Fiction: Miss Peckham Departs

“I thought you wanted to research the Apaches?” Fahy asked.

“Yes, but I may never have that chance. Mr. Saint Kenyon won’t let me come along with you.”

“Why not? Did you ask Captain Markham? He might put in a word.” Fahy seemed disappointed in her and it irked Thankful.

“Maybe Miss Peckham has had enough of the military,” Thankful said.

“Oh no, but all the best officers are taken,” Miss Peckham replied with a grin. “So this is farewell.”

“Good riddance,” Thankful said with grim finality.

“Well, I guess, good luck, miss,” Fahy added, lingering a minute as if he had more to say. “I must be off. Kenyon is over there messing with my wagons.” He kissed Thankful. “I’ll see you before I go.”

Miss Peckham waved as Fahy trotted off and turned to Thankful. “Poor you, Miss Thankful. Looks like your lieutenant is far too ambitious for you. You must learn it sooner rather than later. Once they’re sexually satisfied they don’t have much time for women. Prepare yourself for slavery.”

“Do you ever have a hopeful, decent thing to say, Miss Peckham?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “About men? No.”

“They seem to like you a fair bit,” Thankful noted.

“I know how to stroke their egos—that’s an indispensable talent in a man’s world, isn’t it?” Miss Peckham said in her most self-satisfied way.

Thankful’s mother never once managed to pet her father’s ego. Thankful wasn’t sure how it was done.

“You know what is particularly sad about you, Thankful? You do have intelligence, but it’ll be wasted on the lieutenant. I don’t mean to say that Lieutenant Fahy isn’t clever and very handsome, but he has about as much respect for a woman’s mind as your Saint Paul does.”

“My Saint Paul?”

“I see what you read at your bedside—oh, holy one. What I don’t understand is how you could submit yourself to a man,” Miss Peckham said.

“It’s easy if you respect and admire him,” Thankful said weakly.

“Men aren’t gods,” Miss Peckham said as if letting Thankful in on a secret, “and Saint Paul would have us kept in bondage.”

“Have you really read what you speak of? Men must be prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith and family—that’s worthy of respect,” Thankful said.

“For your information—I’ve read bits and pieces of the Bible—one must understand the enemy to defeat it.”

“That’s blasphemous!” Thankful said.

“So what?  Why should I believe a book that can’t be proved and was written by men with their own best interests at heart?”

“It’s God and his love at the heart of the Bible . . .”

“Oh, please! Stop it before I vomit! Men are selfish swine. Christ is a fiction. Christians are at best naive and at worst plunderers and murderers, hidden behind masks of righteousness. It’s truly disgusting. I can’t tell you how many times in my childhood people prayed for me and my siblings when what we needed was warm clothes,” Miss Peckham said.

“Not all Christians are hypocrites,” Thankful said.

“You don’t know anything, Miss Thankful! How could you know in your perfect world? And look, just like Mary, you’re with child out of wedlock—though I doubt it was by a miraculous act of God. I’m sure it was just the average everyday lusts of a spoiled girl who has always done as she pleases!”

Thankful cried out. “I was foolish! I only did it to please him!”

“There, there, Thankful. It will all work out. The lieutenant will still marry you, I suppose.”

Thankful looked after the lieutenant, her breath knocked from her. “Of course he will. He loves me.”

“But you love Bill Weldon. How will that work?” Miss Peckham asked.

“You’re an evil woman who wants trouble for me. I don’t know why,” Thankful cried.

“Thankful, I don’t hate you. I just feel so impatient with you and girls like you. How can you not see the hell you’re in? Look at your choices in life—either marry a drunk from home or a self-interested soldier, who will treat you like a princess until you’re ravaged by childbirth and then will easily find another young thing on his travels. I know the type. I know all the types. I’m a keen observer of human nature and it’s far from inspiring. You may bury your head in a magical book for all the good it will do you. But I choose to work for change in the here and now.”

“So you plan to change men?” Thankful asked shakily.

“Yes, in fact I demand it of them. But it’s mothers—like you—who will have the ultimate responsibility. I fully believe that boys need to be brought up differently,” Miss Peckham said.

“I don’t want men to change,” Thankful replied.

“That’s because you’re deluded. It’s women like me who possess clear vision that will light the path to pure freedom for us all. We’ll show you how to be without men—to be seen as equals.”

“Well, I don’t want to be independent of men—not completely,” Thankful said.

“Men are slave masters—all of them—their power has corrupted them. Maybe once they were more like us.”

“God forbid!” Thankful cried.

“You are so beaten down that you hate your own sex!” Miss Peckham checked the time.

“No, I like being a girl. . .”

“A WOMAN! You’re a woman, for heaven’s sake!” Miss Peckham lectured.

“I like being a lady, but I wouldn’t want my husband to be one,” Thankful explained.

“Why not?!”

Thankful laughed. “Why not? Isn’t it clear as day? Without men there would be no civilization. It’s men who conquered the land and protected their families.”

“I can shoot as well as any man!” Miss Peckham responded.

“Maybe so, but not with children hanging off of you.”

“I don’t want children.”

Thankful wrapped her arms around her middle. A wave of nausea came over her. “Luckily civilization doesn’t depend upon you. My mother is domineering and disrespectful to men and that’s worked wonders in her marriage. My father tried to do right by her and she stomped on him until he was made a fool to his children and was hated by them. Finally, he found someone else.”

Miss Peckham clapped her hands. “See, men are mudsill. A woman stands up and a man’s only response is infidelity.”

“There are women who stand up, but there are more women who tear down—tear down each other and men too and even children! They want things their way and they want a power they despise once they have. My mother didn’t grow any happier each time she won her way with my father. I’d submit any day to a man over a woman. A good man wouldn’t dare treat me like most women have,” Thankful said.

“Oh, I’m sure that you have been terribly mistreated at your finishing schools and. . .”

Thankful trembled. She hated upset of any sort. “Look how you treat me, Miss Peckham.  You must realize that I’m scared and all alone. My only friend from home is a changed man from drinking and my fiancé is leaving me. And what have you done, but insult my faith, flirt with Mr. Fahy and abuse William? You have proven my point. I’m very happy you’re leaving.”

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Annunciation

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

JOHN DONNE

***Painting by Beatrice Emma Parsons – Annunciation

waves

Into the dusk of the East,
Gray with the coming of night,
This may we know at least–
After the night comes light!
Over the mariners’ graves,
Grim in the depths below,
Buoyantly breasting the waves,
Into the East we go.

On to a distant strand,
Wonderful, far, unseen,
On to a stranger land,
Skimming the seas between;
On through the days and nights,
Hope in each sailor’s breast,
On till the harbor lights
Flash on the shores of rest!

J. H. Jowett.

***featured images by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

 

 

“Sympathy is no substitute for action.” David Livingstone

the-victoria-falls-or-mosi-oa-tunya-ken-welsh

Not every tenement dweller can become the David Livingstone of his generation, but what if that was put forth as the goal?

In terms of disease, sanitation and real poverty 19th century tenements were far worse than the modern versions in most western nations today. I wonder if the attitude was better then or was David Livingstone just a fluke. Why is it that so many great men of the 19th century rose up from poverty to do great things and to become great men?

A staunch abolitionist, fearless explorer and medical missionary Livingstone spent his childhood in a single room tenement and worked long hours at the mills in Scotland. At the end of the day he hit the books. The other day a teacher told me she didn’t have the heart to give students homework–school was too hard on the little flowers of today. One wonders if Livingstone complained to his parents about hard work.

Here’s where the victim mentality wreaks havoc on children. If a child has the right to be angry forever about the state of his life then when will he  ever see that hitting the books in the evening could quite possibly lead him on a life of useful  and exciting endeavors? Victimhood nurses cowardice and bitterness–two things David Livingstone seems never to have accepted into his young life of poverty. Somehow he knew that  poverty of the mind (and heart) was far worse than living in a tenement for one’s soul. We know that as a missionary he must have believed in callings and God.

David-Livingstone-jeune-env1845

“If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

Sometimes it’s easy to be quite blase about explorers.

In an age when tourists like to pretend to experience past adventures but are seconds away from medical assistance and police, real explorers almost seem boring–though they shouldn’t. Livingstone on one of his many trips to Africa witnessed a brutal massacre of an entire town by Arabic slave traders and vowed to speak out against slavery. One must always remember that white, Christian men were the only abolitionists in the worldwide slave trade and were the only ones who ended slavery. We must remember this especially now when victimhood is the fashion and searching for someone to take revenge on is the rage.

In the West we die of heart disease, cancer and depression nowadays–victims of bad food, lackluster educations and endless hours watching other people do bad things on TV–yet we live in a “free” society.

We demand our right to complain. We isolate ourselves and wonder why people are so awful (the ones we meet in our office or the ones we see on TV). Totalitarian governments love dependent children. It’s so much easier to lead them by the nose.

Dear David Livingstone,

Thank you for stepping out in faith each day. Thank you for not only witnessing the evils of the slave trade but for doing something about it in your lifetime. You lost your wife to fever in Africa but never stopped exploring. You made the connection between malaria and mosquitoes and malaria and quinine. Good for you! I’m sorry I never knew more about you than the cartoon version of you.

You didn’t see your life as one to be lived demanding your personal rights but worked for the kind treatment of others–in short you gave up your life and in the end received a bigger life than most people ever dare to imagine. I wonder what drove you. I suspect it was your faith in old dead heroes and the one dead hero who rose again on the third day. It’s too bad that most heroes are banned in schools today. We need a a journalist like Henry Stanley to come looking for the likes of you even now!

stanley1“Henry Stanley  was a remarkable man. Orphaned at an early age he spent his formative years in a workhouse in Wales, crossed the Atlantic at age 15 as a crewman of a merchant ship and jumped ship in New Orleans. Befriended by a local merchant, he took the man’s name – Henry Stanley – as his own and went on to fight in the Civil War before working his way into a career in journalism.”** Eyewitness to History

Stanley was sent to find Livingstone in Africa after he was presumed dead. He uttered the famous, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” and came away from their meeting with this to say: For four months and four days I lived with David Livingstone in the same house, or in the same boat, or in the same tent, and I never found a fault in him. I am a man of quick temper, and often without sufficient cause, I dare say, have broken the ties of friendship; but with Livingstone I never had cause for resentment, but each day’s life with him added to my admiration for him.

David Livingstone in his own words sums up life like this:

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Feeling How God Feels

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20)  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) by Artemisia Gentileschi  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

I’m not God, but I play one in my novels. It’s no secret that my books are about flawed people who eventually get their acts together (as I’m an optimist). I think about Calvin’s idea of God choosing who to save. I’ve always hated this idea, but as a writer I find a weird parallel. Almost as soon as I think up a character I know if I’m going to save him or not. I’m not sure if it’s a decision on my part or just a sense, a knowing, that this character will move in the direction of redemption or in the opposite direction. All of my characters are jerks, wimps and selfish asses–so basically human. I love them. I create them. I fret over how they will get to where they need to go to be redeemed (I never know until I join them on the journey).

I fret over the other guys, too. The characters who seem bent on spiritual blindness, who do good things sometimes but for terrible reasons, who suffer abuse and have great excuses for being bad–but choose to stay bad. I root for these people, I do mental gymnastics to turn them around. I want them to change direction, but I’ve never been able to convince them of anything. Never once have I been surprised. I know from the beginning and it’s a sad thing.

I wonder if God is all powerful then why can’t he just change people. On a tiny scale I experiment with the same notion, but the resistance from the character is so strong and my coddling and begging make for a stilted story, an unreal outcome.

My untrained and insignificant brain knows more intelligent thinkers have better answers and impressive theories.

The past is my playground because fate and freewill matter little when looking back. Novel writing forces one to live in the present with predestination standing there at the finish line.

 

 

 

Books I’ve Known And Loved

IMG_0001Of two minds. It’s how we live without crumbling into tears of frustration, terror and despair. We play mental games, don’t we? When I say “we” I mean slave owners and slave traders (past and present), black and white, vegetarians and trophy hunters.

Abraham Lincoln was just like the rest of us until he was sainted by assassination. Of two minds, he wrestled with slavery. Ambition isn’t always a bad thing for it gets a person out of their easy chair. It forces a person to declare something, to speak up–maybe the words and the ideas aren’t perfectly crystallized yet. Maybe a consensus hasn’t formed in the popular mind, but an ambitious person with moral qualms takes up the challenge knowing that even if he stumbles it’s better than sitting on the couch eating popcorn.

Better. Now there’s a word. It hardly means anything anymore. I’m surprised it’s not a banned word in public schools for it hints at meritocracy and superiority. And here is the mental game again: let’s pretend somethings aren’t painful. Let’s pretend that if we don’t like something it doesn’t exist.

Except for some outspoken and at times incredibly naive and hypocritical abolitionists most people in the North just preferred not knowing too much about the ins and outs of slavery. While most opposed it, it wasn’t their problem. Some may have read a few horror stories and congratulated themselves for being open enough and courageous enough to read the stories in their entirety.

I imagine if there was Facebook back in the day animal stories would go viral, celebrities would organize campaigns to save the Cecils in faraway lands. But would they allow themselves to watch an entire Planned Parenthood video? Would they watch a slave being whipped or beaten or raped? Would they pretend that slavery was like a clinical doctor’s office–clean and pain-free?

Or would they wrestle as Lincoln did with their own prejudices, fears and ignorance? Today in our tolerant and polite society how many of us are willing to be called vicious and mocking names for our beliefs? Let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us would be willing to die for our beliefs or even be shunned for our beliefs? How many of us take the time to study what we think we already know because a talking head on TV or a blog told us it was so?

When I say “we” here I mean ME. In Africa the people wonder why we care more for an animal that they understand eats people than we do people. Our president chides African nations (in a  condescending way I find offensive) for selling albino body parts for rituals. Okay. I’m with him on that, but he’s of two minds isn’t he? There’s a big body parts controversy right here in the states.

When I felt the child I was told I had to abort or I’d die move inside me and when I saw the ultrasound they had to take before the operation I was of one mind: SAVE ME. I understand the fear, despair and embarrassment of believing the lie of exploding populations and a  life made easier without another baby to feed. I was poor and of an environmental mindset.

That baby haunts me still because I didn’t want her even before the health crisis. I want her now. (And yes it was most definitely a baby. I saw it and felt it).

I may lose my limited readership taking a stand here, but It’s impossible after watching bureaucrats chowing down lunch while callously discussing harvesting baby organs for thoughts not to crystallize. My heart had been wavering this summer about the foster care/adoption classes I took this spring. My life is peaceful and good here on the farm, but how can I not open my life up to the many families in crisis? How can I stay of two minds?

Some of you may wonder what this has to do with one of the best books ever written about antebellum America. This book requires an expansion of the mind. This book is an exercise. Yes, it’s thoroughly readable and full of anecdotes, but it’s more. It’s a study of the American mind and soul in all its wonderful and horrible complexity. David M. Potter spares no one, but he’s the rare soul who captures the difficulty of coming to one mind about things. He understands (and loves?) people.

Lincoln was an American man. Not a perfect man, but he took a stand and a chance. Here’s what Potter says about him:

David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis

David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis

Ellen G. White: the most translated female non-fiction author in the history of literature, as well as the most translated American non-fiction author of either gender

Prolific writer Ellen White

Prolific writer Ellen White

My father once ran out of a restaurant because people at his table talked religion. He hated offending people and nursed a strong distaste for “holy rollers.” I like talking religion. I’m curious about the meaning of life.  If you study American history you can’t help but bump up against Christianity.

Christ has always been controversial and in the 19th century it was no different. Don’t be scared of Ellen White. Yes, her nose is disfigured. A mean boy threw a rock in her face as a child landing her in a coma. When she awoke with a screwed up nose she was devastated.

A few years later she had a conversion experience. Eventually she had controversial visions of the great spiritual war going on behind the veil of what we call normal life. Fallen angels and followers of God fought for the souls of mere mortals.

Ellen wrote about everything from vegetarianism to education and evangelism.

I’m not a Seventh Day Adventist though I admire some of their teachings, but who knew that Ellen White held the position of most translated female non-fiction writer?*

“During her lifetime she wrote more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books.” Wikipedia

*According to grandson’s biography

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