I’ve been reading Mirror, Mirror, which is Gregory Maguire’s retelling of Snow White. (He’s the guy who wrote Wicked, the retelling of the Wizard of Oz.) In his rendition, Maguire tells of Snow White (Bianca de Nevada) arriving at the cave where the dwarves live and then sleeping for years from her exhaustion. When she awakes, she eventually gets around to asking how long she’s been there.
“You’ve been here long enough to grow, I suppose,” he said without interest.
“I’m here four years, or five, certainly. Or six?”
“I don’t know.”
“And what have you been doing in all those years?”
“Waiting. Waiting for you to wake up.”
“Standing here around me? For years? What did you do all that time?”
“To the extent we are capable,” he said with a slight grin, “we were thinking.”
“What do you think, then?” she demanded of him.
He considered. “Slow thoughts.”
Now I’m not saying I want to be a dwarf, but there’s something enviable about this outlook on time. In the story, the dwarves are old. Older than the trees. They can afford to sit around like stones, observing and thinking their slow thoughts.
At end-service last weekend, one of the questions we were to ponder was what surprised us most about living in Ecuador. Somebody answered, “how long and short a year is.” It’s a sentiment we can definitely relate to. Right now, we’re a little homesick, looking forward to going back in a couple of months. But we know how quickly those two months will go.
Increasingly for me, time seems to go faster and faster. I can already see how my life will go by before I can do everything I want to do with it. There are so many possibilities, and where as ten years ago, it also seemed like I had a world of possibility, that world was more finite. I thought I would find something I loved and stick with it. Now I know there are many things to love and many things to learn. There’s not enough time.
And since this is the case; since we’re humans with short lives rather than dwarves, there’s a sense of urgency to everything.
Later in the story, Snow White tells one of the dwarves she wants to return home.
“You are bitten with the usual human rage of wanting,” replied the dwarf, munching on a bone that looked unsettlingly like a human digit.
“Nonetheless,” she said, “I am human, or used to be, and I don’t see any shame in it. I want to see the place I come from.”
“Don’t we give you all that you need?”
“I have clothes, I have a book of devotions to read and a small Spanish guitar to play. I have food . . . [but] I want to see [my home].”
“Aren’t you happy here?” asked the dwarf, a bit morosely. And then more slyly, “Were you ever happy there?”
“I was something there,” she said. “Aware of something sad, but real. Living on the forward edge of any ordinary day. Things happened. I don’t know how to answer your question about happiness. Happiness doesn’t signify.”
We humans have trouble waiting it out. Last July, our mind was on Ecuador. Now, our mind’s on this coming July.
In our rush to live life, do we avoid living it?