Lessons from ‘Olive Kitteridge': Embracing Complex Lives

 
This month our book club is reading “Olive Kitteridge” By Elizabeth Strout . The book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 
 
It’s a book of short stories in which, Olive Kitteridge, a seventh-grade math teacher and the wife of a pharmacist, is always present in some way or another. The collection of stories are easy to read and impossible to forget. I was fascinated by the book (on many levels) and even though I read the book more than six months ago, the impression it made on me continues have an influence.
Olive isn’t a nice person but as the stories continue, a more complicated portrait of the woman emerges. By the book’s very structure, “sliding in and out of different unrelated stories and different perspectives, it illuminates both what people understand about others and what they understand about themselves“. I think that what appeals to me most about the book – is that by watching one woman’s life unfold one realises that all people are complex, that there is always more to them than our perception. The conclusion one reaches after reading the story is that we need to try to understand people from different viewpoints and its that aspect that has held my curiosity as I have continued to think about this book.
The fact that so much of a person is actually concealed from others, means that labeling a person is actually a superficial act which probably says more about us than the other person. 
 
I fall into that trap all the time. In order to make sense of my world and the people who come in and out I categorize them and having sorted out in my mind what is relevant (to me) about them I flatten their character and often make them one-dimensional. This tendency is not an admirable one. It’s not one of Grace.
From the opposite perspective, I feel wounded when someone evaluates me and then places me in a pigeonhole.  Long before I started my more mobile existence I realised I was often different things in different situations and with different people. Of course, moving between different cultures and countries compounds that. I feel enlivened by friends who don’t need to rationalize everything about me and who don’t feel the need to “fix” me. 

I am more than you know me as…

I loved the way the author of this book gives us many different angles from which to see the same person. It was a reminder that my preference has always been to try to be understanding of people’s multifaceted lives.
 
But in a more radical way, my Heavenly Dad encourages me to be like Him and to go further by loving people unconditionally.
He doesn’t say I first have to understand them, formulate an opinion of them, or only love them when they deserve it, or when they are behaving responsibly or when they are doing things my way or in the way that makes me feel comfortable.
 
And so, my prayer is that I allow His Love in me to love the lives He interfaces with mine. Period.