adventurous, and has experienced many of the world’s wonders. He has even climbed Kilimanjaro! How cool is that? Then he has an accident on his motorcycle (of course vivacious Will has a motorcycle 🙂 ) which leaves him with a spinal cord injury that causes him to lose most of the mobility on his body. He has only limited movement in his arms and head, can’t even move his neck. He lives in constant pain, has to take a cocktail of medicines every day, and needs 24-hour care. As you can imagine, he is very bitter, angry, and generally fed-up with life. He has tried to commit suicide.
Lou is a very colourful personality and has just lost her job. Out to of desperation, as her whole family depends on her salary, she applies for the position of Will’s carer not really knowing what to expect. Will is very surly, and ill-tempered, but Lou sticks with the job for the money. Long story short – Lou and Will fall in love. “Great!”, right? Not so much, because Will had already committed to euthanasia (mercy killing, usually for people living in extreme pain with terminal diseases) before Lou came along. He decides Lou’s love is not enough to stay alive for and decides to die anyway. But he leaves Lou inspired to aspire for more in life.
This post addresses how Will feels after the accident (the euthanasia debate is one for another day). His identity as an adventurer who took life by the horns in pretty much every aspect of his life was greatly altered. How can you travel when you can’t walk? How can you ski when you can barely move your hands? How can you do anything when you need someone to feed and clothe you? As you can imagine, his identity was shattered, and who was the new Will going to be? He decided that there would be no new Will, and took his life. He was extremely attached to his old identity and wasn’t interested in defining a new one.
It would be very easy to jump up and say “C’mon Will, you can do it. There are hundreds of people who have survived, and actually thrived, after accidents like this. Don’t give up!” But I really put myself in his shoes, and for the first time I thought about what it must be like to live with disability. What made his case worse (in my thinking) was that he had tasted a life where it was possible to do so many things, and everything had been altered in the blink of an eye. It would be a different thing if he had been born that way (again, in my opinion). I tried to imagine that happening to me. The depression would be so real! It made me remember something that happened to me a few years ago.
My father bought me this cute, snazzy red car as a graduation present. It was my first car, and pretty much my first taste of independent movement. Prior to this, I had always been driven by someone and had to rely on friends and family to move around (as public transport in Lagos is definitely not the greatest). I tell you, I drove this car everywhere imaginable. I became the designated driver for most outings with my friends. I drove in terrains and covered distances that even seasoned drivers would dread. It was that serious.
Then I had an accident. It wasn’t that serious as nobody got hurt (thank God for that), but the car was out of commission for almost two weeks. For the duration, I learnt to use the dreaded public transport and it was then I realised how attached I had become to the car. In my mind, I had become “the girl in the red car”. And when I didn’t have it anymore, I felt incomplete. Imagine that. It sounds absurd, even to my ears; but I felt like a part of me was missing. I was now the girl in the red car with no red car. There were times I would be in the bus thinking, “These people don’t know who I am, they don’t know I have a car.” Like, really. I remember a former classmate of mine driving up to me to say hi while I walked to the bus stop one afternoon. And all throughout the exchange, all I could think was, “Chai, this guy won’t see me in my car o.” Really.
Now this is nowhere near losing an actual part of my body like an arm or leg, or losing mobility like Will did; but this was the first time my self-perception really came to the fore of my thoughts. What really astounded me was the amount of importance I had placed on the car in relation to my existence as a human being, and interactions with other people. And every time I had thoughts like I did in that bus and when I saw my ex-classmate, I was astonished all-over again. I had to keep confessing the ridiculously proud thoughts and reminding myself that I was alive before I got the car, and would continue to live even if I never got it back.
This might not be the case with everyone (I think I’m one of those people who gets very attached to certain objects very easily). But I do know that everyone measures themselves by some certain standards, we define ourselves by some specific things. For you, it might not be possessions, it might be a particular ideal, or an achievement. But what happens when you fall short, or something goes wrong? We are all humans; these things happen. Will your self-esteem be blown to smithereens? Will your identity suddenly become obscure and uncertain? Will you begin to question your self-worth?
As I thought on these things again after reading the book, the Holy Spirit made the answer clear to me. “Your identity should be based on something that will never change.” There is only one such “something”. And as it turns out, it’s a man called Jesus. He’s the same yesterday, today, and will be forevermore (Hebrews 13:8). If I can place my identity in Him, then no matter what changes in my life, I will always have hope, and rest in His supply of love and joy. I know, I know, this is such a great theory and is very hard to put in practice. But like I’ve found, the best things usually come the hardest. And I have determined to make sure Jesus is the centre of my existence. How about you?
This is the longest post I have ever done, and will probably every do 😀 . But that’s because it’s a message that really hit home with me. It’s still something that I have a lot of work to do with – trying not to place so much importance on my possessions/looks/whatever that they become a part of my identity and can’t imagine/manage life without them.