I checked out a book called The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life by Alison Gopnik (thanks to the Franks tribe for the recommendation!) and found a chapter near the end titled “The Wisdom of Huck Finn.”
I turned there immediately, eager to see what makes Huck Finn so wise. The passage shored up memories of my own fearfulness of a character like Huck, someone wild enough to break the rules even the church rules. Someone dripping more with sin than with holy living. Someone I think my parents would have warned me against.
For those unfamiliar with Mark Twain’s tale let me catch you up. Huckleberry Finn runs away from his abusive father and joins the runaway slave, Jim, on a raft in the Mississippi. The stuff of boyhood dreams turns this unlikely pair into fellow adventurers, braving the danger of the Mississippi’s waters, white slave owners’ wrath and defying the rules that dictate that runaway slaves (and those who harbor them) are serving the Devil. Huck wonders about his eternal destiny more than once in the story.
Huck’s friendship with Jim, a face-to-face understanding that outshines Huck’s relationship with his real father brings Huck to a point of empathy and knowledge most adults never touch. In the crucial decision of Twain’s novel Huck must choose if he will give Jim up to the authorities.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN.
I felt good and washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But i didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking; thinking of how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me — so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and would always call me honey . . . and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happen’d to look around, and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, between two things. I studied a minute, holding my breath, and then says to my self:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell” — and tore it up.
In high school, Huck frightened me, he was too edgy and too unsafe. He disobeys that hungering for whiteness and purity from sin, he bucks the systems that tell you how to live long lives of safety and relative lack of discord with your neighbors.
But even then I couldn’t shake the feeling that Huck was a hero, one that I wouldn’t be completely comfortable accepting.
Now, Huck Finn reminds me of my husband, that brave, even rebellious, willingness to follow truth even if the established orthodoxy does not sanction it. When Dale was in high school, when he doubted God (his existence, his goodness, his love) he came to a point where he realized he would follow God, even if God damned him to hell.
As I read Huck Finn, I think often of my husband, the inconvenient rapids he’s had to endure, all of which allow his speaking and writing to gleam with a hard-won luster. In marrying Dale, I’ve watched myself engage with the established order of life, to have kids in the proper amount of time (People often asked, “You DO want kids, right??”), to leave off traveling with him and keep house, to write about safer more acceptable topics, to stay close to family and live near the friends I made in youth, to swiftly surrender to men who prefer I stay out of the pulpits, the spotlights, the stage, to keep on attending a congregational church on Sunday morning between 9-12 am, to maintain a wide circle of friends.
In each, I’m glad to say I followed more of Huck Finn’s road, choosing to listen to the Spirit of God softly calling me down a road less traveled, asking me to love truth, regardless if a host of others understood me. It’s a heritage I want to pass on to our son.
Besides, I find myself delighted to name our son after the qualities I treasure in his father. Honesty, courage, and a refreshingly rebellious spirit.
Beyond this, to name our son Finn Fincher adopts a centuries old practice from Wales, appropriate given the Welsh blood that beats through Dale’s veins. The Welsh name their sons using their last names, creating a repeating, emphasizing device. William Williams and Robert Roberts are Welsh names. So is David Dale Davis, or D.D., Dale maternal grandfather, and first generation immigrant from Wales, David Davies, Dale’s great-great-grandfather. In Wales, all three are variations of the same name: David, Davis and Davies. In Wales, what we pronounce “Davis” is spelled Davies. Americanization dropped the “e” to prevent mis-pronunciation in the U.S.A.
We like the original spelling.
We found a business card for Davis Construction, Dale’s grandfather’s decades old business. In the left hand corner, highlighted by blue letters, you can read his business motto, “Things That Last.” D.D.’s work lives on, not only the industrial buildings he built across the world, but in the way he funded strategic spokespeople for Jesus. D.D. was the first financial backer for an articulate Indian evangelist named Ravi Zacharias in 1983. Ravi has written about D.D.’s role in his life as the architect of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
D.D.’s legacy also lives on in the work we do at Soulation. D.D.’s dedication to lasting work frees Dale and I to worry less about “trends” and concern ourselves with the goodness of the gospel in human life.
Little Finn entered our lives last summer, as an unexpected but not unplanned positive on a pregnancy test. I took the test right before our first Soulation Retreat, a time of hectic bewilderment that this was the time God has chosen to give us a child. This time? Right when we had just moved from 3000 square feet to 750 square feet? Really, God?
In those months of battling morning, afternoon and evening sickness I grabbed tightly to the words of midrash expert Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg.
“For to create is precisely not to control . . .”
–from The Beginning of Desire
Zornberg is discussing God’s risk in creating the world with free creatures. Both Dale and I feel this risky business of bringing a child into the world intensified by my own growing tummy.
My mother calligraphied these words for our Christmas present. They hang next to my side of the bed. I see them every morning and every evening.
Nine months after Finn’s conception, we’re all atwit and agog at the life of this one-of-a kind baby boy.
Today we joyfully announce the birth of Finn Davies Fincher
born March 2, 2010
9 lbs 12 ounces
21 3/4 inches
Image credit: www.britannica.com