Friday, May 14, 2010

The Growlery

By: Tessa Afshar, author of Pearl in the Sand, to be released in September 2010

While welcoming a friend into his special room, the mild-mannered Mr. Jarndyce, a character in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, says, “This, you must know, is the Growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.”

I should like to own a Growlery. Modern architects are very remiss, in my opinion, for not including such a room in every house. The world would be a lot more civilized if we all had a place of refuge in which to growl privately. Otherwise, we end up growling at innocent bystanders.

Take the example of the squire’s conversation with Mr. Gibson in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters: “… your wife and I didn’t hit it off the only time I ever saw her. I won’t say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn’t me.” This is what I would call a thoughtfully-sensitive growl, which essentially happens when people say something mean (though perhaps true) with a smile.

Some people manage to make you want to growl, not by their mistakes or failures, but by their strengths. Dickens depicts Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations as such a person, who “was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.” I have been to a few homes whose mistress was a Mrs. Joe, and I found myself wanting to growl by the third hour of my visit.

Sometimes it’s not other people that make you want to growl. It’s the condition of your own heart. When Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice says that she wished her sister Elizabeth could find the same happiness she has found with Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth pertly replies, “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”

Sometimes other people’s growls in our direction reduce us to shame and self-condemnation. Estella manages to do this to Pip with very few words in Great Expectations. After a particularly demeaning blast, Pip says, “Her contempt for me was so strong that it became infectious, and I caught it.” There are few things as unpleasant as growling at yourself with other people’s words.

I hope that with the help of these friends from some of my favorite books I have made a case for building a private Growlery in every home. I expect that if you are an architect or interior designer reading this, you are already taking my scientific evidence into account and planning a complete restructuring of your upcoming projects.

In the meantime, perhaps it would be well for me to remember that there is a place of safety for our deepest growls as well as our silliest. As Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre recounts during some of the worst moments of her life: “One idea only still throbbed lifelike within me—a remembrance of God… Be not far from me, for trouble is near.”

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26, NIV) Oh yes, far better than a Growlery!

Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable to men make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible’s answer is yes.  Pearl in the Sand tells Rahab’s untold story. Rahab lives in a wall; her house is built into the defensive walls of the City of Jericho. Other walls surround her as well—walls of fear, rejection, unworthiness.  A woman with a wrecked past; a man of success, of faith …of pride; a marriage only God would conceive! Through the heartaches of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another’s worth and find healing in God.

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