Becoming Bint

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I have just finished watching ‘Becoming Jane’ and after having put it off since the day it was released, I now feel that it was both a shame for me to wait so long, and yet perfectly timed.  While I am sorry at having missed how wonderful it is for three years, I could not have watched it as well as appreciated it as I did now if I had not waited.

From the very first time I read Pride and Prejudice, there has been no doubt in my mind that should I ever have met this lady, we would have got along quite as well as any two young women in the 18th Century did.  Many others who love her books as I do probably think the same and the benefit of being a famous, well-loved author posthumously is that there is quite enough of her to go around.

But perhaps there are fewer amongst her readership who can relate quite to the sensibility of her choices in life.  She fell violently in love (it is to be assumed) once in her life, was proposed to once in her life, rejected the one proposal and then died single at the age of 41.  No doubt the movie romanticizes all these issues (and condenses them into the same time period of her life, rather than over the years they actually took place over) and we come out seeing a Jane whose writing reflected a deep sorrow within and a need to write happy endings for all her characters, as if to compensate for her own sad ones.

Before I watched the movie, I always thought of her as being a woman who able to appreciate affection, but who also understood that the place of such feelings was in the heart.  And that the heart must always take second place to the sensibility of the mind.  Jane Austen to me seemed to be a woman who was able to observe others succumb to the fripperies that a besotted spirit can inspire and be amused, but not envy them in the least.  She epitomized the ability to be humoured without bitterness, because she understood the value of a relationship founded on good opinion, respect and a true – stable – love (who can read about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy without wanting what they had?) whilst also being able to understand that the majority of people in the world only had a shadow of this kind of a union.

Her books are filled with ‘normal’ people, which perhaps make those she does respect stand out even more.  The dignity and respect  – values she emphasizes in all her books – that her heroines command are only enhanced when placed against the backdrop she has created for them.

I’m not sure yet how much of the movie is true to her story, considering how little is really know about her personal thoughts and how much of her character is simply implication and educated guessing on the part of literary historians.  But I wonder if she would have been able to write the Elizabeth she did if she had not truly found herself attached to someone so completely herself.

In history Tom Lefroy is quoted much later in his life to have said of his feelings for Jane that "It was boyish love" and yet he named his eldest daughter after her.  What struck me though is that while Lefroy went on to marry and have children, Jane never married after those two winter months spent in his company.  In truth, how much is the difference in the feelings of a man as compared to those of a woman…

Jane wrote many years after this to her niece advising her not to ever accept a man’s proposal without feeling any affection for him, and it is to be inferred from this that she herself was never able to find another man not only quite as agreeable as Lefroy, but that she was not able to even muster affection for another person in her lifetime.

In Persuasion Jane writes of the longevity of emotion in men and women.   Anne Elliot has perhaps not the spirited independence of Jane herself, but I’m inclined to think that she was a reflection of that inner self that Jane kept hidden from most people.  That sense of sorrow at having given a man her heart so completely that none other compared to him, and yet not being able to have been as incomparable to him in return. 

And perhaps in the words of Capt. Frederick Wentworth when he writes to Anne: ..Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant."   Perhaps in these words, she put forth the hopes she had of receiving just such a missive, even if it was – as for Anne and Capt Wentworth – "eight and a half years" after the initial heartbreak.  Perhaps in writing this, she was proclaiming the strength of her own true affection to forgive weakness, resentfulness and even unjustness – if only there was the slightest sign of constancy, however belated.

Lefroy must have read her books and while I don’t know what kind of man he was, I’m pretty certain he was an idiot.

I also believe Jane spread herself out amongst her heroines – the likeable ones as well as the unlikeable ones.  After all, it is only Jane who could come up with a heroine as insipid as Fanny in Mansfield Park and get away with giving her honour and a marriage with a man who could find it in himself to love such a timid, spineless creature – whilst keeping readers happy.

After watching the movie – despite the inferences it has – and having felt this way myself for the past few months, I can now almost sense her need to make everyone happy, no matter what their character or their situation in life.  Which is why her heroines are so varied and yet each finds somewhere to belong, to be wanted and special, finds someone who appreciates her and most importantly someone who is so true to her that he never leaves her side.   She gives to each heroine what she herself never had and in mending their broken hearts and fulfilling their hopes, she may have found a temporary balm for her own sorrow.   For common sense is appropriate in handling every situation in life, but it is unfortunately of little use when it comes to reasoning with the heart.

I think Jane must have realised that no matter how you represent men and women in stories, in real life they are very different.  It is almost as if she seeks to bring out the goodness in human nature even as she laughs at it.  Despite being so disappointed herself, she allowed herself to dream for others and to give hope to others. I find that admirable and sincere.  Lefroy did not deserve her attachment, but then she herself says that men often gain the affections of women far better than they deserve.  It is the lucky man who realises this and shows his gratitude as he should.

As I wrote my first book, I often thought of Jane Austen.  I want to capture the idiosyncrasies of society and to highlight the warm spots of humanity shining out amongst its dull and dank populace, to find hope where there is none, to seek out the extraordinary amongst the perfectly ordinary, to bring adventure out of routine and to write as many, if not more books, as she did.

There are some things however that I did not wish to share with Ms. Austen.  I did not want her situation in life or her environment (in which women, and worse women who wrote, were such an anomaly), her short life or her illness, her broken heart or her disillusionment, her loneliness or her waiting.  And I fear some of these I have no choice in.

So perhaps, I can do one more thing that she did – and wish that if I must have a share in some of this, that no one else should.  In the movie, Lefroy says to Jane "What value would there be in life if we are not together?"  Whether he said these words in real life or not, she lived them I believe in a better sense than he did.  She gave value to the life of all her characters by making sure she ended every story with them being together.

I wish that for every one of you who reads this, and those who don’t as well.  That you should someday hear someone say those words to you, mean them and live them truly.  That you should – because you are worth it – add value to someone’s life and they to yours, that this value should be mutually acknowledged, appreciated and shared, and that no amount of Pride, Prejudice or Persuasion should stand in the way of your constancy to each other.

S’laams,
bint Ali.

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There Are No Rules

I haven’t blogged in two months.  That’s 8 weeks. 60 days.

It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say.  Rather, the only things I had to say – many as they might be – were repetitive.   I guess I haven’t had a time in my life when the same thoughts played out over and over like a broken record.  It gets well…redundant, I suppose.

Silence is supposed to allow one to reflect on inner matters and outer truths.  I don’t know how much of that has happened.  I have tried to understand some things about human nature – especially my own.  Perhaps I might blog about my theories on that in a few days.  For now however, two things seem to stand out for me.  Two things that people have often said, either directly to me or indirectly through opinions I have read, are ‘rules’ or ‘norms’ in life. 

While I don’t claim that these rules are not true or that they don’t generally play out, I do think we have to leave some leeway for the uniqueness of each individual and each circumstance.  Until you have lived a person’s life, stood in their shoes, felt with their heart and seen through their eyes, you cannot presume that you know how they will react to any situation.  Human nature has certain general trends no doubt, but even these apply differently to every individual.

And so this is what I believe at this point in time:

a) Promises are made to be broken.

Remember how when you watch a cheesy movie, there’s always that point when a hero will tell the heroine "Trust me…" and even though the entire world might be collapsing into rubble, the camera has enough time to pause for a crucial second or two for us to take in the Hesitation-Intense Look-Give In sequence? And remember how we all groan and wince at how unreasonably it is?

Well, maybe watching too many movies means that we do that in real life too.  We might not trust people so fast and perhaps never in a case when death ‘n destruction is a mere millisecond away, but we do trust too easily.  Probably because human nature has an innate need to focus on other people, to have faith in their goodness, to believe that they would care and respect enough about our feelings to put us first, to look out for us and to do all that is in their power not to hurt us.

In wanting this, we put others on pedestals and forget that essentially we are all flawed and perhaps the greatest flaw 99.9% of us carry within our selves is that of selfishness.  We make claims to care and love, to be loyal and available, to cherish and sacrifice…but when the moment of choice comes, the majority of us will choose ourselves over the very people we dedicate ourselves to.

Isn’t that why we are told that more often than not, the people who hurt us most are those we love the most? It’s not just because we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to them, trusted our most sensitive feelings with them – it’s also because in return we demand more of them than we do of others.  We expect them to be more considerate of us than we do others.  And is it fair to ask that when at the end of the day, they are as human as all of our other acquaintances? 

We’re usually willing to either turn a blind eye to their flaws or forgive them because of the imbalance in our good opinion of them.   We believe that we can trust in their affections and their preference for us over billions of other humans beings.  And nothing – I believe – provides a foundation for any kind of relationship so much as trust. 

You can only truly care about someone if you believe that they are honest and true.  If you feel that you can take their word for granted and that when they say they will do something or be somewhere, they prove their reliability by doing it or being there.  Trust gives way to Respect which are two key ingredients in any bond of affection – parental, filial, platonic or romantic.

However, just because you care about someone, doesn’t make them super-human or beyond reproach.  They will make the same mistakes that others do. And that means that every time they make you a promise, you have to be ready for it to be broken.  i don’t mean to say you should live in perpetual distrust or suspicion, just that you should never ignore or dismiss that possibility. 

It would I think save a lot of people a lot of hurt and betrayal if they could just remember that unless you are dealing with an angel or Divinity, people will break promises. 

As House M.D. says:  "Everybody Lies."

b) Time doesn’t always heal.

Having said the above. Let me add another observation:  We forget anyway.

I don’t know if it’s that instinct or desire to bond with others or whether it’s part of our human foolishness, but we are reckless and unwary.  Inevitably, we forget the dictates of reason, common sense and intellect.   We need only a gentle nudge sometimes, a rough shove at others but we all – despite knowing full well, having read a gadzillion articles and watched enough movies on the matter – fall into the trap of thinking "This person is different".

I’m not writing to say you shouldn’t do this; I’ve said enough above and I don’t think any amount of explaining or giving advice on the matter will change the situation.  People will continue to make the mistake, as they have for centuries past.  And only a rare few will ever learn the lesson without actually going through a situation like that for themselves.

However, once you have been hurt and once you do wake up and stop looking at the world through rose-coloured lenses then the last thing you need people to tell you is "Time heals".  I know it’s sage advice and I know for a majority it’s probably true, but I also know that even in regard to one individual, it can sometimes be true and sometimes be false.  

Every hurt is different.  Every person who hurts you is different.  How you feel about the different people who hurt you differently is also different.  You can find yourself forgiving one lie and not another – even though they are told by the same person.  Sometimes the hurt fades, sometimes it is healed, sometimes you let it go.

And sometimes…sometimes you can’t find the bottom of it to begin to fill it up.  Sometimes you can’t grasp it completely so that you should be able to let go of it.  Sometimes the hurt is so big and so deep and so vast that you are lost in it and can’t even comprehend it’s full extent or reason.  When you seek one boundary to understand it, the other shore disappears and when you try to contain it with a Reason, it simply overflows into confusion and befuddlement.

Minutes pass, and then days do and finally months as well.  And you begin to understand that soon a year will pass, and maybe two or then more.  And yet, the pain and hurt don’t seem to begin to either make sense or to become shallow.  Rather they become like elusive shadows…as long as you can distract yourself with the daily routine of life, of safe, predictable events they slink into the background, but the moment you allow yourself a few seconds of peace, of rest, they jump out like a nightmarish surprise party that was lying in wait only for you to unlock the door and let them in.  And every time they attack you, they seem to grow slightly darker and gain more substance, they don’t seem to be saying goodbye and leaving, but rather unpacking and settling in.

And you begin to wonder whether this is what life will be like.  A constant cat-and-mouse chase to keep the hurtful memories at bay, of being a stranger to your own past and your own mind, of being kicked out of what should have been the sanctuary of your inner subconscious and instead having to stand out in the cold extremities of your conscious.

But I guess this is the way of the world, the rule of cause-and-effect.  If you allow yourself to forget (a) above, you will be forced to learn (b).  I don’t think life becomes un-live-able when this happens, but it does become more…real?  I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but it will do. 

For my own part, I always thought ‘real’ meant challenging, difficult and not always sweetness, but I liked that thought over the easy happy-ever-after version storybooks give.  Most stories show you a few challenges, or a big obstacle but once those are overcome the heroes are alluded to live a life of happiness – the fruit of their labours.  I always thought it would be nice to have a version where the challenges were spread out, where every day and every challenge was met with dedicated effort.   Where the fruit was an annual harvest rather than a once-in-a-lifetime one.

Life seemed in that case less like a path to be journeyed down and more like a staircase that you climbed up step by step to higher heights. 

Now, I think I’ll add one more definition to ‘real’ and that’s ‘sad’.  Real life is actually quite sad.  Sometimes you have to look back and see people who were climbing with you and then gave up and refused to continue upwards no matter how much you offered encouragement or an arm.  Other times, the people you thought enjoyed your company and support as much as you did theirs will abandon you and either run ahead or simply turn down a side route and leave you alone.

I’m not sure if this should count as a (c) or not, but in the end, I can only say I hope I never have and never will make a promise I can’t keep because I don’t want to ever hurt another person with that kind of pain.  I don’t have the courage to trust that Time would heal them, nor the inclination to be the cause of such a feeling while it lasts (even if it does fade). 

I can only think that it would be wise to always remember why you made it before you consider breaking it.  If the Why is not strong enough to give you the impetus to keep it, then you should never have made it in the first place…

Perhaps the silliest thing is that as I end this totally random post (having neither thought it out or edited it as I usually do my other posts), despite all my observations on good sense and rationality, there is a little voice deep inside that whispers almost inaudibly that surely, if you have been cautious in who you give your trust to, surely if that person has proven their reliability more than once…then surely, they must be true to their nature and somehow, some day keep the promises they made? How will they live with themselves if they don’t?  And if they don’t…then what is there left to have faith in regarding this world and its inhabitants?  Regarding your own judgment of character?  And if you can’t trust your self, then who can you ever trust again?

I don’t know if it’s a reasonable voice or an unreasonable one.  I just know it’s a voice that has so far refused to be quelled.  It is the voice that reminds me that no matter what happens, I have made promises as well and I must be true to my word – always.  Or I will be no different.

S’laams,
bint Ali.