Wednesday, 13 July 2016

It's All About Perspective ...

By Andrea Grigg

How diverse we are from one another! Each of us is unique, a one-of-a-kind, a never-to-be-repeated combination of DNA and skin and bone and personality. Because of that we each have our own way of looking at things, our own perspective, and it’s often very different!



A little while ago, I came upon a discussion thread on Facebook concerning Jojo Moyes’ book, Me Before You, recently released as a movie. I hadn’t read it, hadn’t heard much about it until that point, but what I read intrigued me so much I downloaded it to read for myself. What could this author have written to cause so much controversy? 

Here’s a brief outline of the book. I apologise in advance for the spoilers but they’re necessary for the purpose of this blogpost.


Will Traynor, former city hotshot and extreme sportsman, has been a quadriplegic for two years, paralysed from the shoulders down. Unable to accept his disability and continuous painful physical disintegration (his doctors have given him ten years) he applies and is accepted by Dignitas, an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. His desperate parents make him promise to give them another six months, and during that time, Will’s mother hires Louisa Clark, zany dresser with a personality to match, to be Will’s carer in the hope she will help Will change his mind. Despite Lou falling in love with Will and his feelings for her, he still chooses death over life.

Yup, controversial!

I visited Amazon.com and discovered there are no less than 14,785 reviews, some of them written by very angry people, many of them physically disabled themselves. They slam the book for being offensive and insulting, for giving flawed impressions and making false assumptions about people with disabilities. But please note: these 3,2, and 1 star reviews account for 8% of the total reviews. That means 92% of the reviewers loved it.

Here’s an opinion from Joni Eareckson Tada, a wonderful and much-admired Christian woman who became a quadriplegic herself when she was a teenager:
"In the movie, the quadriplegic says to his loved one, “I don’t want you to miss all the things someone else can give you.” Instead, he took away everything she wanted from him – his love and the essence of who he was – when he decided to end his life. Not only does this movie glamorize assisted suicide; it conveys the distinct impression that marriage to someone with quadriplegia is too hard, too demanding and sorely lacks the joys of typical marriage.”
You can read the whole blog post here.


Remember what I said at the start about perspective? Well, Like Joni, I’m a Christian, but I don’t agree with everything she says.

It was made very clear how devastating Will’s decision was for all who loved him. By his own admission, Will Traynor was a selfish man before his accident, and was even more so afterward. I was furious with him for rejecting Lou who clearly loved him despite his disabilities and was prepared to do whatever she could to make his life worth living. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for Will. Selfish is an understatement in my opinion. Assisted suicide made to look glamorous? I don’t think so. More like totally tragic.

I also don’t agree the story gives the impression that marriage to someone with quadriplegia is too hard. Lou loved Will and wanted to be with him no matter what. It was he who rejected her.

Did I think it offensive and insulting to disabled people? Not being physically disabled it wouldn’t be fair to comment. However, what the story did for me as an able-bodied person was to give me a heightened awareness of what some people have to live with. Every. Single. Day. It made me cry.
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As a point of interest, Jojo Moyes was inspired to write this book by the story of a young rugby player who’d spent several years as a quadriplegic before persuading his parents to take him to Dignitas. (Yes, it’s an actual clinic.) You can read the whole interview here. 


So, how have I chosen to respond to a book like this?

First of all, I need to remember that Me Before You is a general market book, and not written from a Christian world view. It’s unfair to expect the characters to have the same values as I do and become offended by that.

Second, Will Traynor didn’t know Jesus – he had no hope, no idea how much God loved him, no sense of heaven. He acted within the boundaries of his characterisation.

Something else I should mention. Sadly, when talking to a friend recently, she told me of a young Christian man in the same situation who would also prefer not to live. It’s possible to be depressed even when we have Christ in our lives, something which can be difficult for some to hear and accept.

Third, not everyone will be comfortable reading Me Before You. We all have our own hot-button topics and for some, a love story about a physically disabled person will be too close to home. Please don’t feel any pressure from me to read it just because I’ve brought it up, okay?

Lastly, if I get the chance, I will happily talk about this book with anyone who cares to listen, especially if they’re not a Christian. Why? Because now I’ve read it and seen it, it gives me the opportunity to talk about culturally sensitive issues, to share the good news that there is a God who understands suffering, who loves us exactly as we are, a God who offers us hope for our eternity.

So. My perspective about this book/movie is different to Jojo Moyes’, different to Joni Eareckson Tada’s, and no doubt different to yours. And I’m okay with that.


27 comments:

  1. What a great review. Thank you. I haven't read the book but how wonderful to see topical sensitive topics discussed this way. 14,785 reviews! What a successful book. Now to check my tear ducts to see if I have enough reserves to read it.

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    1. Hi Jo - if you ever read it I'd love to know your take on it.

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  2. Thanks for letting me know how it turns out. Really. I watched 'The Fault in Our Stars' thinking surely it would turn out OK. Lots of sobbing and shuddering. I don't think I need that sort of emotional trauma in my life just for entertainment. Like your thoughts on the book and movie.

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    1. I just saw this movie last night and there was some crying in the theatre. I didn't see it, it was sad but not to the point of sobbing. It was understandable, when you understood where he was coming from.

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    2. I understood Will's POV too - he had no hope. Tragic.

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  3. Good on you for reading the book, Andrea. Something I intend to do. True that we all have different perspectives :) There is no doubt that Me Before You is popular (as is/was Fifty Shades) however, when hundreds if not thousands of disabled people not only post negative reviews but picket outside the movie theatres, I feel a need to listen to their heartfelt cries - especially in a culture that is increasingly pushing that (all) disabled babies should be aborted and that an appropriate response to depression and disability is to assist the person to suicide.

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    1. I'll put myself out there and say this - I truly didn't get the vibe about disabled people being worthless. I realise it could be said that's because I'm not disabled and don't understand. But like I said, it made me value people with disabilities even more. It was one story about one guy, not a blanket statement. Again, it's all to do with perspective.

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    2. I should have said - I agree it's a terrible world we live in if people feel assisted suicide or abortion is the best answer to disability.

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  4. Thinking about it - I'm not sure I more comfortable if the message of the movie is that Will's decision to suicide is a selfish choice. I can imagine his suicide would be devastating to Lou & Will's parents - and being able to follow her dreams because of Will's bequest would perhaps deepen the pain for Lou, rather than sweeten it.

    The meme that people who suicide are 'selfish' (or cowardly) is not a helpful one. Having watched my brother (unsuccessfully) struggle with depression over some years before he took his own life, I tend to agree that suicide is not 'a selfish choice' but a response to unbearable psychological pain (in that moment). The attitude of my brother's specialist that he had 'a right to die'(actual quote), coupled with grossly inadequate treatment choices and the plethora of information on the web about how to kill yourself from euthanasia enthusiasts all contributed to his death. He wanted to live but, when the black dog visited, he couldn't see any other escape to the pain but death. That hopelessness is part of the disease. Yes, Christians are not immune to depression. Depression is a predictable response to significant loss (something Joni experienced in the first year or so after the accident that made her a quadriplegic), but it isn't usually permanent either. When suicide is biggest killer of young people and 6 people a day die of suicide in Australia - my heart breaks.

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    1. Having read what you've written I don't think I made myself clear enough. Will was selfish in his rejection of Lou, and his determination not to live no matter how it affected his family. It's not necessarily the message of the movie, just my take on it for this one story and this one character. I totally agree with your comments.

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  5. Wow. Thanks for the review, Andrea. I haven't read the book nor have I seen the movie yet. My personal preference is for stories of hope and overcoming. I've danced with depression before and I like to fill my heart with good things. I've also seen the devastation suicide can cause within a family. Having said that, your review makes me think that I need to at least see the film. The fact that the content can be understood in different ways and that it generates controversy means that it touches a nerve in our society. As a Christion I feel I should position myself where the world says 'ouch' so that I can bring a word of hope. So I will check it out - although maybe not on the next date night...

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  6. Hi Sue - I like what you say about positioning yourself where the world says 'ouch' so you can bring a word of hope. My feelings too :)

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  7. Thanks for that Andrea. I've been wondering whether to see this movie, and after your review I think I will.

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    1. Would love to know what you think of it, Carol :)

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  8. Good on you for reading the book and bring brave enough to write about.

    I think that the book gives us an opportunity to talk about a topic that may seem black and white from a Christian perspective, but has many shades of complexity in the working out of it.

    Thanks Jeanette for sharing your perspective. It just shows that people suffering from depression and suicidal tendencies suffer greatly. Therefore responses from Drs and others cannot be made easily or lightly.

    Andrea, you make the point that you are writing from the perspective of a non-disabled person. But, I guess that's the power of fiction. We get to think about the question: what would I do if ....

    As the book is written from a secular position it reflects a conversation around these issues. It is fiction, but it does raise significant questions about why people don't want to live.

    It's not easy. We can say, 'It's wrong Don't do it.'

    But, as we all know, the complexities of each person's life make these things problematic.


    Of course, we'd all say, 'Choose life. Life is a gift.'

    Thanks for writing about this Andrea. I'll have to read the book now. I've been avoiding it!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Elaine. You're so right - there are many shades of complexity involved here, it can't be black and white. I'll be interested to know what you think of the book :)

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    2. Hi Elaine - very much agree a 'It's wrong Don't do it.' is no where near an adequate response to the issues raised by this book & movie. And of course, I agree with you 'Choose life. Life is a gift.' - but that in itself is not enough either (seeing both my brothers' struggle, feeling that struggle at times in my life as well). As with abortion - it's not a simple issue, yet a rush to say 'I'll support your chose to abort/die' without a similar or great commitment to say 'I support your chose to give this child life/live' that is practical and real, in the end harms women/anyone caught in difficult circumstances. I don't think we should condemn hurting individuals - I do worry about the trend in our society to provide solutions of death (as easy and quick) rather than practical, rubber-meetes-the road solutions of life and hope (that take a lot more thought, energy, time, commitment).

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  9. One thing I forgot to mention which is quite significant - Jojo Moyes' book has the full support of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. I find that very intriguing.

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  10. Great post, Andrea. Like you I hadn't heard of the book or only the movie peripherally until by Facebook feed blew up with debate. I haven't read or seen either (not because of a principle-based decision on my part - I just haven't had the time to even consider whether I would want to!) so appreciate your thoughts!

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    1. Hi Kara - you're a busy lady! Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

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  11. Coming in late. I am still hurting for a friend who lost her adult son (a christian) to suicide by hanging himself. She believed his depression was lessening and was utterly shocked when she read his note. 'If he'd only held on a bit longer', she cried. As an experienced nurse she understood depression and its devastating effects.I appreciated your viewpoint about this book/movie, Andrea, and it's tragic to think how many people are ending their lives today. They truly believe this will end not only their suffering, but for those close to them also. Of course it only deepens the wounds. Satan is a powerful being and the 'Big D' is one of his most successful weapons.

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  12. Excellent review, Andrea, and thank you all for so many valuable comments. I am glad you reminded us you read - and review - from your Christian perspective. This highlights so much the huge gulf often there when we read - or see - stories like this. I also believe that when we weep, how much more does our Lord for these folk with such excruciating pain and problems.

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  13. Hi Rita and Mary - thank you for your comments. This world contains so many hurting people. Love is the only answer, even though tragically, for some it's not enough. Can't imagine what your friend is going through, Rita.

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  14. Andrea, great post and thanks for being brave enough to share your perspective on the book. I recently lost a cousin I grew up with to suicide, and he'd struggled for many years with addiction and other issues. The book addresses a very complex issue, and I'd really struggle to read it. I prefer happy stories, and I still remember being the child who was devastated when I read the chapters where Beth passed away in the Little Women series. I try to avoid reading fiction where children, animals, and main characters who I can become attached to die during the story. The same with movies. Real life has enough tragedy without needing to experience more of it in a fictional world.

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    1. So sorry about your cousin, Narelle. A terrible loss for your whole family.

      As I said in the post, I know Me Before You won't be for everybody and I understand your reasons why it's not for you. By the way - and I may have told you this before - I felt the same way about Beth in Little Women, and was so upset I rewrote the ending! I was eleven at the time :)

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    2. Good on you for rewriting the ending! When one of my children contracted scarlet fever, my first thought when the doctor gave the diagnosis was that Beth from Little Women died of scarlet fever! I was very thankful for antibiotics :)

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