Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

11 May 2012

(Short Story) Faith Love Time and Dr. Lazaro by: Gregorio Brillantes

(Reaction) How small we are in the vastness of things by: Antonio Conejos

Faith, Love, Time is about the collision of the great existential themes of life (to those indicated in the title we can also add hope, purpose and empathy) with the harsh realities of living. These are the abstract aspirations smashing into the concrete problems of the everyday, as exemplified by the country doctor, Lazaro.

Lazaro is a pool of darkness surrounded by light. Indeed, light, its retreat and approach, its highs and ebbs, is a central motif throughout the story and one which must be watched closely.

Light is associated with all the things Lazaro no longer believes in. One, it is associated with faith, Mrs. Lazaro had resumed her knitting; in the circle of yellow light, her head bowed, she seemed absorbed in some contemplative prayer... He hurried down the carving stairs, under the votive lamps of the Sacred Heart. Two, light is also associated with those he loves but is distant from, notably Ben, his son, In the glow of the dashboard lights, the boy's face relaxed, smiled. Third, light is finally also associated with life itself. Their final stop before heading to the hut where the death of the baby waits is a gas station, its fluorescent lights the only brightness on the plain before them, on the road that led farther into deeper darkness. This is the final outpost, bathed in light, before they enter death's realm and administer to a baby Lazaro knows he cannot save. (The descent towards darkness and death is further seen in their crossing of a river, to drown here in the depths of the night before they reach the hut - an allusion to the River Styx.)

Once they reach Esteban's hut, darkness is well and truly entrenched; so much so that even light can only be described in relation to darkness, 'We're here doctor,' Esteban said, and they padded up a stretch of sand to a clump of trees; a dog started to bark, the shadows of a kerosene lamp wavered at a window.

The preponderance of darkness, and the linking of existential themes to light (themes which Lazaro yearns for but can no longer believe in), illustrates that Lazaro is a damaged man; scarred irrevocably by his work (duty had taken the place of an exhausted compassion) and the loss of his first son (He closed his eyes, erasing the slashed wrists, part of the future dead in a boarding-house room... Sorrow lay in ambush among the years.).

That Lazarus is damaged is aptly seen in the darkness surrounding him. He thought of light years, black space, infinite distances; in the unmeasured universe, man's life flared briefly and was gone, traceless in the void.

But can there be a resurrection? After all the character's name harkens to the biblical Lazarus who was literally raised out of darkness. There are encouraging signs as the short story progresses that Lazaro tentatively takes some steps towards the light, ie. he begins to believe again in faith, hope and love. The catalyst for this spark of belief is Ben, his last son, He could sense the boy groping for the tremendous answers... a woman bathed in light appeared before children, and mortal men spoke of eternal life... With unaccustomed tenderness he placed a hand on Ben's shoulder as they turned toward the cement-walled house.

Lazaro comes close. But just as Ben tries to articulate all the light his father has lost, of faith and hope, the light becomes too strong and blind Lazarus. This is literally seen in the story for just as Lazarus again yearns to believe, A bus roared around a hill toward them, its lights blinding him.

Lazaro falls back into darkness and is denied the light. Instead of faith, hope and love he is consigned back to his tomb of death and dirt. In the headlights the dust sifted down and when the air was clear again, Dr. Lazaro, swallowing a taste of earth, of darkness, maneuvered the car back onto the road, his arms numb and exhausted. There is no resurrection for this story's Lazarus.

The darkness though does not make Lazaro an evil man. He is simply tired, a character who has seen too much and who, like Job, asks what did man do to deserve this lot. The sparrow does not fall without the Father's leave, he mused at the sky, but it falls just the same. But to what end are the sufferings of a child? And again like Job, Lazarus has the temerity to insist that is wrong and to ask the only question there is to ask; why?

Review:

A bit ponderous when I first read it but it sort of grows on you after successive readings. There really are a lot of layers here, from the imagery to the allusions to the many possible double meanings of various bits of dialogue.

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