When I was a slave I thought as a slave and coveted even the smallest things that I might call my own even going so far to try and hide their true value to me. One thing I coveted were the small scraps of books that were left from before the Dark Days. Often in my early life these scraps were only a few pages long, maybe a single page, most often just a piece of a page with a few faded words still legible upon them.
One of my most precious possessions is a scrap of paper that I found not too long after my parents died. It was the first item I collected to rebuild some sort of life for myself with and it had simply blown into my lap on the wind like it had been meant for me alone to find. Upon that scrap of paper is written these words:
Life is not always easy. And that is a major reason why it is so precious. Many of life's best rewards are possible only because you must work your way through difficult challenges to get to them. If everything in life were easy, there would be no opportunity for real fulfillment. If the only things you experienced were pleasure and comfort, it would be impossible for you to fully appreciate them. A life of total ease and a complete lack of challenge would be unbearably tedious. When the next challenge comes your way, when the next obstacle blocks your progress, find it in yourself to be thankful. For the difficulties provide you with truly magnificent opportunities to create value, to find meaning and fulfillment in living. The challenges enable you to give of yourself and to make a real difference. And that's something you desire at the deepest level. Life is not always easy. And because of that, you have the opportunity to make it truly great.
Even all these years later I still don’t know who wrote that piece, all I have are initials. R.M. I always thought that if my Gran had ever been educated she might have said something like those words. But she wasn’t; instead she went one better … she lived those words.
I’ve tried to live those words too though I’ve let life trip me up and have fallen short a time or two. Still, I don’t think I’ve done half bad. As I sit here in my chair and think on it there are a few things in this life I regret but I can also say there are fewer than there might have been had I not kept reminding myself over the years of those words and what they mean.
At the creak of the rocker I look over and see he’s finally settling for the night after reading a bedtime story of knights and maids all fair. He asks, “Glad to be home?”
I nodded. “Always.”
He nodded as well. “Me too.” A few moments later he says, “Festival was nice this year but I miss Uncle Rob.”
I pat his arm and remind him, “You know the heart just went out of him last year when Winnie passed. At least he stayed around long enough to see his first grandchild draw breath.”
A little curmudgeonly Cor mumbled, “The whole flaming territory has seen that child. If that boy crows any louder they’ll hear him clear across the ‘Cific.”
I had to laugh because honestly that wasn’t far from the truth. What I won't say is he was every bit as loud if not more so when our first was born. “I don’t know who was more surprised that he got up the courage to approach the Captain and Winnie about asking for Rachel’s hand … Topher or your uncle.”
Rocking quietly Cor admitted, “I have to admit, it was a sight funny to see a grown man nearing thirty dancing around like an idiot because he’d been given permission to call on that wild child. Funnier still when Uncle Rob told us how relieved he was he didn’t have to be the one to go to Topher and beg him to take Rachel off their hands. She’d scared off every other suitor that had come calling and more than a few that never actually made it to a first meeting.”
I smiled, “Strange how quiet and responsible she’s grown since she’s been blessed with the mother’s curse.”
“The what?” he asked.
I explained, “Winnie must have cursed her and told her she hoped she had one just like her.”
We both laughed at the idea and then laughed some more when we thought of our own brood. Four boys and four girls all living … and two little ones beside a third out in the family graveyard that I put flowers on every month so folks won’t forget them for I never will. If our brood ever gets around to having families we’ll have to think about rebuilding the cabins on the estate.
When I raised the idea once he was fiercely against it. “No I tell you. May what remains of all those blasted buildings rot to their foundations. I’ll not have what they stand for in our family. For each of us there is only one other and that’s the way it is and the way it’s mean to stay.”
“Easy Husband, you’re getting a wee bit cranky in your old age.”
Outraged he’d said, “I’m not getting old … and I’ll prove it to you.” I laughed remembering how he’d chased me all to the way to the top of the house and how we’d nearly been caught in the attic by our youngest who’d started to wonder if rats had gotten in somehow.
I found I’ve never needed the suggestions in that little book I found in Cor’s mother’s things so many years ago. Seems after we got through that first series of challenges the others that came behind it were easier to face and easier to come up with solutions for … including the “moods” he had … and my own as well.
No, life has not been easy. Life has caught us by surprise a few times. A few of my sisters never made it out of their second decade on earth. Accident, disease, childbirth … life … it happens to us all and all we can do is be as prepared as possible to face it when it does.
And Francine … poor Francine. Cor and I went to her funeral. I know it made some talk but there was once a sweet young girl that my husband loved and we went to mourn that memory as much as the senseless and tragic death of the woman she grew into. Her fantasies became such that she pretended a pregnancy and then birthed a doll. She carried that doll everywhere, treated as a real babe … more real than she had ever thought of the one she’d really birthed. Then there came a flood and the cabin that Francine kept to got caught as a nearby levy gave way. They got her out in time but when she realized her “baby” was still in the cabin she broke away from those caring for her and drowned trying to rescue it. There’s a lesson in there but it is so bitter that to try and put it in words would dilute its message.
Elder Lathrop didn’t live but three months beyond that incident and we again attended the funeral. Hazel pulled me to the side and told us how grateful the family was that we’d forgiven them and given them back some of their standing in the territory by openly showing up at the nearly back to back funerals. I hadn’t even thought of it like that but I suppose there was some forgiveness in there. Strange how a kindness grows bigger than you expect it to. Cor is still sensitive of speaking of that time in our lives but mostly I think it is because he doesn’t think people will understand. I’m pretty sure he is right. Sometimes the only way to really understand something is to live through it and then accept that the God that breathed the world to life knows what he’s doing and admit you'll never grasp the whys of some of it.
Cor and I may have had the hardest start of all my sisters but in some ways we’ve come away with some of the greatest blessings; or it feels that way most of the time.
And now that I'm free with my slave years far behind me I realize it isn't the things that you keep close to you that are of the greatest value but the things that you give away.
“Life is not always easy. And because of that, you have the opportunity to make it truly great.”
Cor and I say that to each other every day. And I know we both intend to continue living it until the Good Lord calls us home.