Stories that Matter

Why I Love Me Before You

I’m not going to bother with the SPOILER ALERT or DISCLAIMER tags because, face it, if you don’t want to read this, why’d you click the link?

I don’t generally jump into these arguments, but yesterday I read something that made me cringe. And I’d had enough.

I’m an author. I have been writing fiction for over 20 years. I know what it’s like to agonize over a story. To worry whether your words will have the impact you meant them to. Or whether anyone will read them at all. It’s not an easy task, this writing thing. Most of the time it’s a slog, but every once in a while we hit it, and it all makes sense. And so we carry on.

I cannot speak for Jojo Moyes, but I can say that most of the writers I know do not set out to present their readers with some hidden agenda carefully woven through the pages of the novels we write. No. We leave that to the non-fiction writers.

I read Me Before You not really knowing what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find myself in floods of tears. At best, I hoped for an entertaining read. Well, that’s what I got. As well as an addiction to every Jojo Moyes novel ever written. Simply put, she’s a brilliant author. No, not like Hemingway or Austen, but there’s something about the way she weaves her words, the wit, the sarcasm (probably what hooked me to be honest), and the down to earth characters she creates, all leave me wanting to read her next novel. Immediately. I don’t know Ms. Moyes and she doesn’t know me. She did leave a comment on my FB page once, and I squealed.

So what’s all the fuss with this book that’s now been made into a movie? That’s what I’d like to try to understand. Because from where I’m sitting, it would appear that once again a certain faction of our faith community have built a bandwagon, grabbed their pitchforks and flaming torches and are setting out to storm the castle. And this time the Beast is called Assisted Suicide. Which happens to be the topic of Me Before You.

Honestly? I didn’t even know assisted suicide was a thing before I read this book. I was actually rather shocked and surprised to learn that there are places one can go to quietly end one’s own life. By choice. And I wrestled with that. To some extent I still do.

If we can gather around the Honesty Circle a moment, I’ll tell you why.

I watched my mother die. She was in the end stages of her life. Everything had shut down. There was no magic pill. Nothing that would make her jump out of that bed and be herself again. I believe her spirit was gone long before her body. Her body took about a week to give up. And we were there every day. Just waiting. Watching. And it was horrendous.

Do I wish we’d been given an easy option? Sometimes. Do I think she would have wanted that option? Sometimes. For me, it’s a gray area. Like many hot-button topics that we’re told as Christians, we must throw down the gauntlet over. There are issues that, frankly, for many believers, are simply black and white. They’ve been taught that there is right and there is wrong, and if you’re trying to find a middle ground, well, you’ll be hard pressed. I’m not one of those black and white only believers. Sometimes I prefer gray. Perhaps I think too much.

In any event, my point,ย is that we have taken a work of fiction and turned it into something with fangs and claws, something to be avoided at all costs. Something to be boycotted. I was rather stunned yesterday when I saw a post on Facebook urging people to boycott the movie. I read the article a couple of times. And I get it. Honest, I do.

But people . .ย . must we suck the life out of every little thing meant to bring a bit of pleasure, just because we don’t like what it had to say?

This is a work of fiction.

I can’t see the character of WIll making any other choice. Had he suddenly had a come to Jesus moment and realized the error of his ways, married Louisa and lived happily ever after, well, we’d have a nice little feel goodย novel on our hands. (Many bookstores carry these. You’ll have no trouble finding one). And dang it, yes, I love me a happy ending too. But that isn’t what happened.

The author ended the book the way she felt it should end. That’s her right. It’s her story. Like it or not, the fact that we’re even talking about it proves she has done her job. But do I think she had some hidden agenda to get us all up in arms for one side or the other on this issue? No. I think she just wanted to write a good story.

Don’t we all.

Sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes there are no happy endings. People live in nightmare situations. Every. Day. And a lot of those people don’t have faith. They have never experienced grace. Mercy. Unconditional love. And so they make choices. Selfishly, perhaps, but who are we to judge?

While we rage in our pulpits, point fingers and shake our heads in disgust, someone is slipping out the door. Someone who might have needed just a little compassion. Someone who might have been in desperate need of hope.

While we’re boycotting, signing petitions and protesting in the name of Jesus, real life is sucking people under. We’re watching them drown. We’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to be about. And everything from politics to a work of fiction must be made into a debate.

Life is too short for this.

Disagree if you must, but do it in love. Take a stand if you feel the need, but leave the hate at home. Embrace. Don’t push. And for the love . . . have the grace to understand that not everyone will accept your message. That’s their right.

Rather than taking something controversial and slapping the sticker of evil all over it, why not use it as a conversation starter? We can still have honest, heartfelt discussions around a table, can’t we? We can at least admit that what we’ve read has made us feel. It has made us think and wrestle with the hard things we may not have otherwise given a second thought to. And that is every author’s hope, I think. To make an impact. To make your readers think and feel and contemplate.

Read the book. See the movie. Or don’t.

But before you go on a rant about this, do measure your words and thoughts carefully, with love.

And then you will have made the bigger point.

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24 Comments

  1. Linda Walters on June 3, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I totally agree with you, Katherine. Americans are so spoiled that we have gotten way to judgmental over the most ridiculous things. It seems to many of us have lost the ability to feel compassion.

    • Cathy West on June 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for reading, Linda! You’re right. I think more compassion is needed in every instance.

  2. Linda Walters on June 3, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I totally agree with you, Katherine. Americans are so spoiled that we have gotten way to judgmental over the most ridiculous things. It seems to many of us have lost the ability to feel compassion.

    • Cathy West on June 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for reading, Linda! You’re right. I think more compassion is needed in every instance.

  3. susanmsj on June 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for showing both sides of this story. I had only heard the “boycott” side. I may not agree with the ending but, like you, I know it was her story to tell. I may not choose to read the book or see the movie, but I choose to not read a lot of books and not see a lot of movies.
    Thank you for your insights.

    • susanmsj on June 3, 2016 at 10:20 am

      OOPS. I wish there was an edit button. I didn’t finish my thought. I choose to not read a lot of books and not see a lot of movies simply because there are ones that I would rather read or see, not necessarily because I am boycotting them.

      • Cathy West on June 3, 2016 at 10:31 am

        Thanks for reading! Yes, I get that a lot of people will now never read the book because they’ve heard about the controversy. Which to me is rather sad. But their choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. susanmsj on June 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for showing both sides of this story. I had only heard the “boycott” side. I may not agree with the ending but, like you, I know it was her story to tell. I may not choose to read the book or see the movie, but I choose to not read a lot of books and not see a lot of movies.
    Thank you for your insights.

    • susanmsj on June 3, 2016 at 10:20 am

      OOPS. I wish there was an edit button. I didn’t finish my thought. I choose to not read a lot of books and not see a lot of movies simply because there are ones that I would rather read or see, not necessarily because I am boycotting them.

  5. Deb Kinnard on June 3, 2016 at 10:18 am

    At least you had the guts to read the entire book. I picked it up at the store, read a couple of pages of the ending and decided, “Not for me.” Not because I didn’t like the writing and not because I have any problem with people who make choices different than mine. I just didn’t want to cry right now. Maybe that makes me–I don’t know, but I don’t see my Christianity weighing in one way or the other.

    Can Christians not take a neutral stance on anything?

    • Cathy West on June 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Deb, you turned to the end???!!! GAH!!! LOL! Please don’t do that with any of my books!! Promise? ๐Ÿ™‚
      What can I say, it’s not for everyone. But I do get annoyed when folks start slinging mud without even having read the book. And as for your final question, meh, I don’t think so. Seems these days everything needs to be an argument. ๐Ÿ™

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on June 3, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I guess it sort of depends what side of the table you’re on…assisted suicide (legal in my state) has been suggested for me because for some individuals, “It is so heartbreaking to see you suffer.”

    The state’s chimed in. My doctor told me that while I wouldn’t qualify (by age and prognosis) for a rationed Whipple procedure, Obamacare would gladly cover hospice…or assisted suicide. (Even if I HAD insurance, ha!)

    Well, yeah. It’s not quite a virtual red flag to a metaphorical bull. It’s a sharp stick in the eye of a Cape Buff with severe and unresolved anger-management issues.

    The issue, as I see it, is that it’s being manipulated as a form of marginalization justified on ‘compassionate grounds’; your life has become an ‘obviously intolerable’ shadow of what it was, so we’ll build some societal pressure to encourage you to quit circling the drain and flush yourself.

    Compassion’s necessary. Absolutely. But it has to be applied with discernment. I feel sorry for those who “can’t bear to see me suffer”, yeah, but more for what I’ll do to them if they ever come up with the suggestion that I kill myself, ever again.

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on June 3, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I guess it sort of depends what side of the table you’re on…assisted suicide (legal in my state) has been suggested for me because for some individuals, “It is so heartbreaking to see you suffer.”

    The state’s chimed in. My doctor told me that while I wouldn’t qualify (by age and prognosis) for a rationed Whipple procedure, Obamacare would gladly cover hospice…or assisted suicide. (Even if I HAD insurance, ha!)

    Well, yeah. It’s not quite a virtual red flag to a metaphorical bull. It’s a sharp stick in the eye of a Cape Buff with severe and unresolved anger-management issues.

    The issue, as I see it, is that it’s being manipulated as a form of marginalization justified on ‘compassionate grounds’; your life has become an ‘obviously intolerable’ shadow of what it was, so we’ll build some societal pressure to encourage you to quit circling the drain and flush yourself.

    Compassion’s necessary. Absolutely. But it has to be applied with discernment. I feel sorry for those who “can’t bear to see me suffer”, yeah, but more for what I’ll do to them if they ever come up with the suggestion that I kill myself, ever again.

  8. slhigdon20 on June 3, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I agree with what you have written, Cathy. Too often people pick up their pitchforks without having any meaningful discussion (or prayer) about the issue. You are so right. Life sucks sometimes and we are faced with difficult choices. Sometimes it’s all we can do to prayerfully consider the best option for us. As individuals. This is a tough topic, for sure. I have not read the book nor do I plan to see the movie simply because I watch “light” dramas and comedies. Life is too intense for anything more than that right now. ๐Ÿ™‚ But, it’s certainly a book (and movie) to provoke meaningful conversations and perhaps the opportunity to look at issues from a different perspective.

  9. slhigdon20 on June 3, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I agree with what you have written, Cathy. Too often people pick up their pitchforks without having any meaningful discussion (or prayer) about the issue. You are so right. Life sucks sometimes and we are faced with difficult choices. Sometimes it’s all we can do to prayerfully consider the best option for us. As individuals. This is a tough topic, for sure. I have not read the book nor do I plan to see the movie simply because I watch “light” dramas and comedies. Life is too intense for anything more than that right now. ๐Ÿ™‚ But, it’s certainly a book (and movie) to provoke meaningful conversations and perhaps the opportunity to look at issues from a different perspective.

  10. Rory Lynn Lemond on June 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    We all have choices to make each and everyday…what choice you make is your own or sometimes god’s..if you look at the issue of humanity we treat or animals better that we do people who have suffered just as much..we put them to sleep so that they are now out if pain..why not let people make that decision it us theirs and o lay theirs to make wher it us right or wrong it is a choice and after watching several family members I cared for waste away if they had wanted to make that choice of ending their life I feel and would support it because it was a choice that they got to choice to make!

    • Cathy West on June 3, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      I think it’s a tough decision all the way around. Lots of issues that people see black and white on are that way for me. I just don’t know. But I like that this book has made us think about it. I don’t believe that it’s ‘glamorizing’ assisted suicide in any way, as some have said. I don’t understand why people are getting all up in arms about it. I wish we could have honest, respectful conversations rather than online rants. I suppose that’s really the point of my post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Samantha B on June 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I decided to read this blog post, because I heard about the whole controversy and I wanted to see what was your take on it. I’m not all arms against that book and movie. I will say that I am not going to see the movie nor read the book, but not because of the controversy, simply by choice (too many books to read and not enough time in a lifetime). I had made that decision before I heard about the ending.

    Now I might have a different perspective than the other commenter. I live in Canada and right now, the government is trying to pass a bill making assisted suicide legal. I know some people are totally for it and some people are against it. I consider myself against that bill. I’m not here trying to make politics or anything, but I have been touch by a series of videos I’ve seen. You see, in Belgium, assisted suicide is legal and knowing that Canada was looking to pass a bill, a coalition made videos to warn Canadians to not go there. They interviewed doctors and family members of people who have gone through that process.
    I know that I can simply not imagine how hard it can be for a doctor to participate in the death of his or her patient.

    So anyway, this topic hits close to home. Also, I’ve read a very touching article about a young teenager who will live in a wheelchair all her life and she felt this movie showed that people can’t live a full life if they are confined to a wheelchair and it hurt her a lot. Maybe she took it too personal or something but that got me thinking too. I don’t think anyone should feel inferior because of their condition.

    With that being said, I would love to have a civilized conversation about it. I love hearing everybody’s opinion on the matter and I believe that in these situations the important thing is to keep an open mind and talk about it. No hatred, not trying to convince the other, but an honest and heartfelt discussion.

    Thank you Catherine for pointing it out and for this great blog post!

  12. Samantha B on June 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I decided to read this blog post, because I heard about the whole controversy and I wanted to see what was your take on it. I’m not all arms against that book and movie. I will say that I am not going to see the movie nor read the book, but not because of the controversy, simply by choice (too many books to read and not enough time in a lifetime). I had made that decision before I heard about the ending.

    Now I might have a different perspective than the other commenter. I live in Canada and right now, the government is trying to pass a bill making assisted suicide legal. I know some people are totally for it and some people are against it. I consider myself against that bill. I’m not here trying to make politics or anything, but I have been touch by a series of videos I’ve seen. You see, in Belgium, assisted suicide is legal and knowing that Canada was looking to pass a bill, a coalition made videos to warn Canadians to not go there. They interviewed doctors and family members of people who have gone through that process.
    I know that I can simply not imagine how hard it can be for a doctor to participate in the death of his or her patient.

    So anyway, this topic hits close to home. Also, I’ve read a very touching article about a young teenager who will live in a wheelchair all her life and she felt this movie showed that people can’t live a full life if they are confined to a wheelchair and it hurt her a lot. Maybe she took it too personal or something but that got me thinking too. I don’t think anyone should feel inferior because of their condition.

    With that being said, I would love to have a civilized conversation about it. I love hearing everybody’s opinion on the matter and I believe that in these situations the important thing is to keep an open mind and talk about it. No hatred, not trying to convince the other, but an honest and heartfelt discussion.

    Thank you Catherine for pointing it out and for this great blog post!

  13. Cathy West on June 14, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    Sam, I appreciate your comments. I really do get this side of it too. I think assisted suicide is a very sad outcome for anyone, especially for those left behind. I didn’t even know such a thing was prevalent before I read this book. But I’m not sure the brouhaha this has turned into since the movie released would have been nearly as loud had the book not been made into a movie. Or maybe there were folks speaking out from the get go, and I just wasn’t aware. I think it’s sad that the general opinion of those who are outraged seems to be that the author is saying this is an okay choice. I don’t think she’s saying that at all. I think for the character she created, it was his choice, the only one he would have made, and he just didn’t care enough. Does everyone think that authors who write about serial killers condone serial killing? The really sad thing though, is it seems we need to make an argument of everything these days . . . us against them. I’m so tired of it. I appreciate you saying lets have a ‘civilized’ conversation, because after reading through my FB newsfeed, there’s not much of that going around lately. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Samantha B on June 14, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      I agree, of course we don’t know if the author was trying to show it is okay, or maybe she wanted to start a discussion, or she never thought it would get so out of proportions. I just wish we could have discussion about these things without lashing out at people who don’t think the same way we do or simply tell them they are bad Christians for it. We are all entitled to our opinions, but it was never our job to judge!

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