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I can't think of a happier time for parents than when their oldest daughter graduates from boarding school and comes home to take her place alongside her mother. It had been exactly two years since we had seen Dorothy. Her father drove to Lausanne [Switzerland] to bring her home, and I don't know how the other children and I managed without him for the few days that he was gone. The final touches had been done in her rooms, and instead of being the plain little rooms she had left, they were a lovely haven for our young lady. The little sitting room opened into a very comfortable and inviting bedroom. Her father's eyes and mine had met and teared up as we imagined unknown visions of the pure life that would be lived there, the innocent prayers that would be offered up at the little prayer table, the joy that would originate from this bedroom and bubble over the entire house, and perhaps someday, the dreams of young love that would glorify the two little rooms.
The younger children had already put fresh flowers two or three times in every place that would hold a flower. They had put on their best clothes, had sweet, eager faces, brushed hair,
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and bright eyes, excitedly anticipating the long-awaited return of their sister Dorothy.
Finally, we received a telegram from Dover--'Home by 5:00'--and our restless anticipation changed to hushed expectation.
We heard wheels on the gravel. We rushed to the door and stood in two lines--children, maids, Rover and Floss, ready to greet the young lady of the house. Then a lovely face wet with happy tears from behind fur wraps, and a light leap before the car even came to a complete stop--and she was in my arms, my Dorothy, the child of my heart! Then a special 'high tea,' and everyone, even Baby May, sat at the table. Her father and I let the children have her attention, while we communicated by exchanging looks that married couples understand.
'Isn't she a beauty!' his eyes said. 'And what an elegant, graceful girl she is!' answered my own eyes. 'Look how tactful she is with the little ones.' 'And notice how she is with us, as if her heart was brimming over with respect and affection.' That's what we told each other with our eyes. For over a week, we were so excited that we couldn't settle down. It was the Christmas holidays, so Mrs. Grimshaw was off and we didn't have her to manage the house. Wherever Dorothy ran--no, she didn't run, she moved about the house with a quick, quiet step, but she never ran--around the house rediscovering all the beloved old nooks, the rest of us followed after her, the troop of children in the front, and us parents trailing behind. Really, were quite a spectacle, and we did everything we could to spoil her. Dorothy's two special adorers were her 15 year old sister Elsie,
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quickly following in Dorothy's footsteps, and our oldest son, Herbert, who would be going off to college soon. Elsie would come into my room constantly to say something, usually starting with the words, 'Dorothy says . . .' And it was nice to see Herbert's budding manhood express itself in all kinds of little attentions towards his lovely sister.
And she was truly beautiful. Nobody could argue with that. She was as fresh and delicate as a lily, tall, graceful, without even a trace of awkwardness or self-consciousness. She had the exquisite complexion of the Elmores (that side of the family has a warm, lovely rose-colored complexion on creamy white without a hint of brown) and a smile that looked like spring and love and other wonderful things, and deep blue eyes that reflected the light of her smile. That's what Dorothy was like.
I've never known such an exhilaratingly joyful month as the one after Dorothy returned home, not even during the rapture of early married life, and I think her father would agree.
What a month it was! There was the fun of going to the mall to get Dorothy some new clothes, and the bewildering number of options and decisions to find the one that flattered her the most.
'Everything looks good on her!' exclaimed the saleslady. 'With her figure and complexion, she can wear anything!'
And it was pleasant to enter a room where everyone looked at us so kindly, and our dear old friends rushed to admire our daughter. Dorothy was humble and gentle with all of them. She was received warmly by all of her peers, both male and female. She danced with grace, her manners were perfect, although they weren't manners
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at all, they were just who she was naturally in every situation. All of these things merely added to our joy. Fortunately for us, she preferred to be home with us. She was more friendly and charming with her parents and siblings than she was with even the most fascinating strangers. What a good child she was! We had gotten a little uncomfortable about discussing the most intimate and best things with her--her spirituality--but we knew she must be praying. Where else could this sweet innocent life come from that outpoured on all of us?
I can imagine what a young couple wrapped up in each other would think if they read this: 'It's merely the gushing of a devoted mother,' as they tossed these pages aside. But, young lovers, don't ever think that you have the only ecstatic moments or blissful experiences worth writing about. Just wait and see.
For over a month we had these happy days. Then, one bright morning in February, I remember it very clearly, a little cloud began to form. This is what happened: Dorothy had promised Elsie that she'd take her to Banford to choose a doll for May's birthday. But, as it happened, I needed the car to deliver some clothes to my ladies' club that I had picked up for them in London with their club money. I couldn't put off my delivery. If I didn't get it done that day, it would be another week before their next meeting. But I didn't see why the doll couldn't wait another day until tomorrow. That's what I said as I got into the car assuming that it was no big deal. I didn't notice that my comment was received with silence.
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When I came home after a long afternoon, I was tired and looking forward to being welcomed by my girls. The two older ones were sitting by the fire with enough light on their faces that I could see Dorothy, listless and pale, sitting in a low chair, and Elsie watching her, bewildered and anxious. Dorothy did look up to ask, 'Are you tired, Mom?' but she only looked in my direction with her eyes and there was no life in them.
'You look tired and cold, Dorothy--is something wrong?'
'Oh, I'm fine, thanks. But I am tired, I think I'll just go to bed.' And she coldly offered her cheek for the mother's kiss that she didn't return. Elsie and I stared at each other in distress. Was this really happening? What had happened to our darling adored fairy princess?
'What's wrong with Dorothy? Does she have a headache?'
'Oh, Mom, I don't know!' said Elsie, on the verge of tears. 'She's been like this ever since you left. She'll say 'yes' or 'no' or 'no, thanks' kindly enough, but she won't really say anything. Has somebody been upsetting our Dorothy, or is she coming down with something? Oh, Mom!'
'Don't worry, Elsie, don't cry. Dorothy is probably just overtired. She was out late twice this week, and three times the week before that, and you know how late hours don't suit her. We'll just have to take better care of her, that's all it is.'
Elsie felt better, but I didn't. I believed everything I had just told Elsie, yet at the same time I had an uneasy stirring in my heart, like a snake in the grass. But I put it out of my mind.
I had a secret fear when I went downstairs for
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breakfast the next morning. Dorothy was there already there getting the table ready for breakfast. But she was pale and lethargic. Her hands moved, but her body was lifeless like it had been the evening before. She offered me her cheek to kiss, said a cold, 'Good morning, Mom,' and gave a mechanical smile with her lips but not her eyes. That was all the morning greeting I got from her. Breakfast was uncomfortable and awkward. The children wondered what was the matter, but no one knew. Her father got along the best with her because he hadn't heard what had happened the night before, so he doted on her as usual and fussed even more because she looked so pale.
This went on for an entire week, and she would never look me in the eye. It was just as bad for the children. They could tell something wasn't right. Only her father was able to coax some friendliness from her because he continued to treat her like the old Dorothy who had come home to us only a month ago.
'We need to have the doctor look at Dorothy, my dear. Haven't you noticed how she's losing weight, and how the rosy color she came home with is fading? She has no appetite and no spirit. What? Surely you don't think our innocent daughter has a broken heart, do you? There aren't any young men around, except maybe the young Gardiner boy, and surely she wouldn't be interested in a gawky kid like that!'
This was a new concept. I happened to know of at least six young men who had shown an interest in Dorothy, all of them more appealing than the ungainly, awkward young Gardiner. Could it be that she was lovesick? But that couldn't be it. I could pinpoint the change in her--it was when I returned from making my delivery to Ditchling. But I thought that the idea of seeing the doctor was a great idea. If nothing else, it might take her out of herself, and perhaps--well, we'd have to wait and see.
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She saw the doctor and he said that she needed some exercise. He didn't prescribe medication, just fresh air, exercise, and early hours. So we prepared ourselves to obey his instructions, but we weren't very successful that day.
The next day was a glorious February day when every twig is holding itself stiffly in anticipation of its new leaves, and the snowdrops in the garden bloom daintily, lifting their blossoms out of the earth. The joy of spring finally got to her. We found her in the breakfast nook with snowdrop blossoms pinned to her collar. She was rosy, beaming, and joyous. She had a sweet, tender greeting for each of us. We had never heard her chatter with such sparkle, or see her with such dainty freshness. After this sudden cure, she didn't have any relapse. Dr. Evan, who was our good friend, saw her again, and declared that she was in such flourishing health that he spent ten minutes teasing her about his 'poor sick patient.' But as the visit ended, he drew me aside and told me that he also thought this sudden change was odd.
In a couple of days, we had practically forgotten our bad week. Everything was fine for awhile. But after five weeks, we had the rug pulled from under us again. She had another episode of sudden alienation--at least that's what our friends thought. What was I thinking all this time? Certainly nothing good.
'Dad, would you please go to Walker's Florist and get me some flowers for this evening?' It was the night of the dance at the Brisbane's, and I suspected that she liked Arthur Brisbane. It was obvious that he liked her. But, without even thinking about it, I said,
'Don't you think that the flowers we have here at home will do, dear? Milkweed and maidenhair ferns make a beautiful bouquet.'
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Dorothy didn't answer, and her father, thinking the matter was settled, left. He was already late. We didn't think about the matter again for a couple of minutes--until, at the same instant, Elsie and I both found ourselves staring at Dorothy. It was the same as before--days when she was pale, out of sorts and distant with us. We had Dr. Evans see her again, just to take a look at her, and this time I noticed, with my foolish maternal resentment--that he greeted her a little less cordially. 'Well, young lady, what's gone wrong this time?' he asked, knitting his brows and staring at her with his eyes that could be astute as well as kind. Dorothy flushed and fidgeted under his gaze, but gave only the same cold responses she had given us. His advice was the same as before, but, just like the previous time, her cure was sudden and without any apparent cause.
To make a long story short, this same kind of thing kept happening, with varying intervals in between, all winter, all summer, and even through part of the next winter. My husband has a simpler nature, and he could only see one possible solution:
'Our daughter is out of sorts. Let's take her on a trip to Europe for a month or two. What she needs is fresh air and a change of scenery.'
The other children were more perceptive. Children are always quick to resent unpredictable moods in those around them. If you indulge just one outburst, or a single harsh word, you'd better be prepared to earn their trust
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for months before they'll believe in you again. George was the first to say something.
'Dorothy is in one of her sulky moods again. I wish she wouldn't get that way.'
Elsie, who inherited a short temper from her father, was also in the room.
'What a rude, ungrateful boy you are! How can you talk that way about Dorothy after she spent all morning making sails for your boat yesterday?'
'I know,' said George, a little softened. 'But why does she have to be sulky today? We all liked her yesterday, and I want to like her today, too.'
Now it had been said out loud and even the children knew where the problem was. I knew what I had to do, and the sooner the better. I had been harboring serious misgivings ever since I witnessed one of Dorothy's sullen moods for the first time. Now I knew what had to be done, and I braced myself for an apprehensive task. But I couldn't do this alone. I needed to share this with her father, and that was going to be the worst part.
'George, dear, what do you think is the reason for Dorothy's miserable moods?'
'Haven't I already told you, honey? She's just out of sorts and needs a change. We'll take a little trip up the Rhine River, then maybe stop in Switzerland as soon as the weather warms up. I can't wait to see her face light up at some of the things I plan to show her!'
'I really doubt there's anything the matter with her health. Remember how perfectly well and happy she is between her bouts with depression?'
'Well then, what do you think it is? You don't think she's in love, do you?'
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'No, I'm sure that's not it. There's no one she's interested in. Her dearest loves are those in her family.'
My husband was touched with emotion. 'Bless her! I have to admit, a part of me wishes that would always be the case! But, what's your suspicion? I can tell you have some insight into this mystery. Leave it to a woman to be perceptive enough to pick up on what's beneath the surface!'
'Every one of the spells we've attributed to her not feeling well has been a bout of sullenness. Sometimes it lasts for a few days, sometimes more than a week, and it always disappears as suddenly as it came.'
My dear husband's expression darkened with displeasure. He'd never expressed such disapproval towards me before. I sensed him distance himself from me. We, who had been one for so long, now felt like two.
'That's an astonishing accusation for a mother to bring against her own child. What made you come to this conclusion?'
How quick my husband was to judge me! Didn't he see that the situation with Dorothy was making me ill, stressed, and so distressed that I could hardly stand up? And the worst was yet to come. How would I ever be able to bring myself to go through with my plan?
'What reasons could Dorothy possibly have to resent us?' he repeated in the same harsh, judging tone of voice.
'It's possible to feel resentment, nurse a grudge, and let it hang like a heavy cloud between you and those you love the most, without any cause--even the person himself might not be able to discern what the resentment was for when the mood is over.'
My voice sounded strange and distant in my ears. I laid my hand on the back of a chair for support,
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but I didn't faint. In fact, I was very much alive and aware of what was going through my husband's mind. He stared at me curiously, with an inquiring look, but not as if I were his and a treasured part of his life.
'You seem suspiciously familiar to a state of mind that I never would have attributed to a Christian.'
'My dear! Can't you see how your words are hurting me? I'm not in anguish for nothing. I do know what that mood is. And if Dorothy, my own daughter, has inherited a propensity for it, it's all my fault! The only fault she has is what she got from me!'
George was moved and put his arm around me just in time, before I collapsed. But I wasn't the least bit surprised to find my first gray hairs a few days later. I don't think I could survive having to re-live that moment again.
'My poor wife! Now I understand--you haven't been unfair and harsh to Dorothy, but to yourself! Please forgive me, I didn't understand right away, but we men can be slow to catch on. I'm sure you're only putting yourself (and me, too) through this because you know that some good will come out of it. You probably know of a solution to this, if there is one?'
'Don't say if. How could I go through this unless I knew it would help our daughter?'
'I see. It didn't appear so at the time, but now I see that you were thinking of what was best for your child all along. What a clumsy wretch I am; how could I have doubted your love for her? But there are two things I don't understand. First, I can't believe that you ever harbored thoughts of resentment, and, second, who could ever dream that our perfect angel of a daughter could have such an ugly feeling? I'm sure you must be deluded. Maybe it's you who needs a vacation
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and not Dorothy.'
How could I convince him? Yet how could I risk his aversion and judgment even for a moment? But if Dorothy was going to be helped, it had to be done. And how could my husband have thought that I would be unfair and unloving towards my beloved firstborn child?
'Bear with me, George, I need to tell you everything from the beginning. Do you remember when we were courting, and we used to walk in the shady paths of my father's garden, and I tried so hard to explain that I wasn't as worthy and loving a daughter as you imagined? I told you how I'd get irritated about trivial things, and how little things would put me out for days at a time so that I was under a dark cloud so thick that I was unable to speak to anyone, or even care about anyone. And remember how I told you that it wasn't me who was the darling of my family, but Esther my plain sister (forgive the word plain!) She was the beloved child of the household. Everyone adored her--siblings, parents, anyone in the village who had any kind of dealings with the parson's daughters. Do you remember any of that?'
'Yes, but so what? I've never regretted my choice for a minute, or wished I had married Esther, even though she's so good and has been so kind to us.'
'And you, my dear, attributed everything I said to generosity and humility. Every time I tried to show you the truth about me, you counted it as a virtue. Finally I gave up. I was afraid that if I kept it up, you'd think I was a saint and that my beloved family didn't appreciate me. I was actually relieved to give up my effort at showing you the truth. The fact is, your love for me made me see that
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I could be as lovely as you thought I was. I thought I had changed and that my faults were gone forever.'
'Well, wasn't I right? Have we had even a single cloud over our married life?'
'Oh, George, you have no idea what I went through the first two years after we were married. When you read your newspaper, I resented you for not spending time with me. If you spent a half hour in your den, or an hour with a friend, or noticed how pretty another woman was--I resented all those things, and I sulked in silence for days or even weeks. And you never thought badly of me, but sympathized over your 'poor darling wife,' and fussed over me. And the more sullen and resentful I was, the more you loved me. You said I was 'out of sorts' and planned a tour of Europe, just like you're doing now for Dorothy. I think you finally ended up loving all of the resentment out of me. After awhile I began to feel like my sullen moods were stalking me. I would run away, take long walks, read for hours--but I wasn't able to resist those moods until our first baby was born--God's gift, our little Dorothy. Her tiny fingers and adorable smile healed me in a way that not even your love could do. But, George, don't you see what's happened?'
'My poor Mary! Yes, now I understand what you're saying. Your healing exacted a price; it was bought at the baby's expense. The plague that you felt within yourself was passed on and transferred to her. That's what you're trying to say. But I think that's just a fanciful notion, and I still think that my plan to take a trip is a good idea. I think it will be healing for both mother and daughter.'
'I like how you use the phrase mother and daughter. The proverb shouldn't say 'a child who has been burned fears the fire;' it should say, 'a child who has been burned will catch fire sooner.' I think I'll be miserable all over again if I have to see the same thing happen with Dorothy.'
George sat thinking for a couple of minutes, but my
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fear and dread of him and how he might react were gone. His face showed nothing but love and affection for both of us.
'You know, Mary,' he said, 'I doubt I can help you in your effort to cure Dorothy with my limited knowledge. I can't very well make suggestions about a trial that I don't understand. Would you mind if I called our old friend, Dr. Evans, for advice? I really think he'd be more qualified in this than I am.'
This was worst of all. Was there no end to this day's miseries? Dr. Evans was a psychologist [and psychologists are for crazy people.] Would Dorothy and I, mother and daughter, end up committed? I looked at George and he understood why I looked so alarmed.
'Don't worry, Mary. Now you really are being ridiculous, and you can't blame me for laughing at you. Okay, I've had my laugh, I feel better now. I do understand your concern--a few years ago, a doctor would never be consulted about a case like this unless insanity was suspected. But it's not like that any more, and you're crazy if you think only insane people can benefit from psychology. You have no idea how interesting it is to hear Evans talk about the relationships between thought and brain tissue, and also between thought and character. He may seem simple and unsophisticated, but he knows all about the most current science. He took a course at Leipsic [Leipsic, Germany was a center for psychological research in the late 1800's, featuring The Leipsic School of Experimental Psychology and Wilhelm Wundt's experimental psychology], and they know more there than we do about the brain and what it does. He still goes back there every year to find out the latest discoveries. We're lucky to have a man like him in our little country town.'
I felt like I was slowly relaxing, and I responded calmly, as if we were talking about the weather, until George said,
'Well, when shall we see Dr. Evans? The sooner we get more information about this issue, the better it will be for all us.'
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'Oh, all right, go ahead and arrange to see him tomorrow. Tell him everything I told you and, if you'd like, I'll be here to answer any questions he might have.'
'Mrs. Elmore is right--this isn't something she's imagining. I've seen your lovely Dorothy and had some suspicions of my own. Now it all seems quite clear.'
'Can you deal with our problem, doctor?' I asked desperately.
'Deal with it, ma'am? Of course I can! I've learned a thing or two from Weissall. Dorothy is a good girl, and she'll submit to the treatment. And you won't need me to treat her. Doctors are only useful in so far as outsiders are able to see a different perspective. Once you understand what's going on, you'll be able to fix it yourself.'
'Please go on--I'll take whatever steps you say.'
'I'm not so sure about that. As you know, I didn't receive all of my education in Midlington. Women tend to look mild-mannered and compliant, but as soon as someone starts talking about their theories--and mine aren't just theories, they're based on definite principles of belief and behavior--then you women suspect heresy, and just because a valuable field of scientific thought and discovery is new to you, you get all up in arms and proclaim that it goes against the Bible. But, really, every new advance in science is simply additional revelation learned from what we already know.'
'Try me, doctor. I'll believe whatever you believe
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if you'll just help us. I'm willing to believe that your scientific theory is based on what's been revealed in the natural world.'
'Okay, here goes. If you're willing to accept it, I'll tell you the whole thing. First of all, I'd like to clear both you and Dorothy of moral responsibility in this. It's your guilt about this that's wearing you out. Or, at the very least, I'd like to pinpoint where your responsibility lies and where it ends. It's conceivable that Dorothy inherited her particular temperament from her mother--and her mother probably inherited it, too. But you're not responsible for what you inherit or what traits you pass on. In the same way, Dorothy has this particular trait, but she's not responsible for that.'
'What do you mean, doctor? Do you mean that we can't help it, and that we have to accept our individual nature the way it is and never change it? That's terrible news! No, that can't be right. My husband helped me change the way I was.'
'I'm sure he has. And the way he did it--probably without even realizing he was doing it--is what I hope to be able to show you. I'm sure you've found yourself saying, What creatures of habit we are!'
'Yes, what about it? I think everyone has noticed that fact somewhere along the line, especially mothers.'
'What does this power of habit mean? And how do you explain it?'
'I suppose it means that a person can do almost anything once he makes it a habit. How do I explain it? I don't know. I guess it's just the way the mind naturally works.'
'The 'way the mind naturally works' is a phrase that doesn't have a definite meaning. It's a fact that a person can get into the habit of doing almost anything, but a person can also get into the habit of
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thinking anything, or even feeling anything. Habit isn't limited to external behaviors.'
'I think I'm beginning to understand what you mean. We--Dorothy and I--aren't to blame for having sullen, resentful feelings because we can't help it--it's our habit. But surely bad habits must be curable.'
'Well, once we recognize that, then we are responsible. The question is--how do we fix it? What can be done? How hopelessly blind we are, even the best of us. We don't even realize that the very existence of evil implies a demand to cure it. In the moral world, every bad trait finds a place to land.'
'And there's the tendency for the sins of the parents to be revisited on their children. That's a bitter principle! How can Dorothy possibly help something that she's inherited?'
'Dorothy couldn't help it, but yet you did help it in your own case. You're both excellent parents; why did you wait until Dorothy was nearly grown into a woman to set about curing her of a fault that should have been cured in her infancy? Surely you must have seen indications seventeen years ago of the fault that's developed to this point, much to the poor girl's discredit?'
I was embarrassed and ashamed at this accusation. George looked half doubtful, half repentant--he wasn't quite sure what he had done wrong.
'It's totally my fault, doctor. Now I see it. When Dorothy was little, I refused to face the fact. It was just too awful to consider that my child might be the way I still was. So I made excuses for her. Although both her nanny and I saw through them--poor Dorothy wasn't feeling well, or she was teething, or she was overtired. The same thing, only more so, continued when she was a schoolgirl. Dorothy was delicate, or lacked stamina, or needed some vitamins. All of these excuses, even though we had a nanny
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who tried to convince me that it was the girl's temperament rather than physical sensitivity that was causing the problem. The worst part of deceit is that you start to deceive yourself and believe the lie. I didn't see whole classrooms full of children, just my own children, and I was convinced that Dorothy's problem stemmed from some physical weakness.'
'What if you had faced the truth? What would you have done?'
'I guess that's my excuse for refusing to see it--I had no idea that anything could be done.'
'Well, please don't call me an unBiblical heathen if I show you what could have been done, and could still be done.'
'What a thing to say, Doctor Evans!'
'But it's a fact. All of you decent women are convinced that setting a broken bone is a human skill, but curing a fault in temperament is something that only God should fix. So you pray about it, but don't do anything, all the while looking down with superior airs on those of us who believe that skill and knowledge can have a place here, too. In fact, human skill and knowledge are supposed to have a part in the divine scheme of things. When you really think about it, it's surprising how large a part parents have in the making of their child!'
'But what about inherited faults, like Dorothy's?'
'That's precisely a case in point. Think of this as a challenge set before you parents. What steps will you take in order to pass on your family tree without any glaring faults?'
'That's a noble thought, Evans,' said George. 'It means that every parent has a role and a share in working out the salvation of the world to future generations [by passing on their gene pool without the bad habits.] Mary, we have a mission! Passing our children
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on to the world free from the blemishes they inherited from us is a goal worth living for!'
'It sure is! But, don't think I'm narrow-minded, doctor, or that I don't appreciate men of science, if I confess that I still think that physical problems are within man's realm to fix, but faults in the spirit are God's domain.'
'I'm not sure I agree with you. Where we differ is in the boundary line between physical and spiritual. The thing is, every weakness in disposition and temperament, even though it might have started as a fault in our spirit or in the spirit of one of our ancestors, by the time it's manifested as a character flaw, it's a fault of the physical body, and that's how it needs to be dealt with. It needs appropriate treatment. Notice that I'm not talking about occasional impulsive temptations and failures, or sudden impulses towards doing good and reaching heights that weren't even dreamed of before. Those things belong to the spiritual world and have to be spiritually discerned. But a fault or virtue that's become a habit is 'flesh of our flesh,' and it has to be treated on that basis, whether it's a fault to be uprooted, or a virtue to be nurtured.'
'I have to confess, I'm not following you. This way of thinking cheapens the work of redemption. If you subscribe to this theory, then every parent can save his child, and every person can save himself!'
'No, Mary, that's not accurate. I agree with Dr. Evans. We're the ones who lose the effectiveness of Christ's redemption by neglecting to recognize what it has already accomplished. We still have to engage in spiritual warfare, strengthened with spiritual help, as Dr. Evans says. As I understand it, his point is that we shouldn't allow ourselves to be dragged down with these less material faults of the flesh that
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could be treated in the same way, although without the drugs we might use for a broken bone or upset stomach. Don't you understand how it works? We fail and fret over it, and repent, and then fail again, and we're so preoccupied with our own internal struggles that we never have time to get that knowledge of God that gives our souls life!'
'All of this is way over my head. I have to admit, none of this seems to line up with the Christian creed or the religion I grew up with. But in the meantime, how does any of this affect Dorothy? That's the practical issue.'
Dr. Evans gave my husband an 'I told you so' kind of a look, which was a bit annoying, and then he went on:
'Yes, you're absolutely right, that is the point. Now poor Dorothy is the victim of occasional armies of sullen, resentful thoughts and feelings. They wear her out, block out the sunshine from her life, and separate her from those she loves like a curtain. Does she want these thoughts? No, not at all. In fact she hates them and in all probability, she prays about how much she wants to be rid of them and resolves not to have them. It causes her a lot of spiritual conflict. She's a good girl, I have no doubt of that. Now it's time to use physical science to help her. It's not necessary to figure out how these thoughts started; the point is, they're there, and they're traveling to and fro in her mind. This is the interesting contact point where physical and invisible meet. We know there's a point of contact because we can see the results, but we have no idea why that is, or how it happens. After going to and fro in her mind, the thoughts make well-worn paths in the brain's tissue. Now these thoughts become automatic. They come all by themselves, and they spread and flow in the same way that a
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river wears and erodes its banks, making them wider. And with these paths worn in the brain, these thoughts will continue indefinitely in spite of personal struggles, unless--and here's a ray of hope--the opposite habit is set up to divert the thoughts into a new path. If the thoughts can be kept traveling briskly along the new path, then the old connections will grow over from lack of use, and new brain tissue will grow to take its place. When the old thoughts return, there's no path for them, and Dorothy will have some time to force herself to get her mind on different thoughts before the old ones can re-establish their old pathway connections. There, in a nutshell, is the concept of managing our thoughts--our first and most important obligation.'
'That's fascinating, and it should help us. Thanks so much. I had no idea that invisible thoughts could be made manifest in a physical way. But I'm not sure how all of this applies to Dorothy. It sounds like it will be difficult for the poor girl to have to do all of this herself. It's like trying to make someone do trigonometry before they've mastered subtraction.'
'You're right, Mrs. Elmore. It will be a challenge for her, and she'll have to dedicate herself to it for two or three months. If my assessment of her is accurate, I think she should be cured by then. But if you had done the work when she was a child, it would only have taken a month or two, and she wouldn't even have been aware that she was working at it.'
'I'm so sorry I didn't do it then! What should I have done?'
'I admit that the tendency was already there in her temperament, but you should never have allowed the habit of developing these moods get started. You should been
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watching for outward signs--the same ones you see now: a little paleness, general lethargy, and a downcast expression. The moment the first sign appeared, you should have been right there to snatch her out of that cloud she was entering, and lead her to bask in love and light for an hour or two. You should have forced her to look you in the eye, and face the love and joy in your eyes. Every sullen mood that can be averted is one more step towards preventing the bad habit. And, as you know yourself, habit is a major factor in a person's character.'
'Isn't there anything we can do for her now?'
'Yes, there sure is. Ignore her sullen moods, just continue your happy life as if she isn't there, except to draw her in every now and then by asking for her opinion, or expecting her to laugh at a joke. Most importantly, when she's forced to look you in the eye out of common courtesy, let her see that your eyes are clear and happy and full of pleasure in her. Believe me when I say that, no matter how much she may upset you, she's more upset with herself. And you should look approvingly at her, poor girl, because the brunt of this battle will fall on her.'
'Yes, I see that you're right. Now that I think back, her sullenness has always dissipated when she's faced her father's delight in her. In fact, that's how he cured me of the same fault. I guess you could say that he broke my habit. But, Dr. Evans, won't you see her and talk to her? I know you can help her more than anybody.'
'As a matter of fact, I was going to ask if I might talk to her. She's a sensitive girl and needs to be handled gently. Since she doesn't have any parental love and loyalty towards me, I run less risk of hurting her. Besides, I have a secret to share that should help her in managing herself.'
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'Thank you, Dr. Evans. We're more grateful than we can say. Can you see her now, while she's in the middle of one of these moods? What if we leave and send her to see you? We can tell her it's a routine medical visit.'
'Good morning, Miss Dorothy. You know, I think it's time we put an end to what's been going on. We're both tired of these doctor's appointments when we both know that you're perfectly healthy.'
Dorothy looked up with a flushed face (I heard all about it later from both Dr. Evans and Dorothy). She looked half relieved, half doubtful--not at all resentful. She stood, quietly waiting.
'Still, I do think you have a serious problem, and you need help. Will you listen while I tell you what the problem is and how to fix it?'
Dorothy didn't know what to say, but she gave a silent 'yes.'
'Don't be afraid, my dear. I'm not saying this to hurt you, but to help you. A significant part of your life, which should be innocent and lighthearted, is being spent in gloom and isolation. If someone even neglects to dot his 'i's,' you resent it--not in words or rudeness, you're too well brought-up for that. Yet the light within you is darkened by an onrushing of dark thoughts. The person shouldn't have done it! That's not right! They don't care how I feel! I should never have done that to her!--and so on, without end. Before you know it, you find yourself entangled in a thick, invisible shrouded veil.
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You can't reach out to anyone, speak with a lively voice, or look into your family's eyes with a living, affectionate glance. You sit there like a dead man at a feast. By this time, you don't even remember what you were upset about, and you'd give anything to get out of this living death. You cry, pray, beg to God to forgive and restore you--but your focus is on what a detestable person you are, and you're still imprisoned in that dark cloud. Then suddenly, probably in answer to your prayers, a hug from your little sister, or seeing the first primrose of the year, or hearing a lark fill the world with his happiness, and, as if by magic, the spell is broken, and the enchanted princess is set free, as happy as the lark, as sweet as the primrose, and as cheerful as the little sister.'
There was no response. Dorothy's arms were on the table, and her head was down on them so that her face was hidden. Finally, in a choked voice, she said, 'Please go on, doctor.'
'All of this can be improved' (she looked up here) 'in two or three months--completely cured, and become nothing more than a horrible memory.'
Dorothy raised her eyes, full of tears. Her eyes showed that a ray of hope was struggling with fear and shame.
'This is very difficult for you, my dear. But I need to continue with my task. I believe that, when I'm done, you'll be so happy that you'll forget any pain in your joy. First of all, I want you to realize that you're not a bad person because there are ugly thoughts taking charge of you. I don't mean that you won't be blamed once you have the key in your hand, but for right now, you must not judge yourself any more.'
Dr. Evans went on to clarify for Dorothy what he had already explained to us about how thought and the brain interact, and how thought, the brain and the rest of it were such close friends that it was impossible to tell
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which of them did what any more. In fact, they ran a business of their own, completely independent of ego, who was originally the one who was supposed to be the head of the firm, etc.
Dorothy listened intently, as if she was saving every word, but the ray of hope slowly died out.
'I think I understand what you're saying, doctor. These dark thoughts come in and wage war against what my own ego, my inner self, wants. But, doctor, that makes it even more hopeless!'
'Back up a minute, my dear. I haven't finished yet. Ego can see that things are going wrong, and he asserts himself. He sets up new thoughts to run in a new path, this putting a halt to the traffic of the old thoughts. In time--and I mean a very short time--the old nerve connections are gone, and the old paths are grown over so that traffic can't get through that way any more. Does that make sense?'
'I think so. I need to think of something else, and pretty soon my mind won't have room anymore for the dark, ugly thoughts that upset me so much. But, doctor, that's just the thing that I can't do!'
'No, my dear--that's actually the only thing you have the power to do. Are you familiar with what the will is, and what it does?'
'No, I don't know much about it. I guess your will is supposed to make you capable of doing the right thing when you feel like you can't. You're supposed to say, 'I will do it,' and then go on and do it. But you have no idea how weak I am! Saying 'I will' makes no difference!'
'Well, to be honest, I don't think it ever made much difference to anyone else, either, except in literature. All the same, the will is a powerful guy in his own way. But he does his job with a simple sling and stone,
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not with a Goliath-sized sword. He attacks the giant with something that seems like a humble child's toy, and he slays the giant with it. Here's how it works: When dark thoughts first begin troubling you, turn your mind away from them forcefully, and think about something else. I don't mean think of forgiving the one who's offended you--you might not yet be ready for that at the time. Just think of something interesting and pleasant--perhaps a new dress you need for an upcoming event, or your favorite friend, or the book you're reading, or, best of all, suddenly fill your heart and mind with some grand scheme to bring pleasure to someone whose days are dull. The more exciting the thing is, the safer you are. Don't worry about battling the evil thought. Thinking about something else is the only thing you have to do. In fact, it's probably the only thing that the will is capable of doing. It gives you the ability to change your thoughts, to turn from gloomy thoughts to cheerful ones. Then you'll discover that your prayers will be answered because you'll know what to ask for, and you won't reject the answer when it comes. There, my dear, I've just shared the best secret I know with you. A man I revere told it to me. I've put the key to self-management and happy life into your hands. Now you know how to be better than 'he who captures a city.' ['He who rules his spirit is better than he who captures a city' - Prov. 16: 32]
'Thank you a thousand times over for your valuable secret, doctor. You've lifted my feet from the slough of despond. I will change my thoughts (is it okay for me to say that?) The key you gave me won't rust from lack of use! I hope I'll never be under that cloud again!'
It's been five years since Dorothy had that talk with Dr. Evans (sadly, he died the same year). Whatever private battles she may have fought, we
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never knew about. The subject was never even alluded to. For two years, she was a delightful daughter in our home; for the last three years, she's been Arthur Brisbane's contented wife, and there's no fear that her sunny little girl, Elsie, will ever enter that dark cloud that her mother and grandmother were almost lost in.