The Kite Runner - Part One
Would I ever allow someone to die in my place? What would I do to repay such an enormous debt? Would I ever allow myself to be beaten up in someone else’s place? Would I ever allow myself to be raped in someone else’s place? Would I ever sacrifice my own life in someone else’s place? Would I ever allow someone to be beaten up in my place? Would I ever allow someone to be raped in my place?
I am so easily and so completely ensnared by the brilliant trickery of good writers. At present I am being beguiled by The Kite Runner, a best-selling novel by an Afghani writer named Khaled Hosseini who asks and answers questions much like these in the course of his story. I haven’t finished the book yet, nor have I been able to put it out of my consciousness even when I have put it aside for trivial activities like making dinner, driving Kristiana to her horseback riding lesson, and going to the supermarket. I haven’t been able to eradicate the images of a bomb-strewn Kabul, mutilated villagers, and the people living in terror under consecutive regimes of all types and styles from "my inner flatscreen." How can anyone grow accustomed to the sound of falling bombs? To the tyranny of sadistic gangsters roaming the streets and executing citizens in their own driveways for the least provocation? How does any parent grow accustomed to sending their children to bed hungry while the wealthy, powerful, and well-born can eat meat they themselved cooked? How can anyone run away from such a situation, leave behind loved ones, and make a new life in a new country across one or several oceans? How does one not leave? What prompts someone to return to such a place to atone for wrongs they committed and face the atrocities perpetrated by others?
After I returned from the supermarket this evening, I received the message that one of my dearest friends had called from Vermont to tell me about an NPR show called, “Speaking of Faith.” Tonight’s guest was Anchee Min, a novelist and memoirist who escaped from Communist China after spending years in a forced labor camp. She has written about the sorrow of denouncing her favorite teacher, of being both estranged and deeply connected to her mother, and about coming to America where she now lives, writes, and speaks openly about life in China under the role of Mao. He was her religion, she said. She learned to write that she loved him before she learned to write her own name.
She spoke of her mother and her mother’s faith. Her mother was denounced before the Communist party, suffered with serious illness, and maintained a quiet, persistent faith that Anchee Min credits as her reason for surviving the horrors of Communist China during the cultural revolution. Anchee Min said that if she were asked to consider religion, Christianity in particular, she would have to see how it is lived out. Show me by your example. No need to speak so much about it; “show me the money.” In her mother, she saw inexplicable forgiveness, strength of spirit, and fervency that even communism could not quench. She didn’t need to preach about it or talk about it all the time. Her mother lived it out.
As I near the end of The Kite Runner, I am trying to imagine its conclusion. My hope is that the faith of the protagonist in the value of loyalty and his willingness to live out his newly formed convictions is stronger than his fear of reprisal. My hope is that the earlier mistakes and wrong choices in his life will be atoned for by the living and personal sacrifice that is about to be demanded of him. Redemption comes at a high cost. Forgiveness demands humility, sometimes even humiliation before the one who was wronged. It’s not always necessary to articulate one’s faith verbally; the true test of faith is how it is lived out when no one else will ever know what you chose, in times of crisis when choices are few or non-existent, and when one has the opportunity to walk away in silence, doing and saying nothing at all. I hope Amir is able to pay that high price, to make the life-saving choice he is being asked to make, and will forgive himself for his earlier failings.
When I am in the heat of the “kite fights” of life, hands and soul bloodied, neck, back, and spirit tensed in fear, which will I choose? Will I choose the comfort of acquiescent silence? Will I join whichever crowd is in power so as to save my own skin? Or will I do what I have admonished my children to do so many times: do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – no matter what the outcome? Anchee Min’s mother chose the latter. Amir, the tormented central figure in my current gut-wrenching read stood tenuously at that crucial crossroads when I last tore myself away from him.
I will not be able to sleep tonight unless I find out his decision.