I’ll I want to do is watch “Little Women.” Mom and I rented it Saturday night, and I am somewhat obsessed. I watched it again last night. Honestly, I might watch it after I am done writing this. You get the rental for 48 hours on Xfinity On Demand so why not. More than the story, the characters of the March family are incredibly compelling to me. Seeing it the first time, I initially identified the most with Jo. For obvious reasons. She is a writer, boyish, temperamental, and minimalistic, not lured by the finer things of life. She is quite content with her books. And she is seemingly hopelessly independent and more than a little bit stubborn. She is wild and untamed. However, Jo also undergoes a transformation. She says in a letter to Laurie, their neighbor boy who has always loved her, that she used to think the worst fate was to be a wife. Admittedly, I have also felt a similar sentiment. This, Jo realizes before the end of the movie, was foolish of her to think. She confesses to Marmee (the girls call their mother this) how incredibly lonely she is. Jo explains she used to think her family was enough, how she can’t stand the vision of society that all women are fit for is loving. Women have minds and ambitions, more than just hearts. But oh, how lonely she is. Jo finds herself torn. How to be a wife and a writer. A mind and a heart.
Naturally, I found so many likenesses between her and I. Then, I watched the second time, and something else occurred to me. There are pieces of each of the girls that voice the desires in my heart. Beth, the youngest, prefers to be in the background. They call her the quiet one. Often, I want to let myself fade into the silence. Hoping as I let it wash over me, I might just become it. Amy, second youngest, travels to Paris with their Aunt March for painting lessons. She is determined to be “great or nothing.” I sometimes, many times, want to be great or nothing. Indulge the thinking that Amy describes. If I cannot be in the genius club, I ought to just resign myself to be an ornament to society. All is vanity anyway. Meg, the oldest, is extraordinarily talented at acting but falls in love with John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor. Jo thinks Meg is silly for wanting to marry when she could make a career on the stage. Meg explains to Jo she wants a home and a family; she knows she won’t have extravagant things marrying John and that they will struggle, but she wants to do it with him. Her goals are different than Jo’s but not less important. My goals have been soccer related almost my whole life. They have always seemed most capital, but more and more, having a home and a family doesn’t seem as domestic and trivial. Not so much a boring or condemned fate but almost intolerably desirable. As Jo says to Marmee, “how I so desperately wish to be loved.”
Then, there is Marmee. If I could be a mom like her, Lord willing, I won’t ever want for anything else. She is tender and kind, fun and authentic. Her joy is loud and her anger soft. She loves her girls so well, allowing them to bloom, think and fall. Waiting there to pick them up and hold them close. How much she considers others as well, willing to give the little she has at every moment to lessen a lack. It is something she says to Jo that struck me, though. Jo is telling her how angry she gets, how she could have killed Amy after Amy burned her story she was writing. Marmee tells Jo how she reminds her of herself. Jo is surprised and responds, “but you’re never angry.” Marmee sighs and exhales, “I’m angry almost every day.” Choosing patience has come slowly and gradually after forty years of effort. Jo decides she must do the same.
I think there is a distinct difference between choosing and pretending. You didn’t pretend, dad, that you weren’t suffering with your disease. Didn’t pretend how much it killed you not to be able to take care of yourself. Didn’t pretend how tormenting it was to watch us eat food you once enjoyed. How cruel the smells of cooking and coffee must have been for you. You didn’t pretend you weren’t in agony not being able to embrace your beloved wife and precious kids.
There was no pretending that day I came home from high school and found you pinned up against the railing by the computer desk. From your waist down, you were still sitting in your scooter. From your waist up, you were trapped with your torso and head nearly touching the floor, jammed against the wooden bars of the railing. If the floor was the ceiling, you would have had your face rightly smashed up against the bars, reflecting the desperation you felt being innocently and unjustly locked in the cell of a withering body due to the devastating sentence given by your disease. Your body practically sawed in half yet still attached, every muscle fiber stretched or shortened.
I wasn’t intending to come home right after school that day. I was planning to go to Athletic Training club like I usually did on this particular day of the week. I quite enjoyed it. But something got me home. Something selfish, no doubt. Thank the Lord He can use even vices. When I walked through the door and saw you, a part of me remained there, unable to comprehend what I was seeing, and the rest ran to get you upright again. Your face was red and pulsing from the blood that had been flowing to your head, unimpeded by gravity, and pooling for hours. Your nose was plugged with saliva turned snot because it was going north instead of south. After blowing out snot and steam into a tissue, your face began to return to normal, but your breathing gave away the anger and embarrassment and shame and despair and utter agony pumping from your heart. You didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. The part of me left at the door rejoined my body once more. I barely squeaked out, “what happened?” You shuddered having to voice it. You were at the computer desk and shifting your weight onto your left elbow, went an invisible distance too far and slipped off the edge of the arm of your scooter. As a ship capsizing, your upper body went crashing over. But you didn’t have the relief of sinking. You remained there, half-sunk, for hours before I got home. After the brief reliving, you were silent. You didn’t look at me, couldn’t, maybe. I kept my gaze on my feet, letting my eyes drift in your direction every few moments or so, hoping for some indication from you of what I should do. How I could help. Nothing. You sat there with your chest rising and falling. Nothing more.
Even in this nightmare, you did not scream in rage. No cursing. The one thing left you had power over, your tongue, you could have let loose. You could have unleashed the devilish and mighty power of the tongue, but you didn’t. Didn’t pretend but chose not to. An impossible choice.
You didn’t pretend, but I did. I pretended to be noble and hopeful. I pretended things were going to be alright. I didn’t choose trust; I just hid my lack of it. I hid my anger and embarrassment as best as I could. Because of this it remained with me always. Still, the remnants resurface. I was not choosing patience or understanding. Anger brewed and bitterness fermented. And I let it. Soaked in it. But as an ashamed addict, no one knew.
Everyone saw a “perfect” Lauren. Smart, athletic, kind, helpful, reserved. No one knew I was insecure about my body because I was terrified of looking like you did. No one knew I was an exercise addict. Not just your get a little sweat on type but about to throw up, lung busting type. I was addicted to the excessiveness I got through working out. I didn’t get it through drinking, partying, drugs, sleeping around, but I still got it. The fleeting high all those things bring. It made me feel good to be spent. I proved to myself day after day that I could control my fitness and take my body to the limit. I couldn’t control what was happening to you, so I was bent on controlling me. Not realizing I was enslaving myself. No one knew I was so good at soccer and spent countless hours practicing on my own and staying for multiple training sessions not only because I loved it, but it was my way out, kept me from being at home surrounded by the reminders my family wasn’t like my friend’s, wasn’t “perfect” like I was. I was angry nearly every day, but I didn’t choose patience. I pretended I wasn’t and used soccer and working out to try to expend it. Little did I know I was just burying it further. Thinking I was quenching a thirst but having to go back daily to satisfy it. No one knew I was fearful of intimacy and femininity because I was repelled by what it costs. I saw mom tied to you only by all she had to give up. This was the risk of being a wife. The worst fate. I vowed independence forever.
No one knew I was angry, scared, and insecure nearly every day.
Now, only by the grace of God, truly, have I begun choosing. I’ve learned there is a choice. Pretending doesn’t do anything for anyone besides put off the eruption of buried feelings. Choosing patience, choosing forgiveness, choosing peace, choosing grace, trust, faith, truth, love, etc., all take effort and practice, but they are abundantly fruitful. They are the mustard seed choices found in every moment and as we sow them, we’ll find they grow into the best of shade trees. Whether it takes more than forty years or less does not really concern us.
My hope is to choose more than to pretend. I want it to be known whatever wisdom, faith, peace, or any sort of goodness others may see in me has come from struggle with uncertainty, misunderstanding, doubts, anxieties, fears, anger, insecurities, etc., not the absence of them. It is only in tasting true Goodness and Living Water that the choice becomes discernible and desirable. I still often let anger and fear have their way, but I am no longer a slave to them. I don’t hide them and pretend otherwise. I see them for what they are and choose otherwise. Like my dad did.
“The loneliest people are often the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”[Anonymous]
I love you,