Happy fiction

I have always enjoyed good fiction, be it books, movies, or television. But I recently had an experience that led me to reflect on the whole nature of fiction, especially the fiction we call life in this world.

A few nights ago, I was watching a favorite television drama. It’s a show that always grabs me, and I found myself riveted by the action. But then something odd happened. I found myself thinking, “Why am I so riveted by this? None of this is really happening. That girl didn’t really die. That guy didn’t really lose his girl. These are just actors on a sound stage. The whole thing is made up. Why do I care?”

Then I began to expand this line of thinking to my own life: “Why am I so riveted by my own life? A Course in Miracles says that this life is a fiction. It’s not really happening either. All of the dramas that I’m so concerned about are just a television show on the ‘sound stage’ of the world. Why do I care about that?”

Now, an all-too-common conclusion to such thoughts, especially in the Course community, is something along these lines: That’s right, it’s all a dream. There’s no one out there. So don’t care about any of it, lest you make the error real. But I think there’s actually a lot more to this issue of how to respond to the fiction of our earthly existence. It occurred to me that what A Course in Miracles actually invites us to do is a fascinating combination of not caring and caring very much.

First, the “not caring” part: There certainly are places in the Course where we are invited to see that since this world is a piece of fiction (or a dream) with no ultimate effect on reality, what happens here needn’t distress us. For instance:

You would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream. (T-27.VIII.10:5-6)

However, while the Course does want us not to care in the sense of not having cares – being carefree, undismayed by the ups and downs of this worldly drama – it is very big on caring in the sense of caring for others. Indeed, it is precisely because God cares for us that we need not have any cares: “You need merely cast your cares upon Him for He careth for you” (T-5.VII.1:4).

Therefore, there is a major “caring” part as well. As we’ve emphasized so strongly here in the CCC, Jesus obviously wants us to care deeply about the welfare of our brothers; as he calls us to awaken, he tells each of us to “bring with you all those whom He has sent to you to care for as I care for you” (C-5.6:12) Why should we care? Because while the world is an illusory fiction, we and our brothers who seem to live in it are real. We are all suffering because we believe the world is real. And the way out of this suffering is to care for each other, which brings a reflection of truth into this made-up story. Our fictional story must get a lot happier before we are ready to close the book.

I think this combination of not caring/caring is actually what makes works of fiction so appealing. On the one hand, we understand that these stories and characters are not real, so we don’t care too much. If we are psychologically healthy, we don’t become devastated when a favorite character dies. We can safely become engrossed in these stories because we know they’re just stories. But on the other hand, we do become engrossed in them – we do care about the characters in them – because even though the stories and characters are unreal, they remind us of our own real dramas (real by worldly standards). Fiction points to things that feel very real to us.

Much of the time, of course, we use fiction as an egoic means of fantasy, escapism, and reinforcement of our belief in the world. Yet I do think this “pointing” aspect of fiction can be used by the Holy Spirit for good, because at its best, fiction can reflect spiritual truth in this world. To give an instance of this, Robert and I have often spoken and written about the inspiring example of the good bishop in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Why is he so inspiring to us? He is, after all, a fictional character, so he didn’t actually do any of those wonderfully loving and forgiving things. I think he’s inspiring because he points to the fact that real people have loved as he loved. And he points to the possibility that we ourselves can love as he (and those real people) did. He inspires because even though he is fiction, he points to happy events and possibilities that are not fiction.

For me, then, the goal we are striving for as we engage with the ongoing drama of our world can be summed up in a striking phrase the Course uses to describe forgiveness: “happy fiction” (C-3.2:1). On the one hand, we need to see that this world is a fictional story with no real effect on us. But on the other hand, we need to do everything in our power to make this fictional story a happy one through our love and forgiveness. We need to care for one another. We need to bring new, loving plot lines into this story, plot lines that reflect the truth beyond the story. This will lead us back to truth, for as the Course says about the happy dream, “Happy dreams come true, not because they are dreams, but only because they are happy” (T-18.V.4:1).

So yes, my life is fiction just like that television show I watched, and as such, I needn’t get upset about it. But at the same time, I want my life to be a happy fiction, both for me and for everyone I touch. I want to bring some of those loving plot lines into this story. I don’t know what twists and turns and cliffhangers are waiting down the road, but fortunately the Course promises me that the story ends very well: “A happy outcome to all things is sure” (W-pII.292.Heading). Who doesn’t love a happy ending?