Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See promises a story that “illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.” This intricate work of historical fiction delivers on that promise and provides a compelling journey for any reader; but for the Christian, I believe it offers enduring lessons about kindness.
Kindness transforms us.
In January of 1941 in Saint-Malo, a young French girl named Marie-Laure is unable to get herself out of bed. Her circumstances weigh so heavy even simple tasks prove impossible:
She becomes unreachable, sullen. She does not bathe, does not warm herself by the kitchen fire, ceases to ask if she can go outdoors. She hardly eats.
Like others throughout the book, the cruelty of the world threatens to crush her.
The cook and maid of the Saint-Malo home, Madame Manec, sees this and refuses to watch her suffer alone any longer. Though it is not her responsibility, she takes Marie-Laure out of the house and down to the Breton coastline. As her lungs fill with crisp sea air and her curious fingers trace the frames of surrounding barnacles, Marie-Laure slowly comes back to life.
Madame Manec risks going out of her home during wartime to stand on a cold beach for three hours so a child not her own can feel again. This is kindness: to love another selflessly and without expectation of return.
Reading simple and profound acts of benevolence from All the Light We Cannot See during my own season of depression comforted me. Those who have tasted the bitterness of life know the sweetness of a hand reaching out through the fog of suffering. In many ways, these fictional glimmers of goodness lifted my weary chin to gaze at the transformational kindness of Jesus.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is for the despondent. It is right for our hearts to break when relationships are severed; for sobs to wrack our bodies when death steals the life of one we loved; for us to acknowledge the sheer wrongness of pain’s existence.
We could have been left in the despondent darkness of sin, but God in his lovingkindness sent Jesus to be the light of the world that those who believe in him may be saved. Tasting communion upon our lips regularly reminds us of this love: the body of Christ broken for us, and the blood of Christ shed for us.