She's something of a loser, I'd say, someone who never got an even break. Her parents cared more for their stuffed hedgehog than they did for her, she tells us. One day, after her parents are both dead, she gets the grand idea to create a catapault because she's ridding herself of their things and there's a junk yard right next door.
She builds the hurler, launches her dad's bagpipes--and a ton of other things--over the fence because, she says, she loves to see things inflight. Soon, her equally woebegone neighbor comes over and tells her they can turn a dollar on this machine if they advertise its nearly magical power to make you feel better--after all, watching the detritus of our lives fly, fly away offers a emotional uplift to hurler as well as the hurlee and who not else.
They advertise. People show up by the dozens, some of them--and here's the magical part--actually reaching right into their chests, extracting their own broken hearts, and gleefully launching them, two-pound bloody messes, into the oily goo on the other side of yonder fence. It's great fun. In fact, once she's seen it done, the woman who dreamed up the gizmo pulls out her own bloody muscle and launches it herself.
It's a short story by Gina Ochsner, something titled "The Hurler," and it's in her book People I Wanted to Be, and yesterday in class I was surprised when no one wondered about the efficacy of such behavior. The woman who launches hearts doesn't feel much relief when hers is catapaulted into the stinky morass. What she did haunts her, in fact.
I have good students. They're smart kids. But this parable baffled them--they were sure that the story was meant to show how good people with broken hearts could simply toss them away like bad habits.
Then the old man--me--comes along and asks them if suffering is ever good for them. Their faces twist as if they've just bitten into something sour, and I feel like the dentist who's telling them that chocolate bars are a no-no. What does the Bible say, I ask them, like some mid-20th century Calvinist preacher? They look down at their desktops as if they're expecting a caning. Nothing worse for Christian students than to flunk--publically--some kind of righteousness test.
Slowly it comes to them--suffering builds character, and etc. (Romans 5, I whisper). But the answer brings no relief. "Oh," they say, as if disappointed. The idea of just flinging your broken heart away and ending all your sorrows and all your miseries and all your horrors is just too blasted good.
And it is. Sometimes I just don't know how God almighty expects us to buy what he says. Sometimes it's just too hard. Load up all your cares and burdens on a backboard-sized platform, trip the magic trigger, and whoosh!--they're launched into an oily mess of gunky horrors. Done.
Who wouldn't stand in line and pay good money?
No, no, no, Paul says. Understand. Broken hearts build character. And character brings hope--and all of that. Sure. Read it yourself.
But I feel the sour look on my students' faces. I say, with them, bring on the hurler.
This morning I'm thankful for a short story that made them think--and me too. Even if it hurt.