Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nobility and Humility

"Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.  ~ "A Little Princess", Frances Hodgson Burnett

We have had a challenging month or two. My health has gone from adequately recovering from my December cancer surgery to being in debilitating pain. I have suffered through complex neurological issues that have not only taken all my strength to muddle through, but my dignity, as well. My husband, who has always been a hard working provider for our family, has lost his career. We went from looking forward to spending an extraordinary year planning out our next steps as recent "empty nesters" to just worrying about what the next day will bring. I wait from moment to moment, terrified when, and where, my next bout of seething pain will strike. I am deeply concerned about the unpredictability of our financial situation. There are times I want to be impatient, snappish, angry, bitter, jealous and downright mean spirited. I want to smack the hands of the nurses who can't start my IV's (after three tries). I want to kick the shins of the doctors who don't meet my eyes while telling me "We just don't know" about my medical saga's answers. I am seething when I see less qualified, and less competent, people who are still working in their same positions...and who want to buy bigger houses...when I worry about how we're even going to pay to heat ours.These are not thoughts I'm particularly proud of. In fact, I'm ashamed to be such a grumpy, churlish shrew. For better or worse, I'm exhausted. I'm too worn out from pain, from worry and from fear to be concerned about the social niceties.

Yet, when I think of the woman I want to be "when I grow up", this is not she. The woman I want to imbue is not a despicable harpy. She is a noble, kind, humble, loving gentlewoman. The "fully realized" Ellen of my imagination is about as far as I can travel from my current state of resentful harridan. Somehow, I need to make this transition from one of angry terror to one of gracious acceptance. It isn't easy. If I'm not physically in pain, I'm emotionally distraught. I do realize, however, that it's up to me to rise above these present circumstances and move into being the woman I choose to be. One of my mother's favorites quotes, from St. John of the Cross, keeps coming to my mind again and again: "I am not made, or unmade, by the circumstances in my life, but by my reactions to them".  If I judge myself in this light, I am thoroughly abashed. I have allowed myself to be 'made' by the circumstances in my life...both the good and the bad. I have taken pride in areas which were really no more than good fortune. I have basked in the glory of praise. Because I allowed myself to get caught up in believing I was 'made' by the good circumstances, I know that it's no wonder that I have been 'unmade' by the poor ones. I am ashamed.  Mea culpa.

I believe that this is my chance to grow up at last.I need to let go of letting my situation dictate how I feel. I must "put the ways of childhood" behind me and move into adulthood. The inspiration for desired transformation, ironically, is from my one of my favorite children's books, "A little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, shows exceptional courage and strength as layer, by layer, her carefree, beautiful life is stripped away from her. She's left with nothing, quite literally. And yet, her angelic, compassionate, noble soul shines through. It doesn't matter if she's wearing the latest fashions from Paris, or the rags of a street urchin. Sara Crewe, even as a fictional character in a child's book, embodies the woman I hope to be. She is unfailingly kind. She is loving to those who are wretched to her.  She is generous with what little she has. She is altruistic, accepting, satisfied and humane. 

Therefore, I've set my goal: I want to be a princess. Not the spoiled, nasty type that one sees on "reality television"...no, I want to be a princess 'on the inside'.  I may be in pain. I may be embarrassed. I may be frightened. I may be living with an unspeakable number of unknowns. But, I can be kind. I can be loving. I can remember that if I behave in a way that shows strength, courage, gratitude, peacefulness, acceptance and joy, perhaps that will come true. As Sara Crewe pointed out: it's easy to be noble when everyone knows it. The challenge comes in creating that gentle nobility within myself that is immovable regardless of what happens to me. 

I won't be wearing a tiara. I have never owned a pair of Manolo Blahnik's. My wedding did not take place at Westminster Abbey. Yet, I can be a princess all the time. Perhaps, if I think about how a princess should behave, when confronted with adversity, it will be reminder to emulate one.