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Greatness in Characters

There is great joy in finding characters in a book that you love. I have walked away from many a novel or memoir with the ability to love at a deeper level, because these characters taught me something about love. My favorite characters, the ones I remember most, and the ones that I take with me through life are the ones who slowly, through ordinary acts, become great.

I was thinking of a character that I will now take with me in life. Her name is Antonia from Willa Cather’s “My Antonia”. She is a great character. She is never the hero, she just lives life to the fullest. At the end of the book you see her surrounded by this big loving family full of love, life, and joy. She lived and worked on a farm and never made it out of her little town. She was not ambitious or successful in the world’s eyes, but she was great. When I think of her and compare her to the other characters in the book, other characters who had money, stuff, fame or a good career; she always will be my favorite and the most memorable. I don’t envy the life of the others, I’d rather the life of Antonia. I will take her with me through life.

Photo credit: Pop & Zebra

There are other characters like Robinson Crusoe. When he got shipwrecked alone on an island - he got to work and lived. Day after boring day, he lived for over 28 years stranded on an Island in the Pacific Ocean. He dealt with his day-to-day one step at a time, putting one ordinary foot in front of the other. He also dealt with his soul, which in turn helped cultivate life and purpose amidst the boredom and tedium. Even if he was always on the watch to be rescued, he wasn’t a hero except for the fact that he survived. He used ingenuity to live in the midst of his situation not for adventure but for living. Robinson Crusoe is a great character.

This is what I love. Great characters. Not heros or the most ambitious characters. I’ve read about the ambitious ones and they exhaust me. But normal, almost boring characters speak to my soul. Their lives teach me how to live mine. Maybe this is because I’m not a hero - but I can, on most days put one foot in front of the other. I can live a faithful life today, and Lord willing as the days add up my life as I get to live, will be great. My favorite characters don’t always have moments of greatness, they were normal and in this normality is found a different kind of greatness.

I love those characters who aren’t always wanting more. They are characters who are satisfied to be themselves and satisfied with what they have. They live in the skin and situations that are in, they simply live on through good, bad, and indifferent. Their resilience is beauty. They don’t always need to have the best stuff - they just need relationship, with others and with God. Contentment would be a word I would use for these characters and is something that I strive, imperfectly, to live with.

Those who are always wanting more; more money, more stuff, more knowledge and so exhaust me. We will always want more, even if we don’t need it, unless we find contentment. Contentment doesn’t have to be stagnant, it is a willingness to grow steadily and be okay with the fact that you don’t have everything right now. Maybe over time you’ll realize you don’t even need what you wanted and everything you need, you’ll have. There is no arrival at some mystical point, there is an arrival at each step, and we can be ready to take the next one. Great characters have taught me this. As I grow discontent, I will continue to read on and learn.

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