I just finished reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter this past week. It had been assigned as part of my oldest son's reading curriculum and he was having none of it. He hemmed and he hawed. He groaned and he moaned. He railed against the archaic grammar and vocabulary. I can't say I blame him; I found Hawthorne's writing stuffy as a high school student and as undergrad, but this time around reading it, I found myself enjoying The Scarlet Letter in a deeper and more complex way. But isn't that how it almost always works when we become adults or at least try to be an adult? You loathe something as a child (hello sauerkraut, fried onions and mushrooms), but find that it's really not all that terrible as an adult? I'm not sure--I still can't stand green beans.
I promised my son that I would read The Scarlet Letter with him. We finished this week and I can't say that he developed an appreciation for Hawthorne in the time we spent reading, but he tried and I found myself, as I often do with books I have read before, delighting in the words and stories of an old friend and and also tackling the problematic nature of the text. The narrative enticed me in and it felt good to work my way through the text engaging at an older, but not necessarily wiser, level of analysis.
But, I think perhaps that my reacquaintance with Hawthorne began two years ago during my first summer in Essex with Erin. My children and I had a day to ourselves and they were begging to go to the New England Pirate Museum in Salem (As a side note, you should know that this place bills itself as "the most fun place in Salem.") I was not looking forward to spending my time in what was so obviously a tourist trap, but I hoped we could wander around Salem and visit some of the more historic sites. That didn't exactly happen with three hungry and tired children in tow, but as we were searching for Harbor Sweets, we found ourselves walking by The Custom House. I had one of those moments of realization that gave me goosebumps even in the muggy heat of that day: here was the Custom House where Hawthorne had unhappily processed custom tax for three years. This was the Custom House he had used to frame the narrative of The Scarlet Letter. It was an odd feeling; one of those moments where you close your eyes and try to envision what the area immediately around you might have looked like 350 years ago. Who was walking down the street? What boats were docked in harbor? What stores were open? Did people hear the same braying of the gulls over the harbor? The lapping of the waves dancing at the dock's edge? The moment passed too quickly. I had three children, impatient to find the candy store. The moment stayed with me though, as did most of my New England moments like the one in front of The Custom House. I resolved to put Hawthorne back in my reading queue, but it wasn't until this past month that that finally happened.
What is the connection between Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and our newest addition to our Quilt series? Perhaps nothing, but I am continually trying to find meaning and purpose among the disparate events of my life. Erin and I had been discussing the quilt series as I started the home stretch of my treatment. It had been on the table around the time of my diagnosis. We did our usual dance, the back and forth of whether or not we should move forward with it or not. The dance stalled, as it normally does, and picked back up again, and then stalled again. My treatment put it on the back burner, which is where most things have gone this past year and a half. My prognosis was good, but there was always that irritating "what if?" in the background, always popping up when we least wanted it to appear.
I was rereading The Scarlet Letter with my son as the end of my protocol was in sight. Toward the end of the book, Hester Prynne is in the woods with the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale has resolved to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and take Hester and Pearl with him. In a moment of delight and freedom, Hester rips the Scarlet "A" from her dress and tosses aside the cap that has held her hair back: "She had not know the weight until she felt the freedom" (Chapter XVIII: A Flood of Sunshine). While I am most certainly not flinging aside my own various Scarlet As, metaphorically speaking, I find that as end of treatment approaches on April 20th, I feel a weight lifting from my shoulders; a weight I didn't realize that was there and while those around me have made sure this time has been as smooth as possible for me, I know that they too have carried their own weight during this time. Many times they have carried my weight for me.
It has been 20 long months from my diagnosis until the end and this wrap joins me at the finale of that journey. It's insignificant in the long run, but as I have mentioned before, some things stay with you. So much of The Scarlet Letter is about letting go and freeing oneself from societal standards of behavior and decorum and actually living life on one's own terms. So I find myself at the end of one journey, looking forward to leaving this path behind and finding my own way again.