I'm thinking about all of this as a result of reading the second book in the Sanctum trilogy, The Boy, by Madhuri Blaylock. This offering is even better than its predecessor, The Girl, which I wrote about here. As a fantasy novelist, Ms. Blaylock is able to create the perfect construct to highlight this theme of transformation and its complex consequences. And here comes the spoiler alert--in the book, one of the main characters, Wyatt, is killed by a former brother-in-arms.
Wyatt is killed after he's had his life upended by the harsh realization that everything he believed about his life and the cause to which he's committed his life is a lie. He is killed shortly after he falls in love with the being he had been ordered to destroy. He is killed shortly after everything he knew to be ground truth was revealed as quicksand. But then, because this is fantasy, Wyatt is brought back to life. Mostly. The fragments of his soul are gathered and reconstituted and he is alive again—more or less. But he is changed, both physically and mentally. His once-blue eyes are now green. His memory has significant holes in it. He is not the same. And in his difference, his relationships are affected too. And all of this is a wonderful metaphor for the truth we find in similar—figuratively—situations in real life.
I love the way Madhuri Blaylock captures how, in reality, we have to gather the shards of our being and put them back together after a trauma or major life-changing event, like a death, a job loss, a major illness or injury. And I especially love that there is a physical manifestation of the change to signify the internal changes in Wyatt. I have wished in the past, after a death, for example, that people could see--actually see-- that I wasn't the same person anymore, that the changes that had been wrought by the circumstances of my life had transformed me to the point that I could no longer be related to in the same way, nor could I be assumed to react in ways that might be familiar to those who knew me before.
For me, though, as for most of us, that didn’t happen. For others, more unfortunate, perhaps, the changes are so profound, both physical and emotional, there are more obvious signs, like Wyatt's change of eye color. The world knows that someone is no longer who they were before when they’ve lost an arm or a leg or an eye, for example, through war or accident. And when the evidence of their transformation is as overt as that, we know to tread lightly, and to take care in our approach.
But maybe I’m being presumptive in suggesting that an outward manifestation of internal transformation is a good thing. Wyatt certainly didn’t think it was a good thing when those around him, particularly Dev, treated him with something akin to horror, or worse, pity. So maybe it’s better not to wear our internal landscape in our outward appearance. Hard to say. Maybe the grass is greener for all concerned in most situations, and it doesn’t really matter in the end.
And then we have the question of what happens after the transformation occurs and we are faced with the new reality of our world. Do we reject it, like Wyatt? I know that I’ve tried that approach--cursing the Universe for leaving me bereft and vulnerable. What happens when we can’t accept the reality of our transformation? Do we fight it? Collapse into ourselves? Push others away who would try to help? I think many of us do all of those things when faced with major changes in our lives. Are there better ways of responding to major transformation? I believe there are, and that with practice, we learn to accommodate change in a healthy, constructive manner. But it does take practice, because the first time our worlds get rocked, it is unclear that the essence of who we are remains the same, regardless of changing circumstances, and regardless of how those circumstances change us.
After a trauma, it may seem that we are not the same people not only to others, but also to ourselves. Getting to know ourselves after a major change is challenging, another reality that Ms. Blaylock captures perfectly. Asking others to get to know us anew is even more difficult. And if we doubt, as Wyatt does initially, that the core of who we are remains unscathed, then the task is even more difficult. Fighting our way back from the brink of that doubt, as Wyatt does, is the work that we are called to do as we negotiate life’s vicissitudes. If we remain true to ourselves—if we know the truth of who we are—then we can shoulder the inevitable burdens of life. This is the truth that both Wyatt and Dev come to in The Boy, and it’s done with excruciating authenticity. As in life, it takes time, and effort, and perseverance.
But the result is worthy. The result is valuable. If we can come back from the brink of despair and desolation, no matter how bad the trauma and no matter how difficult the transformation, then we get back to ourselves. We can reclaim the shards of our essence and return to life and to love. Not everyone makes it, I’ve seen. But it is inspiring when it happens, just as it is to read about in The Boy. And it reminds us, or at least it should, to take the time to be confident in our essence, so that we can find our way back when the planet tilts for us and we must gather ourselves anew, and come back to who we are, and who we strive to be.