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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Life Lived Misunderstood is Still a Life Lived

I was reading a book this evening about Anne of Cleves.  Anne of Cleves is Henry VIII's fourth wife and they were married about six months.  Henry called the poor woman "The Great Flanders Mare" and famously said "I Like Her Not!" upon meeting her for the first time.  No one knows why this meeting went so badly, perhaps she was sick from a long sea voyage.  Perhaps she was dressed oddly in Flemish clothing.  Perhaps he did not like her because she had dark hair and her name was Anne, reminding him a little too much of Anne Boleyn, his great love and the most hated woman in his life, as far as appearances go anyway.  Perhaps he did not like her because she did not realize the great fat man in front of her was the king and her husband dressed as a commoner so that he could surprise her.  Who knows.  Her portrait, painted by Holbein, is not ugly by any means.  She looks quiet and attractive, and perhaps that was her downfall.  Henry liked his women to sparkle, to be conversationalists and knowledgeable, not quiet and sensible.  Although, his beloved Jane Seymour is said to have been "mousy."  Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard certainly sparkled, Katherine of Aragon fairly glittered, so this woman from Cleves who studied all things practical but not much as far as the arts were concerned must have been quite a change for him.  However, by all accounts she was a kind and loving person.  She continued to mother his children even after Henry divorced her, she agreed to the divorce amiably (although she did manage to keep her head this way) and she maintained a good relationship with Henry, Mary, Elisabeth and Edward until her death. 

So, as context, or the need to use the past to understand the present is my greatest strength according to "Strength Finders", intellect coming in second, I realized something while I was reading this afternoon.  Today I saw someone that I have not seen in quite a while.  This person causes me to roll my eyes often as they talk non-stop about work and we have butted heads several times.  However, when I was reading I realized that I have misjudged this person.  Anne of Cleves was a woman denied a chance at marriage and motherhood, something women of her time wanted very much.  I realized, while speaking with this person today that I actually really enjoyed our conversation, which is somewhat a new phenomenon for me.  Thinking back to my past encounters with this person I remembered that once, only once, I saw her smile fade and I saw her tears.  Tears of frustration at another wedding that was not hers, another child born to friends that would not be hers.  This, I realized is why she talks about work all the time, to hide what is lacking.  Stand on your strengths we are told, and so she does, she is good at what she does.  She loves her job and this is what is important to her so this is what she talks about and this is ok.  She, like Anne, has thus far been denied marriage and children, something women want both then and now, but she smiles and continues to love life.

Thinking more I thought about how I know that I am often misunderstood.  I work in a very pro-cheerful environment, but one that I love dearly.  Not being an over the top cheerful person, I think many people think that I am bitter and old before my time.  Cynical too perhaps.  This is not true, I just have nothing to match the enthusiasm which comes from four cups of coffee and several diet cokes a day.  If I drank all of that caffeine my heart would explode. I sometimes wonder what is behind the smiles of the super happy, I know there are other emotions.   Am I happy?  Yes.  Am I super duper chirpy happy?  Umm, perhaps on a Europe bound flight or at the Pink concert earlier this year, otherwise, I am just living in reality, and reality for me is a calm, sedated place where bad things do exist, I can't pretend they don't.  But every day life includes so many small joys, and I experience and love them, I am just quiet about it.  I am who I am, and that is ok.  Those who are always cheerful are who they are, and that is also fine.  I think we exist in mutual acceptance and humor.  I have a dry sense of humor, sometimes it is rather black, I talk ALOT and if someone is lucky enough to get into my heart, I will love them forever.  But I also battle depression, it's a battle that never ends, and I do the best I can.  I am reminded of that old commercial about "This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs, any questions?"  I feel like, this is me on drugs that help me not live in blackness, So some days I live in light and some days I live in grey, any questions?  But it does not mean that overall I am unhappy.

I compare myself to Anne Boleyn frequently, as I think she was much like me.  She was smart, not beautiful but not unattractive, had a temper, and was very misunderstood and much maligned.  A great smear campaign was conducted after her death and she became seen as a social climber, a shrew, and a mean spirited person.  I don't think she was.  She set up many charities to help the poor, I think she very much wanted to be liked and wanted to be a good queen.  She had a personality that was very strong, and she either drew people in all the way, or pushed them away beyond reach.  People either loved her enough to die for her or they  hated her enough to ensure her death, there was no gray area.  I have this type of personality, I am either loved or loathed, nothing much in between.  Some say I am lazy, or become displeased because I do not do as they wish.  Perhaps though, they should examine their own actions, who wants to feed those who bite your hand?  I think Anne felt much the same way.  She did not make much effort to charm those who did not like her.  In fact, for several weeks she took as her motto "Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne" which translates to "Grumble all you like, this is how it's going to be."  She had it embroidered on her servant's livery, just to make sure everyone got the message.  You have to love her somewhat dark wit, I must admit I laughed a good bit when I read this.  I think the difference is, however, I have learned to back down, internalized some of my frustration, and chosen to ignore the slights of those who wish me ill.  I know I have those about me who love me, and for this I love them, so to me, it is very simple.  I often find myself thinking "Grace of a queen, you will sit here with the grace of a queen," though at that time I am thinking more of Katherine of Aragon than Anne.  I often wonder how much I should endure though, before I run the risk of being put away, pushed away, not seen as valuable.  Silence is not always healthy, but I try to pick my battles carefully.  I wonder, however, how strong and careful I would be if I were left to stand on my own as Anne was.  I would probably react somewhat the same way and lash out in fear and sadness, that appears to be anger.  I know my friends and their love and acceptance give me strength to deal with difficulties.  Anne did not have so many friends, she was closest with her brother, and people twisted this in order to do away with her.  How wrong to twist the love of a brother and sister and true friends.  Poor woman, misunderstood until the end.

I also have to admit, I did not want to take the Strengthfinders quiz and there was much grumbling and eye-rolling about it.  I had to do it for work.  However, I loved the outcome and how accurate it was.  I love that it brought this strength to light, or articulated it so well for me.  I guess it's something I always knew about myself but never put into words, figuring others would find it weird.  But it's not weird, apparently it's somewhat common as it is listed in the results of this test that people pay to take.  I like that it brought that to light.  I also liked that it recognized empathy as one of my strengths.  Maybe I don't show it everywhere, but the phone rings here day and night with my friends and their problems, because I love them, without judgement.  Who knows when I could be in whatever their situation is?  Like I said, once you are in my heart, I will love you forever, with a fierce loyalty.  But that's my view on myself, my strengths, and how I need the past to understand it.  Below is Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleves.  It hangs in a small alcove in the Louvre.  I love her quiet serenity.  She looks kind and pretty.  Nothing like a Flanders mare.

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