Lately I’ve been wondering what keeps us from being more honest with each other. Watching people label themselves as one political party or another, one belief system or another, I listen and wonder what stops us from accepting all of it? My wife heard a story at work the other day that climate change is affected by a mysterious 12th planet and its movement around the galaxy. This explanation was posed as a conspiracy theory. As we drove through the desert of southern New Mexico, she told me the story and I said, “why not?” And sometimes I think why not believe it all. Bible beaters believe that climate change doesn’t exist. Why? Mostly what I see is terror at the thought that God may forsake them if they choose to believe something else. And then I thought why are we so afraid to say we’re scared of someone else’s belief system or ideology. Why can’t we say, “That idea frightens me and my way of life?” In our heart of hearts I believe no one wants to inflict more harm on another person. We all know the history and the unsuccessful maneuvering of attempting to make a group of people be something other. Have we not done this enough to each other, time and time again?
I was pondering all of this honesty and dishonesty as I read Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. Most of us have read, or heard the story of Jane Eyre through cultural osmosis, knowing Jane as a young woman who falls for an older man that has kept his mad wife locked in the attic, lied about it and suffered the consequences only to have Jane return her love to him in the end. A crazy story that for some reason we literary romantics take to be completely plausible, when in fact if a friend of yours came to you with a story like this we’d say she’s crazy dump him and never look back. But Shoemaker does a brilliant job of taking our implausibility about the beloved Edward Fairfax Rochester and bringing to light all the reasons he and Jane are a match, beginning with his painful childhood, leading to his tragic young adulthood. In Jane he sees his own heart. The trusting heart of youth, the hopeful heart of adolescence and the survivalist heart of young adulthood. But I kept coming back to that question. Why not just tell her? In the book, he is desperate to keep her, fearing that the truth will only cause him more pain, more loss, more loneliness. But it is his fear that really causes him more pain, more loss, and the eventual loneliness he fears so terribly. It is only when after much pain and destruction and more death, the truth is out and he is finally free. What makes us fear the truth? Control over our own lives? The hard truths are the ones where we risk truly exposing ourselves. In that exposure we are naked, laid bare, and how will someone else take us then? We use so much armor to separate ourselves from each other; clothing, ideologies, money, and power, wielding them like swords. What would happen if we put the sword down and said “I have a mad wife hiding in the attic but I’m really in love with you?” When I think about it that way, not many of us have something that hard to say.
Carter looked at me seriously. “Perhaps it is time to make it known who resides in that apartment.” he said. “People are apt to be kinder than one imagines.” To Carter it seemed simple, but he had no idea about Jane, or my hopes for a future with her. And yet – perhaps he was right on one count: the situation with Bertha must change, and change now.