Our visitors were a bit unusual, three Chassidic yeshiva students. One is the nephew of a dear friend; he and his two companions were driving a van, what they termed a “mitzvah tank,” across the country. Their goal: to reawaken the religious awareness of Jews who had become secular, who had given up the practices of Jewish life.
My friend had asked us to host them – provide some vodka, “perhaps a little nosh,” and some friendly conversation. I’m sure that he was also hoping that their visit would also stir my own “Jewish soul.” I’m sure that was his hope no matter how strongly I had assured him it would not happen.
Their visit did, however, stir something else. It was a time trip. I was transported back to college – back to those great, late night, drink-fueled bull sessions during which we discussed the great issues, the ones most of us would ignore as we grappled with life, career, and family.
“Only God car create a being capable of making his own decisions,” one of them opined. I nodded wanly – to much the host to raise the issues that immediately came to mind.
But, inside my head, I could hear the voices of protest – the voices of characters, characters from my novels, short stories, and plays. “We are alive, and we choose,” they yelled. “For good or ill, we choose.”
I thought about the writing process. Each work has started out with a plan in my mind – a plot leading from situation and premise, to conflict and development, to denouement and resolution, and finally to conclusion. Then I have begun peopling that world, and inevitably the problems have started. Characters refuse to simply go along, to conform with my directions and expectations. They become willful, refusing to say or do what is not consistent with their personalities and more importantly with their souls.
In my soon to be released novel, “Widow’s Walk,” a major character dies. When I had originally plotted the story, she was to live happily, a woman who had grown through adversity. But, instead, she dies.
As I wrote that section of “Widow’s Walk,” I was in mourning for that charming character for whom I felt deep affection. “Why?” I asked, “Why?”
Another character answered my question. "There's pains of the body, and there's pains of the soul. This poor lady died of the pains in her soul. They say that God don’t give no one more than they can carry, but He sure done give her too much … way, way too much."
As I thought about that explanation and the pain with which I had expected the character to cope, the truth of that explanation became obvious. I, playing god, had overburdened her soul.
Our visitors went on their way. I wondered why God had sent them into my life. I have always believed that every guest should be considered a possible angel sent by The All Mighty. Perhaps I am a character in one of God’s novels. Perhaps I could have sent an angel to give my character the strength she needed, but that would have felt contrived.
There are so many questions and so few answers.
As a writer I can set worlds into motion, but I cannot control them. I can care about my characters, but I have to allow them to live just as God has to allow us the freedom of our wills and most importantly of our souls.
A New Englander by birth and both a psychologist and minister by training, Ken Weene has worked as an educator and psychotherapist. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications – most recently being featured in Sol, and an anthology of his writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions. Two of his short stories are soon appearing in Legendary.
Ken’s novel, Widow’s Walk, is slated for publication in Sept., 2009, by All Things That Matter Press.
Now in semi-retirement, Ken and his wife live in Arizona. There Ken has been able to indulge his passion for writing.