January 7, 2014

a new hope

A while back, I read a book by Elizabeth Berg, The Year Of Pleasures.  The reviews on Amazon were indifferent; she is accused of lacking cohesion and indulging in flights of fancy.  I dug in anyway.  The protagonist is a freshly-widowed 55-year-old woman, grieving her husband while simultaneously trying to make a new life for herself, per his instructions before he died of cancer.

Somehow, I could relate.

I still - thank God! - have my Farmer by my side, to love me, and provide a buffer from many of life's bumps.  And I am still far (it seems to me) from 55 years of age.

But lately I am grieving - the passage of time, the dreams I haven't yet realized that I thought I would have by this ripe old age of 39, the immaturity still resident in my personality and habits.  Maudlin, I know.  But what I loved about the book was that the widow's grieving gave her new eyes, to see beauty both in remembrance and in hope.

Her husband left her slips of paper, just a word or phrase on each, to remind her (or sometimes, befuddle her) with memories of things she'd let slip through her fingers, in essence to tell her over and over - say yes!  It's like the one thousand gifts in reverse - the gifts unseen, refused - enumerated not to incite guilt, but to spur the widow on to an acceptance of beauty, of abundant life.

This summer some girlfriends and I were browsing a vintage shop in town.  Upstairs, one of them called my name: "You have to look at this set of plates - they are you!!"  I looked, and they were.  The price was fair, too, but I reasoned the dinnerware away - I have a perfectly serviceable set of dishes [that I heartily dislike] and ... pretty things are not for me.

I'm not sure where that belief came from, but when it showed itself that day, I realized I had believed it many times, for many things.  I'm glad to say that I was able to see truth, that day, and bury the lie:  my household budget allowed easily for the purchase, and the beauty of the plates would cheer us daily for years.  In the end, I bought them, and every time I set them out, they whisper "pretty things are for you...."

A couple of years ago, a group of wives gathered in a different friend's house to talk about how to be good wives, good mothers.  A question was raised about the Bible's call to self-denial versus the world's call to self-care.  We puzzled over it, some in favor of one, some in favor of the other, no one quite sure if the two could be reconciled.

But then I found a paragraph from Lisa Bevere's book Out of Control & Loving It that caught my eye.  She contended that self-neglect is different from self-denial.  I had never before seen that I was confusing the two, that I could deny selfish desires while still caring for basic needs.

Much in The Year of Pleasures is unrealistic, yes.  But like a list of gifts yet undiscovered, it calls to me, like the ocean, like a Japanese maple aflame with autumnal glory, like the opening strains of the Moonlight Sonata - "there is hope .... life can be abundant .... accept the beauty offered."

I will be keeping my eyes open.

I turn 40 in a few days.  This decade will be a new hill to climb, and beauty, and gifts, will be my fuel.



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