Being Yourself (Babette’s Feast in Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard by Isak Dinesen) (March 2008)

Susan's Thursday morning note March 13, 2008 
Being Yourself (Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen)

Hi all of you!  It’s so SILENT this morning.  Eerily so.  No birds singing.  The cats aren’t even making noise snoring.  They look dead in their funny positions.  Just the click of my fingers.  Oh – the heater just turned on to say hi!  I’m not alone in this world (I think in The Little Princess Sarah talked to her furniture, too, so don’t chalk me off as completely out of touch with reality today!)

Last week a book was recommended by one of you full of short stories called Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen.  Don’t be intimidated by that title (I was!) for the author has made that her pseudonym.  She wrote Out of Africa and these are her short stories.  I’m trying to come up with a name like that for me to write under!!! The short story within this book that I was recommended to read was Babette’s Feast.  I have debated on writing about it, for the difficulty of consolidating a story into a paragraph that you’ll be able to get something from is hard for me!  But here goes (I almost cheated, stayed in bed, and just sent you a poem – but I want you to have this to think about with me!)

Two beautiful daughters of a clergyman have chosen to not marry and give their lives to helping others in their town (poor and needy).  A woman arrives at their doorstep with a letter from a man that had loved one of the girls, but had moved to France knowing marriage was not what the girl wanted.  The note asked if they would take this woman on as a housekeeper/cook because her son & husband were killed in the war and she needed to escape.  For twelve years this woman quietly worked behind the scenes in their home.  I love one line that reads, ...she would sit immovable on the three-legged kitchen chair, her strong hands in her lap and her dark eyes wide open...At such moments they realized that Babette was deep, and that in the soundings of her being there were passions, there were memories, and longings of which they knew nothing at all. Isn't that a beautiful sentence?  Well, after 12 years of working quietly and diligently in their home she receives a letter that she has won 10,000 francs.  The daughters assume sadly that she will leave them and go back to France.  Babette asks them if she can do a favor for them - cook them a celebration dinner.  This is hard for them to accept (living prudently)... she orders and prepares a lavish dinner of the most expensive foods and wines available to her. One at her table for the meal recognizes the food and makes a beautiful speech on grace. As the dinner unwinds the guests unwind and over the course of the evening in their talking and eating have many ties broken that had been between them for years. (how do I explain this!?!??!?) The story goes into detail the beauty of the evening - as the air is cleared of such pain and sorrows and misunderstandings - all as Babette is in the other room not observing any of this.

The daughters at the end of the story express their deep gratefulness.  They ask her when she will be leaving to go back to France.  She informs them that she will not be going back to Paris..." How would I go back, Mesdames?  I have no money."  "No money?" the sisters cried as with one mouth. "No," said Babette. "But the 10,000 francs?" the sisters asked in a horrified gasp. "The 10,000 francs have been spent, Mesdames," She states then that 10,000 francs was the cost for a meal for 12 at the Cafe Anglais where she had been the main chef.  The ladies did not find a word to say.  The piece of news was incomprehensible to them, but then many things tonight in one way or another had been beyond comprehension.  The girls then were overwhelmed with the "unforgettable proof of human loyalty and self-sacrifice." Babette responded, "For your sake? No. For my own."  She rose and stood before the sisters. "I am a great artist!"  Silence from the sisters. "I am a great artist, Mesdames."  Again, silence. Then they responded that now she would be poor her whole life. "Poor?"  She smiled as if to herself.  "No, I shall never be poor.  I told you that I am a great artist.  A great artist, Mesdames, is never poor.  We have something, Mesdames, of which other people know nothing..."

Oh, goodness, how do I explain this to you!?!?  She did an act for her own pleasure, with no guilt.  She wasn't cooking to satisfy those that would receive her food.  She was doing it so she could BREATHE, so she could LIVE, so she could be HER FINEST.  The final sentence in the book from one of the daughters is, "Yet this is not the end! I feel, Babette, that this is not the end.  In Paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be!  Ah!" she added, the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Ah, how you will enchant the angels!"

They had seen her distant looks those twelve years.  We all have longings and hopes, and some of you have shared that you will not have a chance to see them realized in this life because of your personal circumstances.  What do you do that is only for you – for the deep part of your soul?  Anne Lindberg wrote after visiting a woman she respected, ” She is a hostess to herself, she surrounds herself with what she loves.”  What are little pleasures you can do during your day that are for yourself?  Extra filler in your coffee?  Buy a daisy bouquet at the grocery store?  Turn off the TV and just stare?  Hold your kitten.  Hold your son.  Call your daughter.  Call your friend from college. What can you do for YOU?  Feel no guilt calling no one!!

I love to read the way Anne Lindberg uses words.  I also love the way words are used in these short stories.  God gave us our specific longings, desires, hopes.  We do not need to feel guilty for having them.  For doing little things (or great) for our own pleasure.  Daily I hear, “Susan, you can’t GIVE me that book!” and I reply – “I can if I want to.” – for what I realized when I read this story, this brings me pleasure.  You may or may not get out of the book I give you what I did.  That is secondary to me (at least I’m honest) – the book affected me deeply that I’m giving away – but to tell you the truth, the giving it to you brings me pleasure.  Does that make sense?  Easter is coming.  The greatest holiday for us to celebrate the reason that we live and breathe.  The reason to have silence in our prayer.  To reflect and thank our God for his sacrifice in the pain of giving his son for us.  But – the pleasure he took in this sacrifice, for he was giving himself a personal relationship with us.  God feels.  He loves.  He created us for his pleasure.  He created us for companionship.  For friendship.  He receives pleasure in being with us.  Psalm 18:19 – The Lord brought me out into a spacious place.  He rescued me because He delighted in me.  He desires us to step heavenward – to speak all day to him as we go about our lives.  May you fall to your knees and look up to our God.  The peace that passes your understanding is only that distance away.  Go make yourself proud with your decisions today!  Susan

Latin for this week: 
Nosce te ipsum - Know thyself.

Work Cited:
Isak Dinesen. Anecdotes of Destiny. New York. Vintage. 1993.