Hung up on the human condition, a novelist may spend years working up a story, picking away, trying to gain a bit of insight. But sometimes, even the best fiction can't compete with someone's narrative of his or her real-life story.
When one of my dear friends was only in her sixties, she began to show signs of dementia, and before too long, had become so badly impaired she needed to be placed in a care facility. For the next near-decade, this once-kindhearted, brilliant person became progressively more demented and hostile, often showering fits of rage upon family and friends who came to visit. Gradually, visitors stopped coming by.
But my friend's son David continued to go to the care facility every Saturday afternoon, and tried, without much success, to reach out to the person he used to know. Then one day, when he walked into his mother's room, she greeted him with a smile, and said, "Let's do something heroic!"
"What would you like to do?" David asked. "What would be heroic?"
She just shook her head. She didn't know. Didn't have a clue.
"All right," David said. "I've got an idea."
He took his mother out to the car, and drove her to a lovely heavily-wooded area not far from the care center. "I could actually see her relax," he said, "as if calmness were spreading through her body, all the tension melting away. We sat on a big rock and talked, and for a while, my mother was close to what she used to be. She really was still there. I'd thought if I could get around the fear and the anger, I could find her. Of course, it didn't last - I didn't expect it would - but giving her even a short respite seemed worthwhile."
Insightfulness, perseverance, ability to love, capacity for heroic deeds. Where does a novelist find a protagonist to match this one?