For years, I have not liked dark, gritty, ‘realistic’ stories, but for the longest time I could not put my finger on why. I mean the kind of thing where there’s no hope, everything is covered in dirt, and terrible things are happening one on top of another like a stack of pancakes. Sometimes, these stories have a lot of blood or sex, sometimes not.
Friends would say, “Oh, I understand, they are too dark for you.” Or “They don’t bother me, I don’t find them scary.” But that did not seem to put into words the impression I suffered when reading/watching such stories. I wasn’t scared. Something else bothered me.
Finally, one day last year, the answer came to me: I don’t find them realistic. The more “realistic” the story, the less realistic it strikes me. Why? Because they lack moments of Grace.
Let me explain what I mean. Last spring, during the period when I was discussing this, a friend’s father-in-law died. This was a very sad thing. My friend had been very close to him, and his passing devastated her and shook her family. It was as if they lost a mainstay that kept them going and, on top of this, they had new responsibilities to take care of the mother-in-law, who had been cared for by the father-in-law.
I was not able to attend the funeral, as I was out of town, but what I remember from the descriptions I hear of it when I returned was the looks on the faces of the people who had gone when they talked about him…the light in their faces. Again and again, I heard how they had not realized until the funeral how wonderful this man had been. The experience touched their lives and made them better for it.
The death of this man was a terrible and sad thing, but it brought to our lives a moment of grace.
I have read stories of soldiers in the battlefield suffering terrible conditions, yet often these stories are accompanied by moments of grace…moments when someone rose above their ordinary circumstance to do something generous, something caring, something brave, sometimes even something extraordinary, but not always. Sometimes these moments of grace are small things…but they are small things that stick in the minds of those who experience them.
What is missing from dark, “realistic” stories, in my humble opinion, are moments of grace – moments of hope, those precious moments when we see the silver light of Heaven shining against the clouds of despair. In real life, when things get bad, that is when we are called upon to rise beyond our narrow view of ourselves and exhibit moments of grace. In real life, one can always find signs of hope, if one is willing to look.
What I don’t like about dark, “realistic” works is that they are stories about people who are not willing to look for hope, and that strikes me as unrealistic.