I’d like you to meet Skyler. She’s over in the corner, whimpering as obtrusively as possible. More like wailing, actually. Her clothes are dirty, her hair’s a tangled mess, and her wrists are chained, just like all the other prisoners in the room.
Skyler is a character from my play Narrow Escape. Like her fellow inmates, she’s trapped and helpless, but she tends to complain more than the others. Skyler’s extreme complaining doesn’t mean she’s any more miserable than all the other prisoners; it just shows that she is driven by a desire for attention. Misery loves company, right? Well, Skyler likes to throw a self-pity-party extravaganza and wants to have everybody come and shower her with sympathy. She doesn’t particularly care about getting out of her wretchedness; she just wants everyone to be wretched with and for her.
When a stranger comes to the prison, claiming he can guide the prisoners to freedom, Skyler and the others must each make a choice, either to trust this Guide or, for whatever reason, refuse to follow him. For Skyler, her decision is hampered by the comfort she finds in being miserable and getting sympathy in her misery. Deep down, she doesn’t want to escape to freedom, because being free and happy would take away her ability to throw pity-parties for herself. Take a look at this exchange between Skyler and the Guide, who is trying to convince her to trust him:
Guide: I’m here to help you escape. If you’ll follow me, you’ll be free.
Skyler: [hesitating] Oh, well…. I just — I feel absolutely wretched. [leans back] I must be a pathetic sight.
Guide: I know you’re wretched, that’s why I’m here.
Skyler: Oh, you have no idea how wretched I am. You should see the food they give me — it’s just vile!
Guide: Don’t think about that anymore, I’m here to free you.
Skyler: And the sanitation! There is none! There are dreadful drafts, and bugs everywhere…. [slumps back, moaning] I never sleep.
Guide: You’ll sleep in peace after we cross the minefield. Now come, follow me.
Skyler: [disconcerted] But I…I’m so tired, and weak, you know. [starts to pant for breath] I don’t know if I can make it.
Guide: Trust me, I’ll be there with you. Just come.
Skyler: I’m very ill, really. [still panting, with one hand on chest, the other on forehead] I think it’s pneumonia from this cold, damp room. Or maybe typhoid fever, lung cancer, [thumps chest] cardiac arrest, I’m not sure.
Guide: Do you want to be free?
Skyler: [ignoring] Oh the pain! Have some compassion on a poor sufferer!
Guide: Compassion is what brought me here. All you want is commiseration.
Ultimately, as the Guide perceives, Skyler doesn’t really want to be free. She doesn’t want his love that will break her chains and lift her out of her wretchedness. She merely wants “commiseration.” She craves attention and affirmation in her wretchedness.
Skyler is a sad but real example of human nature. She’s satisfied with so much less than what she could have if she would just trust the Guide. As George MacDonald once wrote, “Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.”