The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1899
The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.
They walk far above the earth, shuffling on the wings of clouds. Their silhouettes are framed in golden gate spires of steel. They are not like you and me. Not of this world. Or, in fact, they are. How else could we see them as they climb the rails, so unsure, before leaping out into sky, falling fast and free?
They are labeled cowards.
Yet, when I stand this close the edge, straining so to see them more clearly, to see what they have seen, they are invisible to me. They vanish into thin air, leaving only traces, leaving only splashing waves of fear.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why,—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive, or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.
The black and white of youth ceases to exist. From the gray hair in my beard and chest and head to the shades of milky black and white that fill the peephole of my window to the world, I am surrounded by ever-deepening shades of gray. The resolute philosophies I once knew are covered in warts and boils and weeds that grow in unison with the decaying secrets of the otherworld.
She, who just got back from the clinic, wears a brave mix of devastation and relief that masks mountains of guilt that will remain buried inside forever. It is her choice, every woman’s choice, to shoulder the burden as we chastise the decision with our piercing daggers of absolute truth.
It is easy for us to see. The moon shines over the clouds, creating a sleepy hollow where they walk (among us).
He doesn’t see the moon. Hasn’t seen it for months. He is buried deep in his thoughts as the train heads into the station, under the powerful glow. The people around him begin to jockey for position nearest the exits so that they can be the first ones off. But he is content in waiting (or is no longer aware of the race).
“The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”
The shades of gray are as much a relief as they are a conundrum. Answers give way to deeper mysteries. Although we believe that we can know what is going on inside their diseased minds, we will never cross the threshold into their worlds. We will never know the weight of their fall from grace or feel the finger trembling on the trigger. We will never see the dead face staring back at us in the medicine cabinet mirror. The portal to true understanding remains plugged and so, in turn, we shift our perfect gaze to the cool comfort of judgment. They took the easy way out. We attach a tidy diagnosis to our bewilderment. They are cowards.
I knew of one of these cowards. He was more courageous than I could ever be. Facing death alone, he was afraid as you and me. We had to wait a week before the funeral arrangements could be made so that his body could thaw completely. It had been iced over, hardening in the minutes and days that it laid alone in the back seat under a blanket—a blanket that was not used for warmth but so that the brutal discovery would not be made by me or you but by authorities equipped to handle such horror.
If only we could tap into their pool of cowardice so that we are granted the courage to stop being afraid as we face another tomorrow without their precious smiles. So that we may no longer fear the twitch of a memory. So that we may be only thankful and nothing else to have been a part of it at all.