It was early spring. Pierre and I were taking a long walk in the Jura Mountains, just the two of us, happily alone for an afternoon. We were following a cross-country ski trail, no longer covered with snow. Clusters of wild daffodils speckled the dark-green meadows. The sky was cloudless; below us, Geneva was hidden in the fog.
We had talked about his work and his plans - his career, his traveling, his advancement. We had talked about the children and their plans. I was thinking about what each one of them was doing, about what each one of them wanted to do.
It was then that Pierre turned and asked me about my plans. I stopped walking and searched for an answer. My mind went blank, not a single idea. I had no plans for the future. I felt dizzy and went to sit down on the low stone wall bordering the familiar path. Pierre sat down alongside me and waited for me to say something.
Finding no answer, I said, "Why are you asking me that?"
"You are always asking me," he said. "It's your turn this time. What do you want to do?" His voice was careful.
As I sat there, I realized I didn't know what I wanted to do. I also realized that I didn't know who I wanted to be.
Who was I? A wife, a loving wife. A mother, a loving mother. A daughter, still a daughter. Yet all these roles were in relationship to others - my husband, my children, my parents. Who was I all alone, without these other people? Who was I in relationship to myself?
When I was a child, I thought about being a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, and other things. My world was then as wide as the blue sky under which I dreamed. What did I want to be? It wasn't things such as daughter, mother, husband-keeper. I wanted to be either a violin player, a solo violinist at Carnegie Hall in New York, or a president, the first woman president of the United States.
I grew up studying a bit of everything. I played the violin at recitals; I was president of my class. It wasn't Carnegie Hall or the United States, but it was a step in that direction. I was still young, with time for other dreams, so off I went to France - to fall in love with a Frenchman.
We were both at university, and we were as different as day and night. Back and forth we traveled across the ocean, trying to make up our minds. It wasn't easy. When we were apart, our differences defeated us. When we were together, the very same differences attracted us. Finally, we chose to love one another and stay together. We wanted our love to grow and blossom to the sky. We said we'd make it happen.
At our wedding, I listened to the Old Testament reading about the worthy woman, whose husband is known at the city gates where he sits among the elders of the land. The reading begins, "A good wife, who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels...." And it relates why: "She's always busy with wool and flax; she does her work with willing hands.... She finds her labor well worthwhile; her lamp does not go out at night."
So while my husband sat at the city gates, I shopped and cooked and sewed and washed. I took care of my household, staying up late with each new baby. My hands were never idle. I looked after the children. I looked after my husband. No effort was too big, no labor too long. I wanted to be the worthy woman. The years went by, gathering momentum. I looked well to the ways of my household.
But then, what does the worthy woman do when her household is all taken care of? When there's no more wool and flax to busy her fingers and when her nights become quiet? When her children go off on their own? What does the worthy woman then want to do?
Once, many years earlier, in between shopping and cooking and sewing and washing, I stopped for a moment and went with a friend to her house. We had been doing errands all morning. Her young child had been fussing in her stroller, and we were both worn out.
My friend put her daughter in the playpen and excused herself to go take a shower. She said she wanted "to refresh herself." I stood there stunned and speechless. She had put her child and her friend aside in order to take care of herself. And in the middle of the day.
The incident must have stayed in the back of my mind, because when I finally told my husband what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to refresh myself. And I said that once I was refreshed - revived and rejuvenated - I wanted to write, to write about how it felt to take time for myself.
I would write in old-fashioned notebooks, not on the bits and pieces of paper of years past: the love notes to my husband, the personal remembrances to each child, the letters to family and friends, the thoughts jotted down on margins of book pages.
I'd weave all my scattered scribblings into stories. I would write about falling in love, about our six children, about the wild daffodils.
Today, only our youngest child is still at home. The older ones come back with husbands and wives and children. There are grandchildren. They come for holidays, at summer, at Christmas, and for weekends.
The house fills up, and then it empties into quiet. I catch my breath and deepen my space. And all the time I write. I'm trying to include the whole blue sky - the one I used to dream under when my world was just as wide.