Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

For most of June I have been taking Holy Communion to a woman from our parish who is dying of cancer. She only has a few more hours in this world as I write. It’s been the privilege of a lifetime for me to share this experience with her and her family. I have watched, prayed and shared a sacred moment with all of them; they took me in as if I were family. Each time I left her bedside, was another chance for me to consider how to spend the rest of my life . . . hopefully just a little bit better for the reminder of its ultimate destiny.

The Remains of the Day is not a book about dying but it is a reflective book. The title is a conceptual metaphor referring to what’s left near the end of one’s lifetime.

Remains is a deeply moving story and one which will haunt you. It’s primarily about three people: Lord Darlington, his extraordinary butler, Stevens, and the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The book begins in 1956 and is told through flashbacks and even though I usually don’t like that technique in stories, our author, Kazuo Ishiguro, uses it to perfection in the present instance.

From the vantage of the 1950s we look back to a pre-war 1930s England with our knowledge of the outcome of events. Given our Monday morning quarterback position, it is easy for us to sit in judgment of our characters’ choices. What is harder – but more necessary – is to let go of those judgments. That is what our author asks us to do. He asks us to let go of our smug, self-satisfied prejudices and re-enter that time period and the lives of his characters. As we watch them stumble and almost make what we would call the ‘right’ choices, we need to remember that we too will someday be left at 'the remains of our day'. Will we have made all the ‘right’ choices?

Or, like the characters in this story, will we have made a few ‘wrong’ choices, but for the ‘right’ reasons? Something to ponder at high noon as we approach what remains of the day . . .

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