The view from my back yard used to be a treasure. We looked out over all the brown hills and valleys between us and the San Diego/Tijuana border. On clear days with breeze from the east we could see the islands off the Mexican coast.
But a fellow bought a neighboring lot, directly below. He graded a pad and would not have obstructed our view except he wanted to be higher, perhaps wanting to make our view his own. So he dumped tons of fill dirt, raised the pad and built a two story McMansion that appears inspired by the architecture of Comfort Inns. And all the while during construction, his workers parked on my property even when I asked that he keep them from doing so. Not that I begrudge parking spaces. What I begrudge is people who don’t ask.
So I developed a lousy attitude about this fellow. And one day when my daughter was visiting, while I told her about the guy and my attitude, I recalled Christ calling us to love our neighbor and decided to try on the words literally.
I asked Darcy, “So how am I supposed to love this guy?”
She said, “Well, you could start by trying to understand him.”
Strange, I thought, that a fairly smart man old enough to have a grown daughter had not yet fully recognized understanding as the beginning of love.
Just today I came upon this quote from Agatha Christie “It is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.”
When people look ridiculous, we glimpse a part of them that’s real, not their public pose. And seeing them as they really are, even for a moment, allows us insight, understanding.
In the Harry Potter series, a spell is presented that renders frightening creatures unthreatening. The wizard envisions a comic image of the creature then flicks a wand and pronounces. “Ridiculous” (with Latin inflection). The creature then appears as the comic image the wizard conjured, such as a spider on roller skates.
Which tells me that when creatures (people included) appear ridiculous, we no longer feel threatened. We realize they are as vulnerable as we are, which opens us to understanding and love.
When we seek understanding, we see that the most awful people have their reasons for being awful. We may not find that their reasons justify their actions. We may not pardon them. But we might turn from pure to reasonable anger, which is at least a meager work of love.
So should writers approach the characters we create. We certainly aren’t called to approve of them or their actions. But since Jesus would call us to love them, we can probe their lives and motives, helping ourselves and our readers begin to understand, and so begin moving toward love.