The Scent of Water
- Wednesday, April 06, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias (Zondervan).
When I was little, I sat in red flannel pajamas with footies, curled up next to my mother as she read to me the stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. I listened intently as my mind was captivated by the wonders of fairy godmothers with magical wands, adorable mice, and battles waged against evil and envy and all that was ugly in life. My eyes widened every time good triumphed over evil (in the end), the hero always got his girl, and they lived happily ever after.
As my dreams began to take shape, I, too, believed that life would turn out as it seemed it should: that darkness and evil would not prevail over the “happily ever after” that was mine.
And when my life did not turn out the way it was supposed to, I felt I had been played for a fool. Life was certainly no fairy tale, and although cynicism was an obvious escape from the ache, I could not quite commit to it. I nostalgically looked back to the time, the hope, when I believed that life would imitate the storybook.
Modern-day fairy tales don’t tell us the real story. They don’t even tell us the rest of the story. They don’t tell us what happens when the prince does not show up in time, or how to endure the potency of a poisonous apple. The End often appears in cursive at the point that the real story would begin. It is what nearly breaks the protagonists, what sometimes does break them, that is the real story. But it is not one for the faint of heart.
I felt great animosity for my own life, and when I referred to it with disloyalty one day, my father quietly said, “The shortest route is not always the best route.” And when I was discouraged by the recognition that I had only a flawed story to offer to another, he released me into a truth: “There are no such fairy tale loves. The garden of Eden proved that,” he wrote to me. “Love has to battle through. In fact, if it has never had to, one wonders if it can be true.”
I can’t be alone in longing for the fairy-tale life, and as I read the stories, I realized that perhaps we should all be careful what we wish for. To my surprise, as I fed my fairy-tale obsession and buried myself in research of famous narratives, I discovered it was not the fairy tales that had failed me. Clearly we have since watered them down to minimize the decidedly uncomfortable, but the original fairy tales actually affirmed my father’s words to me. They were filled with lions and tigers and very grown-up darkness that actually offered critical insight into life.
In the 1800s, the Brothers Grimm published their story of Sleeping Beauty, which began with the birth of a beautiful baby girl. To share their excitement, her parents, the king and queen of a land far, far away, threw the grandest of parties. But they made a critical mistake when they forgot to invite a certain fairy to the celebration, and the scorned fairy retaliated by placing a curse on their child: At the age of sixteen, she will prick her finger and die.
A good fairy was not able to erase the curse, but she could alleviate the ultimate of horrors. Instead of death, the prick of her finger would incite a deep, deep sleep. The better of the curses also allowed for an escape clause: A love, true love, that was pure could awaken her. Thankfully, Sleeping Beauty was lucky enough to be awakened by such a true kiss, and all was as good as new. Or was it? She had been sleeping, waiting, and under the curse for one hundred years. During that time, her mother died from a broken heart and her fairy advocate twiddled the entire kingdom into a deep sleep to try to preserve some semblance of her life should the princess ever awaken. There was suffering — and not hers alone.
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