Thursday, November 15, 2012
Today I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, in a riverside village in a faraway kingdom, lived a young woman. She was neither a princess nor a peasant, making a modest living as an assistant to the innkeeper. She had many friends, and together they enjoyed feasts and nights at the tavern. But her heart belonged to her good friend the town gunsmith. She waited patiently for him to return her feelings. At last he professed his love, and they married amid great joy and celebration. The young woman had every expectation that they would live happily ever after.
As the years passed, the gunsmith spent more and more of his days away from her, engaged in other pursuits. She tried to restore their closeness, but failed time and again. One spring day, the gunsmith informed her that he had taken up with a scullery maid. He proclaimed that he wished to be free for dalliance with this maid, and any other who caught his fancy, as he had never truly loved the young woman at all. Then he took his possessions and left their cottage.
The young woman was heartbroken. While she continued working at the inn and going through the motions of her life, she grieved for her lost love and lost dreams. At times, the support of her friends, and especially of the King (who loved her like a daughter despite her commonness), was all that sustained her. But, slowly, she grew accustomed to her new circumstances and began embracing life again. She redecorated her cottage, traveled around the kingdom, and enthusiastically supported the local jousting team. For many moons, these small joys were sufficient. But the day finally came when the young woman felt ready for companionship, to begin opening her heart to someone worthy of all she had to give.
Unfortunately, in the intervening years, things had changed dramatically in the kingdom. Before her marriage, the young woman had associated with a large group of unmarried men and women, who mingled and treated one another as friends. Now, most of her peers had spouses and families of their own, and the few unmarried men the young woman encountered did not behave as those she had known in her younger years. Her attempts to befriend men she found intriguing were fruitless – they kept their own counsel and did not desire her company.
When she could no longer endure the impression of wearing an Invisibility Cloak, she sought other means of acquaintance with eligible men. These means generally felt more like an interview for employment than a natural conversation between two people. Strangers developed swift attachments to her, demanding her attention and becoming impatient with her hesitance. None of them captured her heart. The young woman felt like a rabbit about to be caught in a huntsman's trap. Under such conditions, she could never grow to love another as she had loved the gunsmith. She perceived that these eager suitors did not truly care for her as an individual – how could they, when they did not truly know her? – but only saw her as a filler of the empty woman-shaped space in their lives. So she fled from them.
The young woman's hope and confidence were shaken. A few villagers frowned upon her actions, adding to her distress. Each day she poured out her concerns in a letter to the King, seeking his wisdom and guidance. The curse of her past weighed heavily on her, and she felt doomed to an unhappy choice between old maidenhood and unwanted affections. She wanted to be obedient to the King's wishes, but they were unclear. And she knew that even if the whole village united in an outcry against her, she could not be untrue to herself or to her dreams.
The King did not reply with advice, only with reassurance that he loved the young woman just as she was. He reminded her that she had an important role to play in the kingdom, even if no one worked alongside her. Though this comforted the young woman, she still felt a quiet, underlying despair. It was now clear to her that the King's direct intervention would be required if she was ever to take another husband. And who could know the plans of the King? Despite her renewed appreciation of her freedom, she still longed for a good man who would know her and care for her as the King did – someone who would capture her interest, and offer his friendship before seeking to capture her heart. Such a thing now seemed very unlikely, if not impossible.
So, the young woman determined to continue the work that the King had put to her hand. She would count her blessings – her friends, her home, the precious little ones who called her "aunt." She would not give in to loneliness or the temptation to yield to others' wishes. She would do the best she could, and trust in the King to provide what she needed to endure. Gathering up her skirts, she fixed her eyes on the horizon and headed out to her fields.
The rest of her story is still unwritten.