Saturday, September 14, 2013

It does not end happy, but it does end well!

This is going to take some focus. So close your facebook browser, pause the TV, take a deep breath, and read. 

 There was a certain country where things used to go rather oddly. For instance, you could never tell whether it was going to rain or hail, or whether or not the milk was going to turn sour. It was impossible to say whether the next baby would be a boy or a girl, or, even after he was a week old, whether he would wake sweet-tempered or cross.
  In strict accordance with the peculiar nature of this country of uncertainties, it came to pass one day that, in the midst of a shower of rain that might well be called golden, seeing the sun, shining as it fell, turned all its drops into molten topazes—while this splendid rain was falling, something happened.

 It was not a great battle, nor an earthquake, nor a coronation, but something more important than all those put together: a baby-girl was born—and her father was a king, and her mother was a queen, and her uncles and aunts were princes and princesses, and her first cousins were dukes and duchesses, so the little girl was Somebody; and yet for all that, strange to say, the first thing she did was to cry! 

I told you it was a strange country.

As she grew up, everybody about her did his best to convince her that she was Somebody, and the girl herself was so easily persuaded of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so, and took it for a fundamental, innate, primary, firstborn, self-evident, necessary, and incontrovertible idea and principle that she was Somebody. And the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there being more than one Somebody—and that was herself.

 Far away to the north in the same country,among the hailstones, and the heather, and the cold mountain air, another little girl was born, whom the shepherd her father, and the shepherdess her mother, And yet, would you believe it? she too cried the very first thing. It was an odd country! And what is still more surprising, the shepherd and shepherdess were not a bit wiser than the king and the queen, for they too, one and all, so constantly taught the little woman that she was Somebody, that she also forgot that there were a great many more Somebodies besides herself in the world.

It was, indeed, a peculiar country—very different from ours—so different that my reader must not be too much surprised when I add the amazing fact, that most of its inhabitants, instead of enjoying the things they had, were always wanting the things they had not, often even the things it was least likely they ever could have. The grown men and women being like this, there is no reason to be further astonished that the Princess Rosamond—the name her parents gave her because it means Rose of the World—should grow up like them, wanting everything she could and everything she couldn’t have. The things she could have were a great many too many, for her foolish parents always gave her what they could; but still there remained a few things they couldn’t give her, for they were only a common king and queen. They could and did give her a lighted candle when she cried for it, and managed by much care that she should not burn her fingers or set her frock on fire; but when she cried for the moon, that they could not give her. They did the worst thing possible instead, however, for they pretended to do what they could not:—they got her a thin disc of brilliantly polished silver, as near the size of the moon as they could agree upon, and for a time she was delighted.

But, unfortunately, one evening she made the discovery that her moon was a little peculiar, inasmuch as she could not shine in the dark. Her nurse happened to snuff out the candles as she was playing with it, and instantly came a shriek of rage, for her moon had vanished. Presently, through the opening of the curtains, she caught sight of the real moon, far away in the sky, and shining quite calmly, as if she had been there all the time; and her rage increased to such a degree that if it had not passed off in a fit, I do not know what might have come of it.

 Of course as she grew, she grew worse, for she never tried to grow better. She became more and more peevish and fretful every day—dissatisfied not only with what she had, but with all that was around her, and constantly wishing things in general to be different. She found fault with everything and everybody and all that happened, and grew more and more disagreeable to everyone who had to do with her. At last, when she had nearly killed her nurse, and was miserable from morning to night, her parents thought it time to do something.

 A long way from the palace, in the heart of a deep wood of pine-trees, lived a wise woman. In some countries she would have been called a witch, but that would have been a mistake, for she never did anything wicked, and had more power than any witch could have. As her fame was spread through all the country, the king heard of her, and, thinking she might perhaps be able to suggest something, sent for her. In the dead of the night, lest the princess should know it, the king’s messenger brought into the palace a tall woman, muffled from head to foot in a cloak of black cloth. In the presence of both their majesties, the king, to do her honour, requested her to sit, but she declined, and stood waiting to hear what they had to say. Nor had she to wait long, for almost instantly they began to tell her the dreadful trouble they were in with their only child—first the king talking, then the queen interposing with some yet more dreadful fact, and at times both letting out a torrent of words together, so anxious were they to show the wise woman that their perplexity was real, and their daughter a very terrible one. For a long while there appeared no sign of approaching pause. But the wise woman stood patiently folded in her black cloak, and listened without word or motion. At length silence fell, for they had talked themselves tired, and could not think of anything more to add to the list of their child’s enormities.
“How very badly you have treated her!” said the wise woman: “Poor child.”
“What! Treated her badly?” gasped the king.
“She is a very wicked child,” said the queen; and both glared with indignation.
“Yes, indeed,” returned the wise woman; “she is very naughty indeed, and that she must be made to feel; but it is half your fault too.”
“What!” stammered the king. “Haven’t we given her every mortal thing she wanted?”
“Surely,” said the wise woman. “What else could have all but killed her! You should have given her a few things of the other sort. But you are far too dull to understand me.”
“You are very polite!” remarked the king, with royal sarcasm on his thin, straight lips.

The wise woman made no answer beyond a deep sigh, and the king and queen sat silent also in their anger, glaring at the wise woman. The silence lasted again for a minute, and then the wise woman folded her cloak around her. Yet another minute passed and the silence endured, for the smouldering wrath of the king and queen choked the channels of their speech. Then the wise woman turned her back on them, and so stood. At this the rage of the king broke forth, and he cried to the queen, stammering in his fierceness:

“How should such an old hag as that teach Rosamond good manners? She knows nothing of them herself! Look how she stands! Actually with her back to us!”

I will stop there for the moment. 

Let the breath go - do you have an odd sense that someone has just told you more about yourself then you wished to be known? Or worse - have you already begun to form a list in your mind of those that you think could benefit from reading such a story?  Ah yes - therein lies our deepest faults. How often do we in our Somebody-ness claim that today's children are self-entitled little brats, as we ourselves clamor in line to get whatever new item has caused that gut-pulling "I will not be satisfied until it is mine" feeling we so love to quench. 
Know, as always, that I speak of myself as well when I meander down the roads of examining the human condition. We all think we are Somebody - even if our own pet obsession is lamenting how un-Somebody-like we are. It is still eyes-focused-backwards, how much more Somebody-obsessed could we be than that?
I first heard this book as a child - but as children so often do, I forgot it. I recently found a picture book of an abridged version of just the princess side of the story in a used bookstore and devoured it; feeling both convicted and inspired - and all the while feeling as if I had stumbled upon both a precious treasure and a forgotten melody so beautiful, it must be divinely inspired.
I have done my fair share lately, of examining how we as a society raise our children. It is a topic close to my own heart, seeing as I am currently raising children - I often read books, study those around me and listen as mothers, fathers, grandparents and especially those without children of their own (Who can sometimes see behavior problems that we, as parents have missed in our arrogance and experience.) speak their thoughts on the matter. Everyone has an opinion on this subject...have you noticed that? Especially those who's opinions consist of "Everyone should be free to raise their own children as they see fit and no one, NO ONE better judge the decisions I make!" 

Now, to a point, I think we all agree with this - especially in today's elitist society. But all too often it is taken too far. This attitude breeds isolation - we seperate ourselves so entirely from those that could be of help - that in times of need, no one dares to speak a word of advice, for fear of being thought of as judgmental. 

I, on the other hand - as many of you well know, delve into this topic quite a lot - whether I should or not! As it is on my mind a lot. I spoke once of Bringing Back The Mommy Guilt a post that had close to 500 views (about 3 times what I normally have on this blog) and not one comment. Of course, that could be because I am so long winded that no one actually got to the end....I suppose I should probably work on that.

Now to make a short story shorter - the Wise woman takes Rosamond away from her parents, hidden beneath her cloak. She bids the girl clean her cottage, requires of her harder work then the princess has ever had to endure in her pampered life. And for all that - the girl glories in her anger at being misused and forced to work in order to eat. In her attempt to escape the cottage, Rosamond discovers a passage that leads her to several grand pictures - one in particular draws her eyes:

A blue summer sky, with white fleecy clouds floating beneath it, hung over a hill green to the very top, and alive with streams darting down its sides toward the valley below. On the face of the hill strayed a flock of sheep feeding, attended by a shepherd and two dogs. A little way apart, a girl stood with bare feet in a brook, building across it a bridge of rough stones. The wind was blowing her hair back from her rosy face. A lamb was feeding close beside her, and a sheep-dog was trying to reach her hand to lick it.
“Oh how I wish I were that little girl!” said the princess aloud. “I wonder how it is that some people are made to be so much happier than others! If I were that little girl, no one would ever call me naughty.”

Oh how easy it is to look at others and wish we were not who we were made to be! It is perhaps the biggest strike in believing ourselves to be Somebody - wishing instead we were a different Somebody or hating the Somebody we perceive ourselves to be. 

Now- on to our story. The daughter of the Shepard was named Agnus. And she too, was being watched by the wise woman. And although she did not have the fine toys and clothes as Rosamond did - she was stunted in other ways: 

She was not greedy after nice things, but content, as well she might be, with the homely food provided for her. Nor was she by nature particularly self-willed or disobedient; she generally did what her father and mother wished, and believed what they told her. But by degrees they had spoiled her. And this was the way: they were so proud of her that they always repeated everything she said, and told everything she did, even when she was present; and so full of admiration of their child were they, that they wondered and laughed at and praised things in her which in another child would never have struck them as the least remarkable, and some things even which would in another have disgusted them altogether. Impertinent and rude things done by their child they thought so clever! laughing at them as something quite marvellous; her commonplace speeches were said over again as if they had been the finest poetry; and the pretty ways which every moderately good child has were extolled as if the result of her excellent taste, and the choice of her judgment and will. They would even say sometimes that she ought not to hear her own praises for fear it should make her vain, and then whisper them behind their hands, but so loud that she could not fail to hear every word. The consequence was that she soon came to believe—so soon that she could not recall the time when she did not believe—as the most absolute fact in the universe, that she was SOMEBODY; that is, she became immoderately conceited.

Ah how things have changed! So terrified are we as a society today - that our children will have "low self-esteem" that we now look at these words and feel offended. "Of course I will praise my child!" we think. Read it again - there is a forgotten truth here, of which we need reminding.

Agnas never went into rages like the princess; and would have thought Rosamond—oh, so ugly and vile! if she had seen her in one of her passions. But she was no better for all that, and was quite as ugly in the eyes of the wise woman, who could not only see but read her face. What is there to choose between a face distorted to hideousness by anger, and one distorted to silliness by self-complacency? True, there is more hope of helping the angry child out of her form of selfishness than the conceited child out of hers; but on the other hand, the conceited child was not so terrible or dangerous as the wrathful one. The conceited one, however, was sometimes very angry, and then her anger was more spiteful than the other’s; and, again, the wrathful one was often very conceited too. So that, on the whole, of two very unpleasant creatures, I would say that the king’s daughter would have been the worse, had not the shepherd’s been quite as bad.

For the sake of time, let me skip ahead - Agnas is taken as well and also asked to clean the womans cottage. She, being a clever girl does her work without question - yet still she is filled with anger and resentment as she sees her Somebody in the mirror and works to fix only the outside - and not that which is within.

I truly beg of you to go and read this whole story, for I am skipping so very much. I honestly believe that this story should be handed out to new parents as they take their children home from the hospital. It should be required reading for all, the young and old alike. For there is much to learn within these words. I myself grow quite convicted as I read this book - as I should. For words such as these: "From thinking herself so clever, Agnas came to fancy that whatever seemed to her, must of course be the correct judgment." Truly strike me to my core.

As you may have guessed - the girls switch places. Through the pictures they both travel, and I am again convicted as the shepherdess takes little Rosamond into her home and treats her as she should have treated her own daughter:

 But the shepherdess was one of that plentiful number who can be wiser concerning other women’s children than concerning their own. Such will often give you very tolerable hints as to how you ought to manage your children, and will find fault neatly enough with the system you are trying to carry out; but all their wisdom goes off in talking, and there is none left for doing what they have themselves said. There is one road talk never finds, and that is the way into the talker’s own hands and feet. And such never seem to know themselves—not even when they are reading about themselves in print. Still, not being specially blinded in any direction but their own, they can sometimes even act with a little sense towards children who are not theirs. They are affected with a sort of blindness like that which renders some people incapable of seeing except sideways.

How often I have said how much I cannot abide those that hint at parenting advice. "Well, you know what I did for my children (being X-Y-or Z) and they were sleeping through the night/potty trained/obeying the first time/cleaning up their room by (pre-determined accepted time-frame for said task to be accomplished). I do my best not to fall into that category - but sadly I do not always succeed. And I beg your most humble forgiveness if I have ever offended you in this matter. Perhaps it needs to be a change of modes on the part of the complainer. Instead of venting - let us ask for help. Let us ask for prayer - but know, that in asking you will receive! So then let us be receptive. You do not have to take advice, we are always free to do what we believe to be the best for our own children. But there is a very good chance that we could learn something useful in the asking. Something we may never have heard; that we never would have even thought of, had we not first asked. Let us parent together! As in life, we were not meant to do this alone.

The story goes on, and again I beg of you to read it. Promise me you will? The princess makes her way eventually back to the wise woman - it is through pain and humbleness and losing her "Somebody-ness" that she finally begins to learn. Oh why are we always so surprised when good lessons are hard? 

"Rosamond," said the wise woman. "If you would be a blessed creature instead of a mere wretch, you must submit to be tried.” 
 “Is that something terrible?” asked the princess, turning white. “No, my child; but it is something very difficult to come well out of. Nobody who has not been tried knows how difficult it is; but whoever has come well out of it, and those who do not overcome never do come out of it, always looks back with horror, not on what she has come through, but on the very idea of the possibility of having failed, and being still the same miserable creature as before.”

“You will tell me what it is before it begins?” said the princess.
“I will not tell you exactly. But I will tell you some things to help you. One great danger is that perhaps you will think you are in it before it has really begun, and say to yourself, ‘Oh! this is really nothing to me. It may be a trial to some, but for me I am sure it is not worth mentioning.’ And then, before you know, it will be upon you, and you will fail utterly and shamefully.”

Life is hard. Learning is almost never pain-free. But think, think for a moment back on who you once were. Think of the stories you can tell, the problems you have mastered, the lessons you have learned. Now think of the miserable creature you would still be today, had you not endured that pain. Just as labor brings about new life in the most literal sense - so do our trials bring about new and great beginnings - and the giving up of our own Somebody-ness to become who were were truly meant to be.  

Let us live this life together. Let us not complain, except when we wish to learn. Let us not give advice, except to humble ourselves as teachers. Let us always, always be learning.

I often think on what kind of person I wish to be when I am old. I know that I wish to have white hair. I know that I wish to have several knobby canes that are creative and exotic and great conversation pieces. I know that I wish to have lots of grandsons and at least one granddaughter. I know that I wish to live with my probably very crazy husband in a very small house with a very large shop so he can create things to his heart's content. And within that shop, I wish to have a cozy nook where I can read and write to my heart's content. I also know that when I am old, I wish to be very much wiser then I am today. I wish to have stories, I wish to have mountains I have conquered and I most certainly wish to no longer be the miserable creature I am today. I pray everyday that I can give up my Somebody-ness in order to become the truly real Me. I know it is not an easy road, but it is a good one.

I will not tell you how the story ends - for I truly wish for you to read it in its entirety yourself. Here again is the link. But know this; that as it is in all good stories, it does not end happy, but it does end well.

And that is all my double story. How double it is, if you care to know, you must find out. If you think it is not finished—I never knew a story that was. I could tell you a great deal more concerning them all, but I have already told more than is good for those who read but with their heads, and enough for those whom it has made look a little solemn, and sigh as they close the book.

1 comment:

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