A Misunderstood Table: the Angel in the Home and the Invisible

This song (here) recommended listening before reading the post

Her ways are pleasant ways
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who hold her fast.
--Proverbs 3:17-18

"Her reserve and shrinking delicacy threw a veil over her beautiful character. She was little known beyond her home:but there she silently spead around her that soft pure light, the preciousness of which is never fully understood till it is quenched. ...Her calm gentle wisdom, her sweet humiliy, her sympathy, which though tender, was too serene to disturb her clear perceptions, fitted her to act instinctivelly and without the consciousness of either party on his (her husband's) more sanguine ardent mind. She was truly a spirit of good, diffusing a tranquilizing influence too mildly to be thought of, and therefore more sure. The blow which took her from him left a a wound which time could not heal."

--William Henry Channing, speaking of Rev. Dr. Tuckerman's wife

"As the vine, which has long twined its graceful foliage about the oak, and been and been lifted by it into sunshine, will, when the hardy plant is rifted by the thunderbolt, cling round it with its caressing tendrils, and bind up its shattered boughs, so is it beautifully ordered by Providence, that woman, who is the mere dependent and ornament of man in his happier hours (and rightly so), should be his stay and solace when smitten with sudden calamity; winding herself into the rugged recesses of his nature, tenderly supporting the drooping head, and binding up the broken heart.

I was once congratulating a friend, who had around him a blooming family, knit together in the strongest affection. "I can wish you no better lot," said he, with enthusiasm, "than to have a wife and children. If you are prosperous, there they are to share your prosperity; if otherwise, there they are to comfort you." And, indeed, I have observed that a married man falling into misfortune, is more apt to retrieve his situation in the world than a single one; partly, because he is more stimulated to exertion by the necessities of the helpless and beloved beings who depend upon him for subsistence, but chiefly because his spirits are soothed and relieved by domestic endearments, and his self-respect kept alive by finding, that, though all abroad is darkness and humiliation, yet there is still a little world of love at home, of which he is the monarch. Whereas, a single man is apt to run to waste and self-neglect; to fancy himself lonely and abandoned, and his heart to fall to ruin, like some deserted mansion, for want of an inhabitant....

(He goes onto tell of the reversal of fortunes a male friend of his named Leslie underwent. Leslie had had a reversal of fortunes he could not avoid. He had truly hoped to spare his wife Mary this decline in the accustomed luxuries of thier living but nothing could be done. They sold their elelgant furnishings of before, moved to a small rural cottage. And Leslie felt terrible, had so not wanted to cause his wife this reversal of fortune in life, was afraid what would happen. Then, Leslie and Mary having moved into their cottage, and Leslie having been out doing other things necessary, he and his friend (the narrator) comes back to the cottage, to this:)

"After turning from the main road up a narrow lane, so thickly shaded with forest-trees as to give it a complete air of seclusion, we came in sight of the cottage. It was humble enough in its appearance for the most pastoral poet; and yet it had a pleasing rural look. A wild vine had overrun one end with a profusion of foliage; a few trees threw their branches gracefully over it; and I observed several pots of flowers tastefully disposed about the door, and on the grass-plot in front. A small wicket-gate opened upon a footpath that wound through some shrubbery to the door. Just as we approached, we heard the sound of music--Leslie grasped my arm; we paused and listened. It was Mary's voice singing, in a style of the most touching simplicity, a little air of which her husband was peculiarly fond.

I felt Leslie's hand tremble on my arm. He stepped forward, to hear more distinctly. His step made a noise on the gravel-walk. A bright beautiful face glanced out at the window, and vanished--a light footstep-was heard--and Mary came tripping forth to meet us. She was in a pretty rural dress of white; a few wild flowers were twisted in her fine hair; a fresh bloom was on her cheek; her whole countenance beamed with smiles--I had never seen her look so lovely.

"My dear George," cried she, "I am so glad you are come; I have been watching and watching for you; and running down the lane, and looking out for you. I've set out a table under a beautiful tree behind the cottage; and I've been gathering some of the most delicious strawberries, for I know you are fond of them--and we have such excellent cream--and everything is so sweet and still here-Oh!"--said she, putting her arm within his, and looking up brightly in his face, "Oh, we shall be so happy!""
--from Washington Irving's
The Wife

I think deep down eventually people know when they are being cheated. As mentioned in part 1, the angel in the home is based on a deep archetype for Biblical womanhood i feel, something that has true value and good and meaning. That's still being unraveled really. But the angel in the home got twisted by some, into a rather plasticy version of womanhood, the stereotypical "southern belle" type who spent most of her hours in front of the looking glass or being flirtateous and flippant, and took things of true import lightly...or on the other hand an ever-giving, ever correct woman who was unreal feeling. We are still left with this wound of misunderstanding. We hear what the angel in the home has been twisted into, what most mistakenly think she is, and so we condemn or dismiss the whole thing, but we miss what the angel in the home actually is. I still long to unravel who she is somehow.

In the last post the angelic was explored a bit, which probably seemed like a sidenote but it was an attempt to show how the angelic embraces the subtle (i feel it does anyway), and just how important that is. That world of the subtle is a huge part of being an angel in the home. And i feel our ignoring this leads to such misunderstandings in the area of "productivity". We have come to define productivity in a very limited way, as what is more blatent and visible, ignoring the equal importance of the subtle and just as impacting. The more "invisible" in a sense.

This wasnt something i understood when i was younger. I had had (out of necessity i thought) a "pull yourself up by the bootstaps" kind of life. It was a huge struggle just to get my studying done in my schoolyears in the violent and chaotic home i grew up in, especially since i was only able to sleep a few hours of night with all the noise and the like. Had to keep scholarships maintained in high school and college, as money was so tight. Had to work after school (in elementary school i babysat, in junior high and high school i worked at a bookstore and at our local parish's rectory, and then other things as i got older, like teaching). I developed this typical "protestant work ethic" sort of attitude, thinking if i had to push myself and "succeeded" in that (however unhappily since i was fighting my nature) then everyone else should be able to too.

I didnt start to question this stuff till i was in the middle of graduate school, when it hit me like a ton of bricks that i didnt want to be where i was in life, on so many levels it was hard to know where to start. I quit graduate school (the relief at leaving the whole PC academic world was huge), started taking baby steps to being more nurturing focused and and home based. But it wasnt till age 30 that i came to a deeper crossroads there. Its a long story, but the short version is i prayed for deeper help so needed....and never dreamt it would come in the form of a serious injury that left me with life altering chronic limits and pain.

And here was the clincher: it was/is invisible. Someone looking at me couldnt/can't "see" my injury or my pain, and its a condition that slips right through the cracks of our incredibly flawed disability system too...which just adds even more invisibility there. I learned that what is invisible is even more deeply real than i had thought.

And i learned about weakness, dependence, vulnerability, need. Learned that these things are not the defects of character folks assume they are, but rather just as sacred as their more independent counterparts. And looking back, i learned in a nutshell about truly valueing what is feminine and receptive, the "weaker vessel".

So now enter the enter the angel in the home. She's a model of womanhood that comes from this sort of place, as in the place of the invisible, the subtle, the receptive. And we dismiss that model just like we dismiss these qualities. More about this in future posts, this stuff just seems to be unraveling slowly i guess...

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