To Turn Back Time

November 14, 2011

Some books can spoil readers with details, descriptions, flashbacks and footnotes.  Then, there is Hemingway.  His short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is rather like the unmarked script of a play.  With neither pages of back story nor physical descriptions, he gives us just the “man” and the “girl,” a nameless couple on a railway platform, sorting through their lives in sensuous, sweltering, post World War I Spain.  The actress within me is intrigued.  I yearn to understand these characters, to discover the tones of their dialogue, and as fancy may strike me to design their set.

I imagine the girl in those long, lonely years when she waited for life to begin.  Now the story has opened.  She is center stage.  She is lovely, and soul-weary; she wonders if there is really no more to life than to “look at things and try new drinks.”

She fingers a curtain of beads in her hand, and plays with the thought of turning back time.  If only things were just the way they were, when they measured their love in tongues of hot, rosy flame.  If only things were like they were before, when a girlish word and laughter could make the man her slave.

Looking out on the world, she wants only to hold it, to know its beauty, its wonders, its spells and its charms.  Yet her world has been marred, and her innocence lost.  “Once they take it away, you never get it back.”

And, there sits the man who might have opened her world.   A man of two continents, he has tasted all things yet never drunk deep.  He cares for her, but not for “it.”  His core of self can admit a place for the lover, but not for new life born of their love.

A train arrives; two faces disappear.  I wonder how their story will end.  I wonder how many girls of no name – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – give up everything to “turn back time”

Yes, it takes courage to choose life over self, to exchange known comforts for unknown beauty and rewards.  So we remember, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

 

 

 

 

Fear Not the Tempest

October 23, 2011

There was an era, not so long ago, when the spirit of exploration and adventure roamed the high seas.  Oil lamps burned on tables at home while men battled with monsters upon the waves.  From the Great Lakes to the uncharted wastelands of Antarctica, each journey evoked uncertainty, as sure as a roll of the dice.  Yet classic poems, sea-songs, and narratives reveal a burning spirit of hope, the kind that prevails against unspeakable odds.

“The Sailor and His Bride”

                                    by Isabella Valency Crawford (1850-1887)

“Let out the wet dun sail, my lads,

The foam is flying fast;

It whistles on the fav’ring gale,

To-night we’ll anchor cast.

What though the storm be loud, my lads,

And danger on the blast;

Though bursting sail swell round and proud,

And groan the straining mast;

The storm has wide, strong wings, my lads,

On them our craft shall ride,

And dear the tempest swift that brings

The sailor to his bride.”

“Fear not the tempest shrill, my heart,

The tall, white breakers’ wrath;

I would not have the wild winds still

Along the good ship’s path.

The ship is staunch and strong, my heart,

The wind blows to the strand;

Why tremble? for its fiercest song

But drives the ship to land.

Be still, nor throb so fast, my heart,

The storm but brings, betide

What may to ship and straining mast,

My sailor to his bride.”

When Women Create

September 19, 2011

While celebrating our anniversary, my husband and I recently wandered into a small gift shop.  Amused, we picked up a book about brides and their beloved wedding plans.  Apparently, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman will exhaust more time, sweat and tears on her wedding plans than will her male counterpart.  The book attributes this phenomenon to some sort of feminine “rite of passage.”  I can understand this line of thought.

The year of 2010 witnessed a host of mischievous bands intruding upon my parents’ household: a small army of votive candles, a happy troupe of silk flowers, a whirlwind array of bright papers and ribbons, and a luscious company of fine apparel and accessories.  Why mischievous, you ask?  Quite frankly, these dear objects will never organize, tidy, and arrange themselves.  Such is woman’s work.

Thus, I watched (sometimes helped) the magic that unfolds when women create.  In Carey’s hands, flyaway beads and threads on our antique dress became neat and pristine.  Sandy’s cathedral veil vision transformed a pile of tulle and lace, while Emily handcrafted a unique set of jewelry.  Anne, meanwhile, stitched seven modest and flattering gowns with only pictures as guides.  Says Anne, “Who needs patterns?”

Most exciting were the days (and they were many) when my own Marmee rolled up her sleeves.  Each centerpiece was wonderfully unique.  No two pale pink and forest green invitations were exactly alike.  Yet all spoke of beauty, tenderness, and care… just like the home that had sheltered me always… just like the marriage I hoped to create.

Times of transition are never easy; an engagement is no exception.  Yet, I will always cherish the wedding planning season, when I observed young mothers, widows, and middle-aged mothers with daughters, all plying their creative and painstaking trades.  I noted their gracious ways of helping others.  I felt their joy in a job well done.   And I hoped to emerge from my “rite of passage” with not only a new name, but a woman’s heart to match.

Literature has always held an honored seat in my heart.  Thus, I am chagrined when I see the classics of Western culture interspersed with cheap, vulgar titles in mainstream bookstores.  How I long to warn unsuspecting buyers that fiction and literature are non-equivalent things.

True literature may be defined as “the best expression of the best thought.”  Fine expression characterizes any great writer who has refined his voice, style, and literary devices.  A fine thought, on the other hand, is less easy to identify in our tolerant, pluralistic society.  For the Christian, however, the difficulty dissolves.  The best thoughts have been predetermined:

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

One can imagine a zealous believer adopting extreme measures where fiction is concerned.  Her reading material may be restricted to pious novels with sugar-coated heroines (not to mention preachy fathers and suitors, both woefully unpracticed in the art of normal conversation).  I suggest that such a course will teach our families and children to loathe books, when they might have learned to enjoy and even seek out the wisdom of the ancient and modern classics.

But, what of the call to purity? my zealous friend asks.  Consider a character such as Edward Rochester in that darling of British Literature, Jane Eyre.  Rochester’s history is dark.  His words are deceptive, his intentions deplorable.  Shall we label this as literature?

Acclaimed Southern writer Flannery O’Connor repeatedly delved into the theme of evil in her short stories and novels.  In a letter from 1956, she wrote: “I don’t think purity is mere innocence. I don’t think babies and idiots possess it. I take it to be something that comes either with experience or with Grace….”  Searching the lives of Abraham and David, or the epistles of the Apostle Paul, we find the true virtue of our faith to be not naïve innocence, but purity.

Stories of redemption are the stories worth telling.  While shabby fiction glorifies evil in all its shameful aspects, literature portrays fallen and restless mankind – without subjecting the reader to sordid details.  Jane Eyre is a praiseworthy tale of the broken made whole.  Jane finds purity through experience, for in refusing an illicit proposal she truly bends her desires to a higher will.  For Edward, purity comes through the grace which floods his life after his own cunning and strength have failed.  May every book we read infuse our lives with such thoughts, and such hope.

Ideas Have Consequences

July 25, 2011

An idea takes hold in a woman’s mind.  It permeates her consciousness, molding every thought, infecting every dream.  The idea grows into a monstrous belief, leading her to make the ultimate sacrifice.  And, one man is left to grapple with the incredible potency of an idea – a single, life-shattering idea.

The film “Inception” makes a thrilling query.  With every great novel and stirring biography, it asks, “Would you die for an idea?”

Once, in a colonial province, the idea of freedom stirred in the hearts of men, both unschooled and learned, young and old alike.  The idea took shape in a corporate belief: that all men are created equal, with certain unalienable rights.  We know the story.  We have not forgotten their pledge of lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

In the weeks and months following July fourth, however, the idea demanded more than a pledge.  Writing in blood, not ink, was required at the altar of belief.   Living out their devotion to the freedom cause, Americans fell, one by one, from the General’s ranks.  At the battle of Long Island, August 1776, Washington bemoaned, “What brave fellows I must lose this day!”

What of us, in our bright and rollicking world?  The ideas are ripe to be gnawed at and chewed.  Yet, how seldom we give attention to truth.  Perhaps we are uneasy with deep, relevant thoughts.  Ideas have consequences, after all, and few among us desire to embrace a belief.

We hear the old rugged idea, from our Sunday pews.  You are not your own… you are bought with a price.  Is today the day I let it take hold in my mind?  It might cast shadows on my memories, giving definition and direction to future plans.  This idea might grow into an overwhelming belief, forcing self-will to die for something higher than myself.  Perhaps the world would see and wonder.  And I could share that one idea.

Eye to Eye

June 17, 2011

“What makes you happy?”  A strong, gentle voice asks.  A moment of reflection steals over Terry’s brow, before she turns to answer: “I guess I’m happy when I don’t want to be anywhere else but where I am.”

As the story develops for this screen couple, happiness begins when the chase for elusive ease and affluence ends.  Only as they learn to accept their own talents (however limited) and embrace their present circumstances (however tragic) do two searching souls find a home.

Although once prone to wish that my life was a musical, I’ve discovered that the secret of contentment is not relegated to the world of romantic films.  It is, in fact, a choice we make each and every day.  It’s not so much something we learn, but it is something we must do.  And we must do it often.

As I finished reading a memoir by Luci Swindoll, I was struck by her rare and priceless outlook.  Doing Life Differently: The Art of Living with Imagination recalls nearly eight decades of Miss Swindoll’s life, a life brimming with adventure, art, personality, and grace.  Her story overflows with memorable occasions because she made it her habit to always be fully present, fully engaged, fully embracing the moment.

Do we make contentment a way of life, embracing the moment despite our feelings, our fears, and our past failures?  I don’t speak of the times when our spirits are heightened by familiar joys and favorite pastimes.  I mean the still, quiet morning after a grueling move… the social gathering with unfamiliar faces… the prospect of a rote, unhallowed task.  Do we view our neighborhood – and our neighbor – eye to eye, intent on seeing the beautiful and the good?

More importantly, we face a choice in the midst of life’s heartaches.  We can slowly withdraw, or be fully alive.  We can fortify ourselves against loss, or choose to love through the pain.

The true heroes and heroines are not stars of the silver screen, but men and women who choose to love when life is fragile.  They are the wise few who understand the truth of human life, and dare to engage it with the truth of divine love.

New Beginnings

May 24, 2011

Dear Reader,

“Waterlilies,” like a small newborn child, is a testament of faith in a doubting world.   If you have stepped through the doors of a crisis pregnancy center, if you have entrusted your infant to neonatal nurses, if you have passed through the fire with miracle babies, I hope you will embrace this celebration of life – no matter how small.

My motif is drawn from a liberal arts college.  The campus arboretum, my favorite haunt for rambles and dreams, always led me to a water lily pond and an old wooden bridge.  I hope these writings lead you there, too.

Regards,

Daniella Maria