Monday, October 18, 2010

Sinning Against the Light

Sinning Against the Light

The past snuck up on me on a rainy Saturday afternoon while I was cozied up on my couch. I had a cup of pomegranate tea, a comfy fleece blanket and my latest Netflix selection. It snuck up on me as I was watching All Passion Spent, a movie, based on Vita Sackville-West’s novel, about Lady Slane, who was widowed in 1930, at the age of 85. She was very much a product of the Victorian era, who married young to a rising star in the British diplomatic corps, raised six children, and served with her husband, a Viceroy of India, all very proper. A life lived in the service of others. While she was keeping vigil over her husband’s body, her family was gathering to plan the rest of her life for her. It was obvious they cared for their mother, but they assumed that she would neither be able to nor want to make her own plans. Wrong.

She already had a well thought-out-plan which she executed quite well on her own. She moved to Hampstead, rented and renovated a house she had fallen in love with 30 years earlier and surrounded her self with only the people and things she wanted in her life. Of course, not without a lot of protesting and accusations of impropriety from her family, but she prevailed. She gardened and started painting again. Her eyesight was failing and as a result, painting just frustrated her. Her life-long passion for putting brush to canvas was spent.
One afternoon, while having tea with an old friend, she told him of her passion for painting and how she allowed her family and duty to her country to take precedence over her desire to create art. The friend told her, “You have sinned against the light.”

Lady Slane took me right back to the person I was at 18. I didn’t have the family support I needed to realize my dream of going to college and becoming a teacher. My mother decided that I was going to be a hairdresser, because that’s what she had done when she graduated high school. I gave it a try, but it wasn’t for me. So I chose the next best thing. At 21, I married my high school sweetheart. He rescued me from my mother and moved me away from my hometown. Like Lady Slane, I did what women have done throughout the centuries. I chose marriage because my options seemed limited. I loved my husband and we had a good life for many years, but the best thing to come out of that marriage was our son.

The problem with that choice was that I had married into a family of soul killers, where only hard work was valued. No encouragement was given to any other pastime. I was put in a box to be observed, my accomplishments measured, tasks completed and catalogued, my personal inventory taken daily.
Every morning promptly at 7:30 my mother-in-law called me to crow about the work she had completed so far that morning. “What have you done?” was the inevitable question. I mumbled, “Um…answered the phone?” She was not amused. Every afternoon she called to see what I had been doing all day. I decided to start making stuff up because I knew that reading a book or writing were not acceptable answers. One day, fed up with her third-degree interrogations, I told her I had waxed the driveway. She thought that sounded like a good idea.

My father-in-law believed that any one who slept past 5:00 a.m. was lazy and would never amount to anything. I have always been a night person, so you can imagine how he viewed my nocturnal wakefulness and early morning snoozing. I didn’t fit into their mold and they never quit trying to hammer square me into their round hole.

Some days I felt as if my throat had been slit and my voice box removed. My voice, saying what I wanted, what I valued never to be heard. My husband and I were in business together with his parents. We all worked in the family business. The control was complete.

I spent 24 years sinning against the light. I pushed down my creative side. The only time I let it surface was when I worked with my son on his interests and his art, but those were his interests and his art. I cherish the memories of my time exploring dinosaurs and sharks with him, of sitting with him while he drew amazing pictures of those creatures. That activity was permissible because it meant I was being a good mother, nurturing my child. What I resented was the unasked for judgment that was put on everything I did.

My marriage ended after 24 years. It needed to end. We had nothing in common and our world views were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I did not grieve for long. With the dissolution of the marriage I received a bonus. I was free of my in-laws. Free to start building my life the way I wanted it to be. Free to decide who and what I wanted to be. I began re-inventing my self, step by painstaking step. It took years, but I was worth it.

What has emerged is a writer. It’s not just something I do, it’s who I am. I’m no longer sinning against the light. I follow my passion for writing, reading, opera, poetry, travel and growing spiritually, the list goes on. I’m no good to any one else if I’m not the best person I can be. You wouldn’t like a stifled me. The analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane works for me. I can’t help any one else, if I can’t help myself.

So I leave you with a little food for thought: Who gets to decide what is valuable?

Rebekah for The Poplar Grove Muse


  1. Thanks REbekah! You are such a fabulous story teller and I LOVE the title.

  2. The title pulled me right in, as well. It's an interesting question you pose there - one that I'll spend some time with.

  3. Christi MontgomeryOctober 18, 2010 at 6:58 PM

    Wow Aunt Bek! I love it. This is completely random but your story made me recall a trip that you and I took to...Nashville, I believe it was. We went to a gem and rock store, and I think I doubted - the whole way there - that an adult was driving me to a gem and rock store! We were in some small, and by the standards of good German stock, impractical sports car...a Miata or Del Sol...something like that. But I truly remember that trip because it seemed like you were a shinier person, like you really were breathing fresher, brighter air. And I had a blast because you didn't judge my infatuation with rocks, and wouldn't think that studying something like Geology was a waste of time.

    Had you bright, intelligent women not married such men, then perhaps the personality pool would have been less modified, the behaviour persistently judgemental. Those consequences would likely have had impacts on my life, and perhaps my children's lives. So your sinning has had value to me, but I'm thankful that you you're doing it no longer!

  4. Rebekah,
    This is so powerful, and beautifully distilled from a place of great pain. I am so happy that you have found ways to express the fabulous woman you have always, deep inside, known yourself to be! We love you! MKP

  5. A writer you are...and an inspiration to all us sinners!! Beautiful, honest, thoughtful piece, Rebekah. Thank you.