Let me start by saying how much I’ve appreciated the presence of Linda, Meg & Geoffrey in this class, especially around your recent exchange. I really want these “classes” (sometimes calling what I offer a “class” seems a little off somehow – in all honesty, I see them more as “opportunities”) to provide people a chance to connect with others, using kindness as both inspiration and a unifying thread. That really seems to have happened with the three of you, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
In terms of the story, it is one I really appreciate. As such, I’m not disturbed by the ending. I don’t think Tommy is being punished by some higher “authority” for not returning the money, either. If I did, I probably wouldn’t like the book so much. I think what causes him to lose the “power” and what causes his illness to return are his own beliefs about it. And I think these beliefs are so deeply ingrained that he doesn’t really recognize them. Let me see if I can explain this better by taking a step back from the story.
To contextualize this, understand that I believe we are all born good. “Pure” might be an even better way to put it but I’m a bit uncomfortable with that word in this context. Anyway, as we grow we are exposed to a society and a way of thinking that naturally influences us and shapes our beliefs. These beliefs allow our society to function as it does, but they also cause us to lose some capacities that I think are natural to humans. What all these may be I can only guess, but I will say that I think babies are extraordinarily intuitive. And if intuition was nurtured and reinforced the way hearing and sight are, I think we’d all grow up using it like we do hearing and sight.
Sticking with the example of intuition, some of us hang on to it more than others. We may even develop it to a certain degree. Those of us that do are often dismissed as “odd” or, worse, as “freaks” or “crazy.” But we are no more odd, freaky, or crazy than anyone who relies on sound and sight for their information. It’s just that we as a society don’t really value intuition. We call it “extra,” as in extrasensory, when it really is just normal.
Again, intuition is just one example. I think there are other things that are natural to being human, things that we don’t currently value or recognize so we just dismiss. Another may be the ability to heal, just like Tommy tapped into. I think that power was always within him. It just lay dormant. And like some of us have a greater gift for hearing things or seeing things, Tommy had a greater gift for healing.
What becomes interesting in this way of thinking is to wonder why the “power” to heal appears so suddenly in Tommy. I have no simple explanation for this, nor do I think Hill, the author, provides us one. In fact, she makes very little reference to it, which I think is good. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. At the end of chapter 13 it appears Tommy is about to die. In chapter 14 he feels that incredible heat that we learn to equate with a healing taking place, after which his pain is gone and he feels better. But Hill doesn’t tell us he is cured. She gently shows us this. I take this as Tommy’s healing power not needing explanation. It just is, just like hearing and seeing are. There is no miracle here. If an explanation is needed, Tommy, being so near death, tapped into something natural within him.
Think of it this way. Imagine a world in which everyone is blind. Then suddenly, one day, one person gains the ability to see. This ability is helpful to some, but the mainstream, most of us, are confused and even angered by it. It threatens us and the way we’ve been living. We start to shun the one who can “see.” He starts to feel guilty for being able to see. He feels obligated to see for others but secretly wished he couldn’t see, wishes things were like they used to be. Society, especially science (personified in the form of a doctor) pushes him to recant. The pressure must be unbearable.
If you could choose, what would your choice be? To be normal and accepted? Or abnormal and shunned?
Fast forward now to the end of the book. The fact that Tommy can “see” has caused many people to shun him and the doctor to feel so threatened by him to denounce him. Meanwhile, people who have some use for his “sight” keep asking him to see for them. Feeling an obligation, he does it but refuses to accept payment for it, feeling that to take money for doing something “natural” like this is wrong. But the shunning has caused him to lose the sense of worth he gets from working. Wanting to provide for his wife, he ends up spending money that was craftily given to him as payment. Doing so, he becomes “blind” again, like everyone else. His illness returns. He dies.
If there is a message here, I think it is one that points out to us how sad it is to live in a world where someone different is ostracized for being different, albeit out of fear. Taking this further, how often do we all work to keep those we know in the boxes constructed for them by us, by them, by our society?
Tommy was a kind man. But the world he lived in, the world we live in, makes it very hard to fully support him. I think it is his BELIEF that he violated something that causes the power to heal to go, his tumors to return, and his death to happen when it does. Tommy is part of his society. A goldfish can only swim in the water it lives in.
Still, we always have a new chance. And there are people and circumstances to point the way for us. For instance, look how the book ends. Arthur George has come to live with Eve, right? Why or how he has come is unimportant. He has. And what is the last sentence of the book? It’s about opportunity, because the universe in which the society exists, the one in which we live, is always giving us another chance.
That last sentence? It refers to Arthur George, a young man who has grown up in the chaos of Miriam and John.
“Another kind man.”
Thank you Andy – that’s such a meaningful insight into the message behind the book.
I can relate to this too. As someone that can also “see”. Although for me, it’s not an ability to heal, but more an ability to feel great empathy, and love and compassion. Which is considered unusual in our society. And a sign of weakness.
It has been almost a week since you posted this amazingly coherent analysis of our book, Andy. I have in the intervening time been thinking about how I related to the specific work of the class – practicing kindness. While I did many little acts of kindness, which now seem to come from a new source inside (perhaps like Tommy’s newfound healing powers), I did not go out of my way nor expend any large effort to be kind to anyone (particularily due to other things drawing my attention away.)
One week of the class I was aware of being kind to myself, by not getting hung up on doing a kind act every week; other weeks I was aware of being grateful for posts by others and how it felt very important to me to let them know I was reacting positively to what they hared.
But with this last post of yours, I now know how much your leadership means to the quality of the experience. I know it is very time consuming to write such lengthy posts. You are giving to us with no pay (just like Tommy gave his gift) and from the place inside that is the best of you. I cannot pay you any more complement than to say you are A Kind Man.
Oh Linda, that was worded so beautifully! Especially the last sentence. Absolutely, Andy is very simply “A Kind Man”.