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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, sidestepping billowing clouds. Their silhouettes are framed by golden spires of steel. They are not like you and me. Not of this world. Or, in fact, they are. How else could we see or sense their uncertainty as they climb the rails before they leap out into sky, falling fast and free?

They are labeled cowards yet I am not sure. When I strain to see them more clearly or attempt to see what they have seen, it is invisible to me. They have vanished into thin air, leaving only faint traces in the splashing waves of fear below.

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 easy black and white of youth is replaced by deepening shades of gray. The same silvery-steely mix that starts to sprout atop crowns and within aging beards also begins to cloud the once crystal clear panes of our own ever-changing windows to the world.

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.

He doesn’t see the sun or moon. Hasn’t for months or longer. He is buried deep in his thoughts as the train heads into the station. 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 deepening shades of gray are as much a relief as they are a fresh conundrum. New insights give way to greater mysteries. Although we believe that we can try and understand what is or was going on inside their decaying minds, we can never cross the threshold completely. We will never feel the full weight of their fall from grace or feel their fingers trembling on the trigger. We mercifully will never see that dead face staring back in the medicine cabinet mirror. Any insights toward true understanding remain painfully out of reach. In turn, we shift our perfect gaze to the cool comfort of judgment so as to attach a tidy diagnosis in place of our bewilderment. They were sick and cowardly and took the easy way out.

I knew of one of these cowards. He was more courageous than I could ever be. Facing death alone, he was surely as 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 long hours of the bitter cold winter days and nights that it laid alone in the back seat under a blanket—a blanket that had not been used for warmth but instead placed carefully by him in advance 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 may be afforded 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.