Just as a dormant plant faces winter's numbing blasts stripped of bloom and leaf, Mara's heart was cold, barren, and seemingly lifeless. Winter had reigned in her soul for three empty, purposeless years. The killing freeze occurred the day she learned her beloved Tommy perished in a fiery explosion in Iraq. Her wedding dress went back to the bridal boutique, the guest list was scrapped, and Mara's hopeful future was interred with Tommy. The only visible reminder of her dreams was the brilliant diamond still circling the ring finger of her left hand.
She plunged into mourning so deep, dark, and despairing that she couldn't discover a way up or out. Not only was the light in her eyes extinguished but her spirit's spark was shrouded as well. All color, laughter, and song were banished from her life as she felt they mocked her grief, so she cloaked herself in an atmosphere of gloom. "My existence consists of work, meals, necessary tasks, and sleep. I don't need anything or anyone else," she assured herself.
After the memorial service, Mara moved into a small, dreary place that resembled a cave more than an apartment. Only the most necessary furnishings were purchased, and they reflected her somber mood. Sofa, drapes, bed and bath linens, even the wood of her dining set, dresser, and bookcase, were in drab shades of brown, gray, and navy blue. The kitchen was strictly utilitarian in appearance, and the living room was devoid of ornamental accents. Nothing broke the monotony of bare walls except a murky painting of a three-masted schooner struggling against a savage, stormy sea.
She'd heard somewhere about the Renaissance-era mystic, St. John of the Cross, and his poem "Dark Night of the Soul." She'd never read his work but felt certain she was a walking illustration of it. "God, I can't see you anymore," she cried. "Your light doesn't reach me, and You seem to have slammed heaven's doors in my face."
Nevertheless, just as the naked twigs of midwinter plants appear dead on the surface, but underneath in the damp, black earth there is still root-life awaiting spring's touch, so within Mara a slight stirring began.
One rainy afternoon she lay on the couch listlessly watching TV when the film "Pollyanna" came on. She wasn't interested in watching it, but was too lethargic to find the remote and change stations. Despite herself, she was drawn into the classic story of the orphan who teaches nearly an entire town to play the "Glad Game." When an accident paralyzes her legs, however, Pollyanna finds she can no longer play it herself. One by one those whose lives she's touched with her happy spirit try to encourage her with their own attempts to "be glad." Among these is sad-eyed Mrs. Benton, a widow who always wears black. Since no visitors are allowed, the woman asks Pollyanna's aunt to deliver a message: "Will you tell her, please, that I've put on this," and then touches a pale blue bow at her throat. "The little girl has been trying for so long to make me wear some color, that I thought she'd be glad to know I'd begun."
The stirring deep within Mara grew stronger then, and a light began to penetrate the fog that had enveloped her for so long. "I am 'Mrs. Benton,' she realized. "I live and look just like that pitiful little widow. I wonder if playing the "Glad Game" would help me, too." She turned off the television and lay still while her mind processed these thoughts.
"I can't afford a new wardrobe or furniture, but I can begin to brighten my life in little ways, just like Widow Benton did."
Mara came to call these small changes her "Happy Accents." Each time she got a paycheck, she saved out a little money and went browsing at store clearance events, thrift shops, and yard sales. One week she bought a string of clear, sparkling lights which soon adorned the inside of her front window. Another time she picked up a pretty scatter rug for the kitchen. Other purchases included a glass vase filled with cheery silk flowers, a framed print of vivid butterflies, a couple colorful decor pillows, and lovely patterned placemats for her dining table.
To brighten her appearance, she bought some rainbow-hued scarves, a few pieces of attractive costume jewelry, several becoming sweaters and tops, and some tasteful makeup.
In time, though, the happiest accent of all became her radiant smile.
Brief dialogue quotation from Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, original copyright 1912, 1913
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