By Kelly Z. Conrad, Guest Blogger
One of my favorite chapters in the Malcolm Ivey novel, With Arms Unbound, is called “Rewriting the Code” in Part Three. The character of Weasel, befriended and mentored by Kevin, has taken his teacher’s wisdom to heart. While he’s ashamed of a recent backslide into weakness, Weasel decides to avenge a wrong committed against his friend. Sometimes it’s easier to fight for a friend than for oneself.
With Kevin’s guidance, Weasel had begun to see the world and himself with new eyes, and from a fresh perspective. Even while he’s slipping into weakness, Weasel feels the strong pull of conscience. He knows that Kevin would disapprove of his recent choices and there’s a part of him that’s glad Kevin is locked away in confinement and unaware of his lapse in judgment. Weasel actually considers suicide, but doesn’t want to die a coward, and that alone keeps him from acting on it.
Then his opportunity comes. The bully who wronged his friend by taking a silver chain given to him by his deceased brother, is open and unsuspecting. Who would ever suspect Weasel? The scrawny geek who’s been invisible his whole life, easy prey for predators, the object of ridicule, the kid who’s always been too meek and awkward and scared to fight back.
Except on this day. Weasel takes a running charge, jumps and swings as he was taught, and knocks the guy to the ground. He lands another solid punch, then reclaims Kevin’s chain. Instead of simply getting up and accepting his punishment immediately, Weasel takes off in a wild sprint around the rec yard, to the growing cheers of his fellow inmates. He is liberated, joyous, a newborn man. He can hardly believe what just happened. His entire life, he bought the definition that others assigned to him. No one ever considered him because no one ever noticed him. Cowardice, weakness, invisibility were his birthright, written into the very code of his DNA.
Until today. He took action, avenged the crime of theft, stood in for his friend who couldn’t right the wrong himself, and rewrote the code.
This is a powerful lesson for all of us. We do not have to accept the box into which we’ve been placed, either by others or by ourselves. Settling for a lesser definition of who we are is the escape hatch of the lazy, the unevolved, the immature. It absolves us from taking responsibility for ourselves and our choices, which many are all too eager to do. Sure, you can lie down and passively allow yourself to be limited, restrained by the world’s labels. Or you can choose to rewrite the code.
If you’d like help rewriting the code, ask God for assistance.
“Who’s your enemy?” Kevin drilled Weasel during their training sessions.
“Not my opponent,” Weasel would answer.
“Fear, panic, rage, doubt.”
“Good. Remember this, the opposite of fear isn’t courage. The opposite of fear is faith.”
How Scriptural is that? This dialogue could easily be an exchange between God and any of His children. While the author does not draw a direct line between faith and God, he leaves the door open for the reader.
Nestled among the raw, everyday realities of life depicted in this book are important life lessons, learned the hardest way possible, then illustrated for us by an astute and gifted writer. A man in the truest sense of the word, who began his difficult journey as a child, eventually saw the sense in choosing to rewrite his own code, and became an adult.
His writing is brimming with insight, shrewd and unflinching, into human behavior, human needs and desires, shortcomings and faults, violence, betrayal, tenderness, loyalty, compassion. He brings you crashing into his world, shows you around, and watches your reaction as you try to wrap your mind around, then take in, what has become boring routine for him. He takes you on a wild ride and leaves you off a changed person, inspired to rewrite your own code.