Sunday, August 17, 2008
Narration of Charlotte Mason's original works: Volume 5, Section 4
Don't focus on the ugly things of life. Exercise your Will to change your thoughts instead.
Dorothy Elmore arrives home from school to the delight of her adoring family. She has been gone for two years, and they are all thrilled at her return. She is a beautiful, intelligent, graceful, well-mannered young lady. She is admired by her siblings, and is quite the leader of the family: "...Wherever Dorothy ran––no, she went with a quick noiseless step, but never ran––about the house to find out the old dear nooks, we all followed, a troop of children with their mother in the rear; their father too, if he happened to be in. Truly we were a ridiculous family, and did our best to turn the child's head. Every much has its more-so. Dorothy's two special partisans were Elsie, our girl of fifteen years, fast treading in her sister's steps, and Herbert, our eldest son, soon to go to college. Elsie would come to my room and discourse by the hour, her text being ever, "Dorothy says." And as for Herbs, it was pleasant to see his budding manhood express itself in all sorts of little attentions to his lovely sister" (vol. V, pg. 42-43)
A month passes - in that month, Dorothy has her own way in everything. There are no disappointments to speak of, and she is consistently pleasant to be with. But then, one day she can't use the family carriage when she would like to, and she gets in a snit about it - she gets all pale and limp. Today, we'd say that she's depressed. And in Christian circles, her selfishness and self-pity would probably be whispered about and never pointed out to her. But her mother senses that something is amiss in Dorothy's heart. A doctor is called, and he prescribes good nutrition and exercise and rest for Dorothy, and the family works to see that it happens. Dorothy is again the center of their attention and sees that they all love her dearly.
" The doctor came; said she wanted tone; advised, not physic, but fresh air, exercise, and early hours. So we all laid ourselves out to obey his directions that day, but with no success to speak of. But the next was one of those glorious February days when every twig is holding itself stiffly in the pride of coming leafage, and the snowdrops in the garden beds lift dainty heads out of the brown earth. The joy of the spring did it. We found her in the breakfast-room, snowdrops at her throat, rosy, beaming, joyous; a greeting, sweet and tender, for each; and never had we known her talk so sparkling, her air so full of dainty freshness. There was no relapse after this sudden cure" (Vol. V, pg. 47).
She comes out of her funk for five weeks before another disappointment sends her into another funk.
"To make a long story short, this sort of thing went on, at longer or shorter intervals, through all that winter and summer and winter again" (Vol. V pg. 48). Her siblings noticed the pattern before her parents did, and her mother says to her father, "remember how perfectly well and happy she is between these fits of depression?... Each attack of what we hav ecalled 'poorliness' has been a fit of sullenness, lasting sometimes for days, sometimes for more than a week, and passing off as suddenly as it came" (pg. 49-50). At this point in the story, we learn that Mom Elmore knows this behavior of Dorothy's well because she has battled it herself. Dorothy is dwelling on things that didn't go her way and resenting those who did not bow to her desires. We learn that Mom had these same habits until she was finally cured of them by motherhood. Once she was no longer focused on her Self and constantly thinking about how the world wasn't fair to her, she was able to stop having such sulky fits. Dad wants to talk with a doctor-friend of his about the situation before they discuss things with Dorothy.
"Now, every fault of disposition and temper, though it may have begun in error of the spirit in ourselves or in some ancestor, by the time it becomes a fault of character is a failing of the flesh, and is to be dealt with as such––that is, by appropriate treatment. Observe, I am not speaking of occasional and sudden temptations and falls, or of as sudden impulses towards good, and the reaching of heights undreamed of before. These things are of the spiritual world, and are to be spiritually discerned. But the failing or the virtue which has become habitual to us is flesh of our flesh, and must be treated on that basis whether it is to be uprooted or fostered" (pg. 59). The doctor explains to Mom and Dad that Dorothy has been allowing herself to dwell on the wrong things - offenses, disappointments, what-have-you - until that has become her habit. Now she is thinking about those things for extended periods of time without realizing it, and that is causing her black moods. He tells them that he thinks he has a cure for the problem, and that she'll be her old self within a few months, but he needs to speak to her first.
The cure: "Ignore the sullen humours; let gay life go on as if she was not there, only drawing her into it now and then by an appeal for her opinion, or for her laugh at a joke. Above all, when good manners compel her to look up, let her meet unclouded eyes, full of pleasure in her; for, believe, whatever cause of offence she gives to you, she is far more deeply offensive to herself. And you should do this all the more because, poor girl, the brunt of the battle will fall upon her" (pg. 61).
If they had dealt with the matter long ago, they would have "never have allowed the habit of this sort of feeling to be set up. You should have been on the watch for the outward signs––the same then as now, some degree of pallor, with general limpness of attitude, and more or less dropping of the lips and eyes. The moment one such sign appeared, you should have been at hand to seize the child out of the cloud she was entering, and to let her bask for an hour or two in love and light, forcing her to meet you eye to eye, and to find love and gaiety in yours. Every sullen attack averted is so much against setting up the habit; and habit, as you know, is a chief factor in character"(pg. 61-62).
The doctor talks to Dorothy, telling her this: "When ill thoughts begin to molest you, turn away your mind with a vigorous turn, and think of something else. I don't mean think good forgiving thoughts, perhaps you are not ready for that yet; but think of something interesting and pleasant; the new dress you must plan, the friend you like best, the book you are reading; best of all, fill heart and mind suddenly with some capital plan for giving pleasure to some poor body whose days are dull. The more exciting the thing you think of, the safer you are. Never mind about fighting the evil thought. This is the one thing you have to do; for this is, perhaps, the sole power the will has. It enables you to change your thoughts; to turn yourself round from gloomy thoughts to cheerful ones. Then you will find that your prayers will be answered, for you will know what to ask for, and will not turn your back on the answer when it comes" (pg. 66).