I had a sleep study last night, which was a most unremarkable time (except that I was able to take along a Hamish Macbeth DVD and watch Robert Carlyle in action for a couple episodes). To make matters worse, by the time I woke up, showered, and got discharged, I had missed the coverage of Pope Francis' inaugural Mass. No problem, though. I'm a word guy, and I find myself enjoying the transcripts of speeches and addresses more than watching them on TV--it forces me to use my imagination to re-create the scenery.
As Francis' homily unfolded, he spoke about Joseph, the human father of Jesus. His emphasis was on St. Joseph's role as protector for the virgin Mary and for the baby Jesus himself. Naturally, he transitioned to making some applications for people today, that part of our everyday service to others is protecting those who need it. That's when one line from his sermon really resonated with me.
Only those who serve with love are able to protect.
That, people, is the gospel truth.
Obviously, there are times when people provide safety and security and have little or no emotional connection to others. A policeman can walk his beat and know few people in the area, let alone like them. Security personnel at an arena may have to shield music performers from a psychotic yet adoring throng without caring about whether they are protecting Madonna, Nickelback, or Justin Bieber (you can take fifteen minutes now to purge your stomach at the mention of Bieber).
However, I'd argue that the best protection for the people we are with the most is born out of love.
If someone breaks into my house, I'm immediately on the front lines doing whatever it takes to keep Christy, Joshua, and Lindsay from harm. My motivation? It's not "Well, if I lose any of them, that's one fewer exemption on my tax return..." The desire to protect my family springs from my love for each of them. If (heaven forbid) we have an intruder at school, I have to follow lockdown procedures and get my students to a safe corner of the classroom. My reason? It's not "You know, if I walk out and leave them exposed, I could get fired." I authentically care for them--even the annoying students--and want them to live through the danger.
Not that this comes close to personal survival and affection, but I've found this corollary holds true in writing, in crafting a story. An author is not only one who writes a story. The author is, in effect, a Joseph, the story's protector. As I write, I keep unhelpful storylines away from what I write, like when a little voice inside of me (a process which I call self-scouting) tells me "No, don't do that. That'll come back to bite you in the next chapter." I also have to protect my writing from confusing, or even wrong, details. If a dentist in chapter four has gray hair and blue eyes, I need to make sure I don't contradict those characteristics when he returns to the scene in chapter ten. It means I also have to be careful and selective about the characters I choose. Regarding my novels where detective Cameron Ballack is the protagonist, I've had to think "How will this person shape Ballack's work, Ballack's emotions, Ballack's whole line of activity?" I've thought up some characters, some events, some settings, and then I've had to eliminate them, simply because they would not have been good for my story.
In a way, stories are like our children, in need of shaping and growth. We want to be part of that process and should be. But at times we need to be protectors of our craft just as we must protect our children at appropriate times.
Literature reflects life more than we would guess.