I’ve been thinking about Nathaniel Hawthorne today (and about his life lessons). It’s his birthday, after all (or would have been if he was still alive). And, his life and work have always been a curiosity to me, from the first moment I read The Scarlet Letter. 

There’s something about Hester that reminds me of Kate Chopin’s Edna and Edith Wharton’s Lily. I’m also reminded of She’s both strong and unforgettable; and through the years, there are many lines from that book that have stayed with me. They’re life lessons that I love to remember; and, in the darkest moments, I return to them…

Life Lesson: Facing Self/Mask

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

And, I’m reminded that the masks we wear in life can become confusing at times. Ideally, we true to ourselves and display the same honest visage for all the world to see.

Life Lessons: Future Borrowing?

“She could no longer borrow from the future to ease her present grief.”

We all hold those hopes and dreams of what could be, and even those bits of extravagant impossibilities. But, on some of the hardest of days,  I need to remember to live in today, and not get too caught up in what might be or become. I’m working in the present moment, as a build toward the future.

Life Lesson: Listening & Understanding Effects

“For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators had established; criticising all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her flee. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers–stern and wild ones–and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”

Life puts us in situations that are both challenging and blessings (not so difficult to see, as life lessons go). Why? Because, out of the darkest experiences, we have so much to learn. It’s corny and cliché, but those stormy seasons in our lives help to make us stronger, and more capable, even more aware of who we are and what we want. With all of life’s hard times, though, we sometimes forget how those same experiences appear through the eyes of the (little) loved ones in our lives.

Yes, we talk with that spouse or other loved one… to verbally work out the experience, and make them a part of a strategic partnership–to get to the other side of those hard times. All the while, we can’t forget about the smallest members of our families, realizing how they what’s “amiss,” but also allowing ourselves to see through their eyes.

Although we don’t like to imagine that our slippery slide, face-down–in the muck of life–as anything remotely positive (or hopeful), we may just see that the situation leads us to that elusive freedom that we dared not hope for (or imagined to only exist in some far-off time and place of the future). Perspective is important, and sometimes important input comes even from the smallest voices in our lives.

What life lessons have you learned from Nathaniel Hawthorne and his infamous Scarlet Letter?


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