The nicest Christmas present ever


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Category: Reflections Date: 31 Dec 00

The nicest Christmas present of all was flung with the characteristic flair and confidence of the giver into my garage on Eid, with no fear of it being run over, stolen or rained on. And, as it is with people who expect no less, it was indeed intact. I stepped out of my car and tripped over it, half ripping the loosely wrapped paper. Under the yellow glow of the neon light, surrounded by the shadowy dusk, I ripped it open.


It was a book, no, a diary, oh, an engagement calendar. Framed in deep burgundy, an intense, elegant and intelligent face of a woman looked at me coolly, with a mild hint of a challenge from the cover. Below the portrait in italics was a signature “Isabel Allende.” Rapidly I turned the pages, and on each alternating page there was a photograph or etching of a woman writer with a bio-data and quotes by the writer.


Around this time of the year, when we are making ready to kick in the new year, there is the inevitable private tidying up of our minds, hearts and intellects: a reckoning. Mentally, we tick off friends lost and found, ground gained and lost over our deepest ambitions and dreams. We may relive our highs and momentarily sink into depression over our lows, but in the final analysis, we are our own best teachers (as we should be, if we know what’s good for us).


We forgive ourselves our peccadilloes; honest enough to see our own weaknesses, and resolve to do better because Lord knows none of us are perfect. So while we are sober, making ready to slough off the husk of this old year, polishing our nails, smearing glitter across our cheeks, giving a final swipe of polish to our dancing shoes, let’s quickly glance at these quotes by women writers which may help us with our resolutions, because they are in the end about a way of looking at the world, and love (apart from which what else is there?)


So then Henry said when he looked at all of those large size diamonds he really felt that they did not have any sentiment, so he was going to give me his class ring from Amherst College instead. So then I looked at him and looked at him, but am too full of self control to say anything at this stage of the game, so I said it was really very sweet of him to be so full of nothing but sentiment.

- Anita Loos, novelist, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)


I whisper my mountain stories in his ear, stories of the ghost women and the stars in their hair. I tell him of the deadly snakes lying at one end of a rainbow and the hat full of gold lying at the other end. I tell him that if I cross a stream of glass-clear hibiscus, I can make myself a goddess. My fingers coil themselves into visions of birds on his nose, I want him to forget that we live in a place where nothing lasts.

- Edwidge Danticat, Haitian novelist, short story writer, in Krik! Krak! (1995).


Her feeling for Mr Brooks was so much the most important part of her life that it seemed like something which did not belong to her, but which she had to carry about with her, at work or in her room, there was no difference. She had a kind of affection, too, for the love itself, which was so strong, but maintained itself on so little.

- Penelope Fitzgerald, British novelist, biographer, in Human Voices (1980).


Everything is for you:

My daily prayer

And the thrilling fever of the insomniac

And the blue fire of my eyes,

And my poems, that white flock

- Anna Akhmatova, Russian Poet in White Flock (1917)


A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyone’s orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of the truth, to anyone’s opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or “welfare”

- Ayn Rand, novelist, essayist, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966)


Terror becomes total when it becomes independent of all opposition: it rules supreme when nobody any longer stands in its way.

- Hannah Arendt, political philosopher, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)


Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? -You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, -and full as much heart!”

- Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre (1847)


But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now.

They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

- Laura Ingalls Wilder, novelist, in Little house in the Big Woods (1932)


You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember. Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. That is the only marker you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light.

- Barbara Kingsolver, novelist, poet, in The Poisonwood Bible (1998)


Whether we miss the people we have left behind, simply miss them, and that missing gets in the way of what we see, and we fight what we see and only want to get back, like Eurydice or Lot’s wife, but there is no going back, that place is where you are, it is the only place.

- Mary Gordon, novelist, in Living at Home (1993)


I mean the main thing is - well, the main thing is..Gosh; I don’t know what the main thing is.

- Beth Henley, dramatist in The Miss Firecracker Contest (1984)


And that is our last Survival Lesson - we look at how far we’ve come, and then we know - there can be no turning back.

- Gloria Steinhem, essayist, journalist in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)


Wishing you, dear reader, an abundance of all things good in life, love, health, happiness, fulfillment, and when the going gets tough, a reserve bounty of hope. Happy New Year.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur