Whether it was Shakespeare exploring the social effects of marriage in Taming of the Shrew or George Bernard Shaw mocking class structures in Pygmallion, every story is layered with messages. I knew before ever touching Jojo Meyer’s Me Before You, that the book was controversial, and the movie edition had created a backlash of frustration.
The Controversy behind Me Before You
It’s no wonder the book/movie is disturbing.
While the romantic layering is complex, the love interest still chooses to commit assisted suicide. I haven’t seen the film version, and I don’t think I ever will. But the book leaves you with very mixed feelings.
I read the story nearly eight months ago. To give some sort of perspective, I tend to be able to read a book and write a review in less than a month. But the book left me deeply troubled, and I struggled to put my scattered feelings into coherent thoughts.
I don’t claim to know the author’s motives for writing Me Before You. I haven’t even read the sequel. But, watching society respond to the story, I was struck by the narrative. For months, I’ve wrestled with the story.
I’m not certain how much of a story synopsis one needs to grasp the overall themes. Here’s the basic plot:
Lou, 27, needs a job. She’s hired as a caretaker for a quadriplegic, who is determined to die. The quadriplegic, Will, was a successful, active, rich guy before a car crash left him paralyzed. His mom hires Lou, hoping her sunny personality will help her son’s attitude. After a while, Lou learns Will tried to kill himself, before promising his parents to live for 6 more months. After the allotted time, they have agreed to fly him to Switzerland to commit assisted suicide. Lou is horrified, and wants to quit the job entirely. But Will’s mom persuades Lou to try to give Will a reason to live. Even though Lou does her best, falling in love with Will in the process, Will doesn’t want to live. Claiming to love her, he still chooses to die. Lou wants to refuse to participate, but she chooses to be at his side when Will dies.
There are so many things one could discuss with this story. But after 6 months of mulling the book over, one thing still makes my stomach turn.
Lou chooses to ignore her conscience.
Lou believes Will should live. She does her best to give him reasons to live. She argues with him, takes him on expensive vacations, researches handicap friendly events, joins support groups. When Will says he will die, Lou reprimands him through her tears. She knows living may be harder, but dying is easy selfishness. Lou walks away from Will when insists he will die.
But her heart is divided. Conscience vs Love
Which comes first?
Should she uphold her view of life – choosing to die is wrong.
Or should she be with Will? He will still choose to die, whether or not Lou is there. Her presence only gives him peace of mind. He knows she disapproves, no matter where she is.
In the end, Love trumps conscience. Lou flies to Switzerland, even risking prosecution under British law, to be with Will in his final moments.
I’ve wrestled with this idea for months. The pull of love verses conscience. It’s not just an issue in Jojo Meyers’ Me Before You.
Whether it’s discussing the Church, friendships, or family relationships, the issues of love vs conscience are sticky. Controversial and deeply personal.
Sometimes it’s small things. Should I like their FB status? How can I say no to watching that movie with them? Should I tell them I disagree, possibly offending them, or just be silent?
When I love someone, how much should my own feelings play into the relationship? If I truly love them as myself, when should my opinions on right or wrong matter?
To answer these question, I first need to ask myself – what is my chief love?
Who gave me life? Who protects and guides me each day? Who sacrificed Himself for me?
The answer is clearly Jesus. Love for family and friends is temporary, compared to the eternal love of God.
Jesus gave a clear way to communicate my love for Him. If you love Me, keep my commandments.
And the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, spoke about showing love through obedience. John said, His commands are not grievous.
Since Jesus is my chief love, any earthly love that comes into conflict with Jesus’s commands looses. It’s not a matter of my opinion. Or what I want. But a matter of who owns my affection.
Romance, filial love, patriotism -nothing can ever match the affection my heart must have for Christ.
This affection cannot be half-hearted. It must encompass everything, and drive out anything whispering dissension.
Full Hearted Sacrifice
Jojo Meyers understands that love requires sacrifice.
But Lou made the wrong sacrifice. We aren’t called to sacrifice our conscience to uphold love.
Really upholding love requires sacrificing ourselves.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”