The Shape of Story; The Shape of Truth!
Let me tell you a story filled with horror and fright. This is a true story. It happened to me.
I am a radiologist, a doctor who interprets Xrays, CAT scans, MRIs, etc. Years ago, in the old school days, Xrays were images exposed on regular film. Now, images are captured digitally and sent to a hires computer screen. To develop these films, each Radiology department had a dark room. On one side of the front wall of the darkroom was a huge Xray film developing unit the size of a short refrigerator. It went through the wall and the other side, enclosed in darkness, was where the exposed films were fed for development. These huge, hot, throbbing machines churned out spent silver and hot water. The result was a viscous, shiny black goo that was poured into a special drain cut in the floor of the darkroom.
I came to work one day at a radiology department (I will not say where — at that time I worked at over six different locations) to find the “light” room in disarray. The “light” room was where the technologists worked and was called that because the room had a door that led into the “dark” room. Go figure. It seemed that sometime during the night, the developing machine had malfunctioned. The floor was covered in black, icky goo glistening and burbling like some vast living alien being. Fortunately, there was a backup developer in surgery for running Xrays taken during surgery. The stench was unbelievable! It was as if a thousand dying vultures had plunged into the dark cave of the dark room and had putrified into a morass of black ichor.
To get into the dark room, there was a rotating door of black and brown panels. When the door was open, you could go in. If it was closed, someone was inside. And, since there was room for only two people in the darkroom, you didn’t want to go in. There was a deep throated rumble as the door rotated and exposed our “biorad” tech guy clad in a surgical mask, bouffant surgical cap and a yellow biohazard apron. He was gagging as he emerged into the light room and he leaned over the sink and retched. I looked back at the yawning black mouth of the darkroom door. I recognized this stench. I had been involved in my share of autopsies as a medical student. It was the stink of human decomposition.
“What did you find in there?” I asked the man.
His face was pale and sweaty as he pulled off his mask. “Something is wedged in the drain pipe. Something big.”
My heart raced and he placed the mask back over his face. “I’ve almost got it out.” He bravely stormed the doorway and cycled out of sight. I went to my office and began my day of reading films. An hour or so later, biorad guy knocked on my door. I knew he was there because the stench preceded him. He was carrying a large, black bucket.
“Dr. Hennigan, what do you think this is?” He sat the bucket at my feet.
My heart raced as I examined the shiny, black mass glistening in the bucket. The pebbly surface and contour matched only one thing. A liver.
“It looks . . . organic.” I managed to say. How had someone’s liver ended up in the drain pipe of a hospital dark room? Instantly, my imagination began to run wild. Someone had to have removed this liver from a living, or possibly, dead human being. Why had they done so? Was this heinous killer caught in the act and had to duck into our dark room and try and dispose of the liver? Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?
Biorad wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. “What should I do with it? It looks like an organ.”
“Yes, it does.” I slowly rolled my desk chair back from the thing. “Why don’t you take it to the lab and get someone in pathology to look at it. It might be a specimen from . . .”
“Surgery?” Biorad said. “Maybe someone dropped it in the dark room and . . .” He stopped because he knew how stupid it sounded. But, the thing before us was beyond stupid; it was horrifically real.
“Pathology.” I nodded.
Biorad picked up the bucket and left my office. I tried to push the image and the smell from my memory without much success. I was relieved when my day was finally done and I could leave the lingering odor that filled the hallway with the memory of death.
I did not return to that hospital for several days. When I returned, the light room was pristine and the developer was humming along. The head of the department came to my office to discuss a procedure to be done on a patient and I stopped her before she could leave the room. “What ever happened with the thing we found in the drain?”
Her face paled and she smiled weakly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I blinked and laughed. “Last week. The dark room flooded. We found something in the drain. It looked like a liver.”
She shook her head and looked away. “There was nothing in the drain but some thickened silver halide.
I stood up and took her by the shoulders, turning her face toward me. “I know what I saw. I told our biorad guy to take it to pathology. Did he?”
She swallowed. “He never should have done that.”
“I can’t tell you. If I do, I’ll be fired automatically. Just drop it, Dr. Hennigan. Just drop it.” She pulled away from me and disappeared from my office.
A few months before, a serial killer had struck in our area. Just a year before that, a prominent physician had been accused of killing his wife. He always maintained someone broke into his house. I can’t prove it, but as I slumped into my chair I was convinced this mysterious killer had struck again. And, to escape negative publicity, this hospital in a small town at which I was moonlighting would never reveal the fact that someone under its care had died a horrific and painful death and a ghoulish fiend had taken that victim’s liver and instead of eating it with fave beans, had stuffed it into a drain in a lonely, dank dark room.
Story. It is how we communicate. This is a true story. I have not embellished it in any way. What I did was to give it context and setting. Against the backdrop of recent events, the story took on a menacing and horrific tone. No matter what my intent in telling this story, I had to convey information in a specific format. A beginning, a middle, and an end.
The scientific method developed out of Augustine’s method for exegesis of scripture. He developed the method to provide a concrete and rational approach to the interpretation of scripture. Centuries later, Isaac Newton took the same set of principles and applied them to scientific inquiry. First, you have an idea; a notion; a suspicion on how something works. Next, you devise a way to test your idea through experimentation. Lastly, you take the data you have acquired and analyze it to determine one of two possible outcomes. Either the data supports your idea or it fails to support the idea. If it supports the “hypothesis” then a new “law” is in the making. If it does not, the scientist returns to the drawing board and revisits the original “idea” or hypothesis. In scientific inquiry, just as in story, there is a beginning (hypothesis), a middle (data acquisition), and an end (conclusion).
Story is everywhere. In fact, I would assert that story is the ONLY way as human beings we have to communicate. We are verbal beings, even when what we say is written or painted or sung or played upon an instrument. We take our innermost “ideas” and we transmit them in such a way that we communicate with others. To that, we must couch those ideas in the form of a story. Story is all around us. Story is how we communicate. Story is Life!
There are challenges to the Christian faith that consist of claims that the “story” of Jesus is borrowed from myths and legends of the day about other “gods”. Such claims may have some legitimacy. But, how can we convey the facts about an event without, in some way, using language and elements that have already been used in story after story after story since the dawn of mankind? As a writer, I can tell you that every story that can be told has been told. Most stories can be reduced to basic elements of at best two dozen basic stories. No matter what kind of story we choose to convey a truthful event, there can ALWAYS be claimed that we took elements of other stories to fabricate this story. Nothing is original! It has all happened in one form or another before. Just because it is a story, does not mean it is not truth!
What we do as human beings is to embellish the story; to strengthen the story; to enhance the story to give it context and gravitas and emotional heft. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite essays of all time by Walter Wangerin, Jr. He tells the story of the “the shaper” the meaning of the ancient English word, scop, used for the poet of the day. In this essay, he talks about how the clan has had a battle in which one of its own has perished. The clan returns to its mead hall, tired and broken by the day’s events. And then, the storyteller, the “shaper” takes the day’s events and . . .
The battle had been bloody enough to make a red mud of the earth beneath their feet; and one of their number had died; and now they’ve returned to the mead hall, exhausted, hungry, aggrieved.
They eat in silence. They drink that oldest of human drinks, a wine made of fermented honey. Their sadness deepens to a maudlin despair….
And just then the singer strikes a chord on his harp.
The singer develops the chord into melody. A familiar melody, in fact. One everyone has heard since childhood, and therefore one that carries profound, unutterable associations: parental comfort, an assurance of the divine. The singer sings familiar verses, and all the people nod: there is the weight of meaning in these verses. They remember. They remember and re-experience them now.
But then the singer begins to weave new words into the familiar verses: the details of today’s grim battle; the name of the comrade who fell; the deeds he did in falling, all of which, fetching up in the experience of this song, find place within the precincts of the divine; all of which are no longer senseless, but do bear now the weight of genuine purpose and meaning. And the people nod. And the dead ascends into the Valhalla of heroes. It is well. Chaos is cosmos. Desolation is now heavy with purpose. The day has taken shape in the singer’s song–
–and ever thereafter, it is the spiritual, artistic shape which is remembered as the truth of that day, not the cold, undecipherable, purely empirical fact.
We take “purely empirical fact” and shape it into song; story; poetry; painting; music; art; and yes, scientific discovery. We give it life! It resonates within our souls; our hearts; our minds! And, here is the point I would like to make as I follow up on yesterday’s post about Ray Bradbury.
Humanity will always have to utilize Story to communicate; to give meaning and life to the events that swirl around us; to answer the “why” not just the “how” for those empirical facts. And, in order to use Story, we must use our imagination. And, in order to use our imagination, we must ALWAYS have the ability and the freedom and the capacity to seek after God. Remove God from the human awareness and you remove imagination. The supernatural is ESSENTIAL for the continuation of the human race. This was addressed years ago by a prominent atheist who said that whether we believe in God or not, we have to at least believe in a “noble lie” for humanity to continue to thrive.
The “noble lie” for me is the Truth, the Life, and the Way! And, His Story is the Greatest Story Ever Told!
Don’t forget to come by the LifeWay in Shreveport this coming Saturday, January 5th from noon to 2 PM for my book signing. I will be signing “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”, and “Conquering Depression: A 30 Day Plan to Finding Happiness”. Come and buy some books if none of these interest you. Come and share your Story! Free tee shirts!!!!
Posted on January 2, 2013, in Breaking News, My Writing, Speculative Fiction, Steel Chronicles and tagged Augustine, Book Signing, God, Horror, Isaac Newton, noble lie, scientific method, Story, Truth. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Shape of Story; The Shape of Truth!.