Thursday, March 21, 2013


The world is dark, and light is precious.  Come closer, dear reader.  You must trust me.  I am telling you a story...

So begins Kate DiCamillo's story The Tale of Despereaux, "being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread."

Read it.  Even if you think you're too old for such tales.  This is not a story for children:  it is a story for humans.  And, by NO means opt instead to watch the cartoon/film version of this tale - it is stupid, weak, and completely misses the point of the story.

One of my favorite characters in DiCamillo's tale is the rat Chiaroscuro, called Roscuro for short.  His parents gave him this name as a joke, because rats have a sense of humor (acccording to DiCamillo) and because they hate light.  The word chiaroscuro refers to the arrangement or interplay of light and darkness together, like in a painting. Light and shadow, the revealed and the veiled, in juxtaposition.

Roscuro is an unusual rat because he falls in love with light.  In his enthusiastic pursuit of light, he finds himself at a royal banquet.  Light, music, glittering jewels, delicious aromas...Overwhelmed by the brilliance and sparkling beauty around him, Roscuro inadvertently falls into the queen's soup - which then triggers a series of very tragic events, one of which is that Roscuro is forever after banished to the dark and damp of the castle dungeon, never to live in the light again.

If only someone had taken the time to try to understand why Roscuro was at the banquet in the first place!  If only someone had asked a few questions!  If only the king and his court had used their heads, instead of reacting purely out of emotion!  If only...if only, so much heartache and suffering could have been avoided.  Instead, Roscuro was left to deal with the trauma of the events at the banquet - alone.  His heart was broken, but no one offered help or healing.

DiCamillo writes:  "There are those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken.  Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman.  Such was the fate of Chiaroscuro.  His heart was broken...  [He] put his heart together again.  But it was, alas, put together all wrong."

Ever felt like that, like Roscuro felt: like there was a broken place deep in your heart that was so long neglected that, once it stopped hurting so bad, you found it had "healed" crooked and lopsided, like the pieces had grown back together all wrong?

I have.

What do you do with a heart that has had to heal itself, and that has done so in a crooked and lopsided way?  Is there hope of ever truly healing, completely?  Of leaving behind the dull ache of sadness that settled in after the stabbing pain subsided?  Of being free of the Frankenstein stitches and the gristly knots of scar tissue?  Even Kate DiCamillo admits, "But the question you want answered, I know, is did they live happily ever after?"

I'm not sure yet of the answer to such questions, but I think the answer lies in another story, a much Bigger Story, also about a broken heart and lasting scars.  The One Great True Story.  And as Gregory the jailer tells the small mouse Despereaux, deep in the dark dank of the dungeon, "Stories are light.  Light is precious in a world so dark.  Begin at the beginning....make some light."

My brain is mulling this one over, and I will likely write a related post next week.  In the meantime, if you, like me, have a heart that has been broken and then healed lopsided, well, you are not alone.  We two have something in common, Dear Reader.  And this - the state of our crooked, sad hearts - this is most emphatically not the end of the story.  There are pages yet unturned.

We don't have to hide our scars...they remind us of where we have been, but not who we are. - Jonny Diaz

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