(Image purchased from istockphoto.com)
Oh, my! That is so not a heroic posture. Instead, it might be screaming, I’m tired! Or I don’t know what to do. Or will everyone just please leave me alone? Being a hero isn’t all grand poses and feats of strength and power. Far from it. And the way the woman in the image is sitting at her desk reminds me very much of my character Maggie Beatty Blaine Smith. Sometimes unlikely people are called to be heroic.
This week, I was preparing yet another rewrite of the final three chapters for A Good Community. The first page of Chapter 12 opens with Maggie sitting in her little Methodist Episcopal Church and praying. Her prayer focus is the children of the town – children of color who were being deprived of an education. While she and her friends want to do something about it, Maggie knows it won’t be easy. And so she prays to Jesus Christ:
You were among those least liked. You withstood rebuke and insult. Eventually you suffered death because you offered a different way of living and the Romans and the religious leaders were afraid of you. Is this to be our fate, too? If it is, Lord, so be it. But, please, I don’t want children frightened, hurt, or killed because others fear them. Give me clarity and discernment so that I may protect them. Please.
Sometimes even if the author is describing a situation set in the past, it may connect to a situation in the present. So it is with Maggie’s little prayer. There are many children we might be praying for today: abused, neglected, hungry, injured, ill, poor, ethnic and racial children, and immigrant and refugee children. We (and Maggie) pray for children because they are powerless, and often pawns or victims of adults. We pray for ways to help them and for the courage to follow through.
After I posted Maggie’s prayer on my personal Facebook page, I was surprised at the way nine people responded to it. They were friends, of course, but a thread in which I chatted with one about Maggie’s prayer, this friend wrote, “I want to be like Maggie. She’s my hero!”
Hero. It never occurred to me that Maggie was a hero. Protagonist, yes. Female lead, yes. But hero? Wow.
Maggie is a humble person and probably would demur at being referred to as a hero. But upon reflection, I must say that she is indeed a hero. An unlikely one, to be sure, but a hero, nonetheless.
In the first novel, we see Maggie is a quiet woman running a struggling boarding house who often feels beaten down. And why not? Disowned because she eloped with John Blaine, widowed at a young age, and a bereaved mother when her little boy dies, Maggie starts the boarding house to make ends meet and feed herself and her daughters. Not a terribly astute businesswoman, she soldiers on, even though it often seems as if the wolf is at the door.
It is that soldiering on, that stubbornness that molds Maggie's character, revealing her courage and empowering her later to risk imprisonment and a hefty fine when Nate and Emily invite her to join them in running a station on the Underground Railroad. The town already looks down its nose at her for who she invites into her boarding house. What would they think about hiding self-emancipators?
Years later, in 1860, Maggie has a profound experience while at camp meeting. She realizes that she does not need to be imprisoned by the expectations of others or by her own feelings of inadequacy. And so, she makes a private vow to love God and thereby love others, based upon Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:34-40. She writes in her journal: “I knew in my heart – and not merely in my head – that I was free and that the only one to whom I was accountable was God. I resolved then and there to live a life of love without regret and never mind what anyone said.”
And she seeks to do just that, basing her life not on a mushy, infatuated kind of love, but undertaking a stubborn and dedicated path to embrace all she meets.
That’s a huge expectation for one woman to have. Not surprisingly, her resolve is challenged on a regular basis. In the upcoming book, Maggie has numerous run ins with industrialist Josiah Norton that cause her to feel angry, resentful, and frustrated. After one such encounter, she confides to husband, “Oh, Eli! I don’t like feeling this way! It’s not who I am nor is it who I aspire to be!”
Maggie knows all too well that just because she endeavors to love others as she loves herself, it does not mean the path will be an easy one, nor does it mean that God will somehow protect her from disagreeable and/or dangerous people. Yet, despite insults, snubbings, rumors, and even violence, Maggie stands up when she must. It is clear that she often wishes she could do otherwise, that she could be silent and invisible. But she refuses to take the easy way out. Instead, she welcomes everyone who steps into her house. She forgives her enemies although it is a struggle. And she has a huge heart for those who are downtrodden, lost, and lonely.
Over the course of five novels, Maggie has grown. Over time, her voice and her actions have begun to extend beyond the walls of her home. By the end of A Good Community, she finds herself being offered a larger role in her town’s life.
In my eyes, someone with her determination, love, and forgiveness, and who also is vulnerable, reluctant, and frightened, has just got to be a hero. True heroes don’t dash heedlessly into danger. Rather, they fight because they know that they must, despite their fears and feelings of inadequacy. And so it is with Maggie.
In a way, I should not have been surprised when my friend revealed that she wanted to be like Maggie. Because, you know what? I do, too.
Have a good weekend, friends.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder