In honor of William Faulkner’s birthday today, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite short stories of his called “A Rose for Emily”. But before I delve into the nuances of Southern culture and societal expectation, the above quote by Faulkner reminds me of a review I read lately called “Philippe Petit: Cheating the Impossible”. The review focused on the story of a woman on her hands and knees cleaning the floor of an airport. The part of the review that reminded me of the above Faulkner quote and really touched me was this:
“This woman was crawling on her hands and knees across the airport, picking up every bit of detritus, from cigarette butts to strands of lint, and then placing each handful into a trash receptacle. Petit watched her work at her task undisturbed for three straight hours.
The lesson he garnered from the experience as that no task was impossible. If we focus with absolute conviction upon the next minuscule task ahead of us, we will achieve any larger goal composed of those smaller objectives.
In that way, a woman can clean up an entire airport by hand; likewise, a man can fly across the ocean, break into a skyscraper, and walk a tightrope between them.
I put the book down thinking about the things I have left to do to achieve my own impossible dreams. Following his advice, I let the larger obstacle fade away, and focused all of my attention and intention instead upon the next tiny task at hand, understanding that in achieving that tiny task I am moving steadily forward towards my larger mission.” ~Jeff Suwak – http://www.JeffSuwak.com
I sometimes need to remind myself of this lesson, to keep my focus on the smaller goals before me, so I can achieve the larger dream down the road. Being in this business requires a lot of patience and persistence, a good measure of hope, and bucket full of sheer dumb luck.
In A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, I can’t help but grieve for poor Emily Grierson. Not because she may have been a mentally disturbed woman, but because I can see the pressures that may have drove her to that state. Faulkner does a great job capturing the heartbeat of the time-worn Southern culture, one still prevalent in the Deep South today.
I suppose I relate a lot to Emily Grierson in many ways. Growing up, I had an overbearing father that made it impossible to have a healthy, normal dating life as a teenager – the time where you learn boundaries, explore emotional connections, experience first loves, first heartbreaks, and all the other nuances that having young relationships teach us.
Here in Georgia, family traditions and roots run deep. Though I come from a large family, I’ve always felt abandoned and orphaned, without roots, a wild flower, and tumbleweed. Yet, I live in a culture steeped in tradition, a sense of family and strong faith. No matter how much I fall in line, dress the part, and repeat the mantras, I don’t fit. I never have, and they’ll never accept me, because I’m a free spirit, I question everything, and I could care less what my grandma, or my great-grandma said, because I never had a grandma or a great-grandma love and teach me anything. Even if I had, I would probably question their wisdom, because that’s who I am.
I have been married for two decades into a family with very deep roots in this area, yet after all that time, though they know my name, know where I live, I doubt they barely notice I’m gone, other than being the example of gossip and failure – as the town and two cousins from Alabama was so interested in helping poor Emily Grierson with her ‘sad’ predicament (being an unmarried woman approaching 30 and in the company of a scandalous man).
Don’t even get me started with the whole Baptists thinking they have to save you, even if you don’t need to be saved, but perhaps from the judgment and tyranny of religious dogma. Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way opposed to a personal, intimate relationship with God, but being here in the South and seeing how religion is pretty much a requirement to participate in society, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Too many profess a faith they don’t practice in deed. They practice with words and masks inside their four walls, and anything odd, strange and peculiar outside the acceptable boxes… well, are left to scrutiny, much like Emily and the need to for the Baptist approval or disapproval of her relationship with a Northern carpetbagger. As a ‘monument’ to this particular southern town, there were a lot of outrageous expectations placed on Miss Emily, which ultimately forced her into a life of solitude and to murder her lover. While Southern society accepts more casual decisions in civic behavior, there is still a strong traditional value system that makes odd characters like Emily and me feel like outsiders. Like Emily, I was born and raised in this culture, yet often shut myself away from the expectations and disappointments in being who I am.
So, do not wait and throw a rose on my casket with false accolades of love and acceptance. Love me as I am and throw a rose for all of us weirdoes in celebration of our uniqueness.
Till next time,