|Photo from paulineconnelly.com|
If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know I've been reading through the classics on my treadmill in the mornings. I have really enjoyed discovering these books. You know, if I had been assigned to read these books in high school or college, I think I would have hated them. But now, as an adult, I'm loving them. The quality of the writing, the depth of the plots, and the richness of the character development completely eclipses anything being written today ... in my humble opinion, of course.
My most recent read was "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. Yet another amazing work of literature. I was particularly intrigued by one character ... Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham lives in a decrepit old mansion, and requests that a young boy, Pip, be brought in to entertain her. Pip is escorted into the mansion by a beautiful young lady named Estella, and trails behind her through several gloomy passages and up a dark staircase, with only a single candle to light the way. Estella leaves him alone at the door of a room, which he nervously enters. It was a dressing room, well lit by wax candles, but without a hint of daylight in it. Sitting at the dressing table is Miss Havisham, and here is how Pip describes her...
"She was dressed in rich materials -- satins, and lace, and silks -- all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on -- the other was on the table near her hand -- her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.
It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could."
Have you got the picture in your mind? As Pip looks around a little more, he notices that Miss Havisham's watch has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, as has every other clock in the house. He observes that the shoe on the dressing table, though yellowed, had never been worn, and that Miss Havisham's silk stocking on that foot had been trodden ragged. On a subsequent visit, he enters an adjoining room and discovers a long table with an object upon it so covered with mold and cobwebs, it was unidentifiable. It was crawling with spiders and black beetles ... and Miss Havisham explained to Pip that it was her wedding cake.
You can probably guess what happened. Miss Havisham had been jilted on her wedding day, at precisely twenty minutes 'til nine ... and she had never moved forward from that moment. Her life basically ended right there. She was alive, but she wasn't living.
I guess Miss Havisham's character intrigued me because I could so totally relate to her. I "get" her. I remember when Hannah left for Heaven, it felt like time had completely stopped. As if every clock in the world had stopped at 2:31 p.m., never to be re-started. As we made the drive home from Little Rock on that day, it was so surreal to see all the other people just driving along the interstate, going about their everyday activities, as if nothing had happened. Didn't they know that life as I knew it had just ended?
I can't tell you how tempting it was to just sit at my dressing table wearing my wedding dress in the weeks and months after Hannah's death. I'm not a naturally social person anyway, and it was hard, so hard, to step back out into the world again. It's still not always easy. Good thing my husband is such an extrovert and tends to drag me along with him most of the time, or I might still be sitting there with one shoe on and one shoe off.
As the story goes along in "Great Expectations", we find that Miss Havisham is a bitter, angry, pathetic character, who has spent her miserable life manipulating people to do her bidding. Her life is a complete and utter waste.
And that's exactly why we can't just stop the clocks when a devastating loss happens in our lives. How would that be honoring to our Lord, or even to the loved one whom we've lost? Do we really want our suffering (and our child's suffering) just go to waste? Or do we want to grow from it, learn from it, and become a better person because of it? We have to decide what we're going to do while we're waiting ... sit at the dressing table and gradually turn yellow from lack of use ... or put on that other shoe and get busy for the kingdom of God?
Can we do that on our own? No, it's only through the grace of God and by His strength that we can brush away the cobwebs, sweep the moldy cake crumbs off the table, and step back out into the sunshine. The Bridegroom is there and He's patiently waiting ... We just have to be willing to reach up and take His hand.