Monday, March 11, 2013

No Mind To Learn Or To Understand

My day started very early, hours before the sun bothered to think about rising. Revisiting the town of my childhood, I'm overwhelmed by the remembrance of all those years. Unlike Fru Aashild in the following excerpt from Kristin Lavransdatter, my glory years, if there are any, lie not in my youth but in the days yet to come. Still, her words ring true to me today.

To set the stage: Young Kristin and her little sister Ulvhild are happy children, until some stacked wood rolls and destroys Ulvhild's back, crippling the girl. When the priest and his prayers, and the fasting and prayers of the girls' mother avails nothing, the mother sends for Fru Aashild who tends to the sick with treatments that pre-dated the Christian era of Norway. Kristin has been shyly watching the older woman, but not daring to ask her many questions. The excerpt starts off with Kristin finally asking one.


"It seems strange to me that you're always so happy, when you've been used to--" she broke off, blushing.

Fru Aashild looked down at the child, smiling.

"You mean because now I'm separated from all those things?" She laughed quietly and then she said, "I've had my glory days, Kristin, but I'm not foolish enough to complain because I have to be content with sour, watered-down milk now that I've drunk up all my wine and ale. Good days can last a long time if one tends to things with care and caution; all sensible people know that. That's why I think that sensible people have to be satisfied with the good days--for the grandest of days are costly indeed. They call a man a fool who fritters away his father's inheritance in order to enjoy himself in his youth. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion about that. But I call him a true idiot and fool only if he regrets his actions afterward, and he is twice the fool and the greatest buffoon of all if he expects to see his drinking companions again once the inheritance is gone.

"Is something wrong with Ulvild?" Fru Aashild asked gently, turning to Ragnfird, who had given a start from her place near the child's bed.

"No, she's sleeping quietly," said the mother as she came over to Fru Aashild and Kristin, who were sitting near the hearth. With her hand on the smoke vent pole, Ragnfrid stood and looked down into the woman's face. 

"Kristin doesn't understand all this," she said.

"No," replied Fru Aashild. "But she also learned her prayers before she understood them. At those time when one needs either prayers or advice, one usually has no mind to learn or to understand."

(Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, trans Tiina Nunnally)

Aashild is right. Today I'm glad that by long practice my heart is trained to pray like my lungs are trained to breath.

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