I don’t remember ever pretending to be a princess. Not even once.
I wasn’t the sort of little girl who asked for plastic dress-up shoes or sparkling makeup sets. I didn’t have a closet full of pink tulle skirts. My daydreams never bothered with being held captive in some high tower, waiting for a tinfoil man-child to bring me life and liberty.
Instead, I arm-wrestled boys and won. I played shoot-the-Russians, and read thick books, and made useful things out of wood. I roused nests of naked baby mice tucked into hay; wooed doodlebugs out of dried dung piles; and stole luna moths from the cold, wet, night grass.
To this day, I rarely experience the most delicate communions of my soft kind. The pink she-vim, with all of its birdlike chatter and clatter of fragile things remains more foreign to me than China. I would rather be outside digging in dirt making things grow, or taming something wild, or learning something difficult.
When I was seven, my bedroom window opened to the branches of a massive crabapple tree. Every spring, it would hymn its gnarly, old arms into an unbridled explosion of light; and for several weeks, I would live in a sky blown full of perfection.
Perhaps it was too perfect, because it has made me unsatisfied. Handmade pinks are just too “ish”. Too sticky. Too sweet. Too trying-to-be. I remember what this color should be, and I haven’t seen it since. Nothing second-best will suffice.
I paint sometimes, and it seems to me that God has given mankind access to the pigment realm of handmade blues, and greens, and perfect ochres. Yet the Maker must have kept supreme pink to Himself, because the color I was given by that crabapple tree was pure, delicate, alive. It was kissed with undertones of butter-gold, and it flushed like the cheek of an infant; but it was light as down. Every petal danced in the wind, as if it were made for no other purpose than my delight; and I did delight in that singular way that only little girls and very old ones can.
Those days were slow and simple, and my imagination had not yet become defiled. I was young enough to let beauty work the fullness of its gospel over me.
“Behold, little one. Behold!
Hear these thousand tongues sing!
Your heart unfolds like flowers before Me!
Such a shade of joy will burst your very soul!”
Well burst, then. For I was too young to know the fear of it.
When night stained the sky, my tree would whisper promises from all the best story books. She assured me of things I couldn’t dream in the light. With those thousand moon-silvered tongues she blessed two rock-skinned knees and bruised legs scabbed with scratched mosquito bites. Like a sylvan godmother, whispering sacred words across my soda bottle glasses and uncool clothes bought at Goodwill, beauty spoke. She told me that I was the daughter of a great, artistic King, trapped (momentarily, mind you) in the lanky flesh of a prepubescent Giacometti. A kissed toad, waiting, tossed into this blushing wonderland.
The truth tickled the hairs on my arm with a shiver of night air. Crickets recounted the songs of orphans made princes. If my heart would calm its pounding, I might hear the approach of a milkmaid named something like Pertoppety or Faithful Bess; and she would recognize my noble brow and see the royal blood. She would call me forth from the cinders and the scratches to become what tremored in the voice of the first Muse who spoke, “Once upon a time.” She would pronounce my new name.
When I was eleven, we moved away from that house, and my reflection began to change. In the morning light, I would stand with my fingertips pressed into the softs of my cheeks, considering how very much there was that I was not.
I lacked, and so I fought, using the strength of my own arms to defy the gaps. I reasoned, sweated, resolved, studied, proved, and strove. I wrestled with angels and with prophets; but my strength was never enough. Each flexing muscle packed guilt and fatigue into the empty spaces of my soul, and each new failure confirmed my deepest fears. I was ugly, unlovable, rejected. Decades were wasted.
Perhaps it is a sort of mortal sin to lay aside all of our first stories — to unbelieve the best tales told around the early fires. What if these stories are composed and recomposed because something inside our blood knows them to be nearly true? For it is possible that the earth was Art-made to whisper hymns over us while we sleep. And it is possible that we were made with the capacity to listen.
We grow cynical, battered, beaten, fought. We live sore from the pigments of imitation. We expire in the winters of our trying.
Yet Spring is rising, and there is a King. Each new day declares the poetry of His paternity. He still sends the gospel herald pulsing pure and free through the arms of the earth. His warmth offers to make us daughter-beautiful, dignified, whole, new.
It is ours to be young enough again to lie still. It is ours to bathe in the waters of the cherished. It is ours to drink up the sweet milk sap of our new name, and fall asleep with its abundance bubbling white from the corners of our lips. It is ours to be kissed children walking in wonder, trusting, faithing*, dancing in the dew grace of royalty.
Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
*Particular thanks to Ron Block for sharing his insights on several of these concepts.
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.