The Darkened Pathway
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"To some, the sky is always bright; while to others, it is never free from clouds. There is to me a mystery in this — something that looks like a partial Providence — for those who grope sadly through life in darkened paths are, so far as human judgment can determine, often purer and less selfish than those who move gayly along in perpetual sunshine. Look at Mrs. Adair. It always gives me the heart-ache to think of what she has endured in life, and still endures. Once she was surrounded by all that wealth could furnish of external good; now she is in poverty, with five children, clinging to her for support, her health feeble, and few friends to counsel or lend her their aid. No woman could have loved a husband more tenderly than she loved hers, and few wives were ever more beloved in return; but she has gathered the widow's weeds around her, and is sitting in the darkness of an inconsolable grief. What a sweet character was hers! Always loving and unselfish — a very angel on the earth from childhood upwards, and yet her doom to tread this darkened pathway! If Heaven smiles on the good — if the righteous are never forsaken — why this strange, hard, harsh Providence in the case of Mrs. Adair? I cannot understand it! God is goodness itself, they say, and loves His creatures with a love surpassing the love of a mother; but would any mother condemn beloved child to such a cruel fate? No, no, no! From the very depths of my spirit I answer — No! I am only a weak, erring, selfish creature — but, "
Mrs. Endicott checked the utterance of what was in her thought, for at the instant another thought, rebuking her for an impious comparison of herself with her Maker, flitted across her mind. Yes, she was about drawing a Parallel between herself — and a Being of infinite wisdom and love — unfavorable to the latter!
The sky of Mrs. Endicott had not always been free from clouds. Many times had she walked in darkness; and why this was so, ever appeared as one of the mysteries of life, for her self-explorations had never gone far enough to discover those natural evils, the existence of which only a state of intense mental suffering would manifest to her deeper consciousness. But all she had yet been called to endure, was, she freely acknowledged, light in comparison to what poor Mrs. Adair had suffered, and was suffering daily — and the case of this friend gave her a strong argument against the wisdom and justice of that God in the hands of which the children of men are as clay in the hands of the potter.
Even while Mrs. Endicott thus questioned and doubted, a servant opened the door of the room in which she was sitting, and said, "Mrs. Adair is in the parlor."
"Is she? Say that I will be down in a moment."
Mrs. Endicott felt a little surprised at the coincidence of her thought of her friend — and that friend's appearance. It was another of those life-mysteries into which her dull eyes could not penetrate, and gave new occasion for dark surmises in regard to the God above all, in all, and ruling all. With a sober face, as was befitting an interview with one so deeply burdened as Mrs. Adair, she went down to the parlor.
"My dear friend!" she said, tenderly, almost sadly, as she took the hand of her visitor.
Into the eyes of Mrs. Adair she looked earnestly for the glittering tear-veil, and upon her lips for the grief curve. To her surprise neither were there; but a cheerful light in the former and a gentle smile on the latter.
"How are you this morning?"
Mrs. Endicott's voice was low and sympathizing.
"I feel a little stronger, today, thank you," answered Mrs. Adair, smiling as she spoke.
"How is your arm?"
"Still very tender."
"And the pain in your side."
"I am not free from that for a moment."
Still she smiled as she answered. There was not even a touch of sadness or despondency in her voice.
"Not free a moment! How do you bear it?"
"Happily — as I often say to myself — I have no time to think about the pain," replied Mrs. Adair, cheerfully. "It is wonderful how mental activity lifts us above the consciousness of bodily suffering. For my part, I am sure that if I had nothing to do but to sit down and brood over my ailments, I would be one of the most miserable, complaining creatures alive. But a kind Providence, even in the sending of poverty to his afflicted one — has but tempered the winds to the shorn lamb."
Mrs. Endicott was astonished to hear these words, falling, as they did, with such a confiding earnestness from the pale lips of her much-enduring friend.
"How can you speak so cheerfully?" she said. "How can you feel so thankful to Him who has shrouded your sky in darkness, and left you to grope in strange paths, on which falls not a single ray of light?"
"Even though the sky is clouded," was answered, "I know that the sun is shining there as clear and as beautiful as ever. The paths in which a wise and good Providence has called me to walk, may be strange, and are, at times, rough-and toilsome — but you err in saying that no light falls upon them.
"But the sky is dark — whence comes the light, Mrs. Adair?"
"There is an inner world Mrs. Endicott — a world full of light, and joy, and consolation — a world whose sky is never darkened, whose sun is never hidden by clouds. When we turn from all in this life that we vainly trusted, and lift our eyes upward towards the sky, bending over our sad spirits — an unexpected light breaks in upon us, and we see a new firmament, glittering with myriads of stairs, whose light is fed from that inner world where the sun shines forever undimmed.
Oh, no, I do not tread a darkened pathway, Mrs. Endicott. There is light upon it from the Sun of Heaven, and I am walking forward, weary at times, it may be — but with unwavering footsteps. I have been tried sorely, it is true — I have suffered, oh how deeply! and yet I can say, and do say — it is good for me that I was afflicted. But I meant not to speak so much of myself, and you must forgive the intrusion. Self, you know, is ever an attractive theme.
I have called this morning to try and interest you in a poor woman who lives next door to me. She is very ill, and I am afraid will die. She has two children, almost babes — sweet little things — and if the mother is taken they will be left without a home or a friend, unless God puts it into the heart of someone to give them both. I have been awake half the night, thinking about them, and debating the difficult question of my duty in the case. I might make room for one of them, "
"You!" Mrs. Endicott interrupted her in a voice of sincere astonishment. "You! How can you give place a moment to such a thought, broken down in health as you are and with five children of your own clinging to you for support? It would be unjust to yourself and to them. Don't think of such a thing."
"That makes the difficulty in the case," replied Mrs. Adair. "The spirit is willing — but the flesh is weak. My heart is large enough to take both of them in; but I have not strength enough to bear the added burden. And so I have come around this morning to see if I cannot awaken your interest. They are dear, sweet children, and will carry sunshine and a blessing into any home that opens to receive them."
"But why, my friend," said Mrs. Endicott, "do you, whose time is so precious — who have cares, and interests, and anxieties of your own, far more than enough for one poor, weak woman to bear — burden yourself with a duty like this? Leave the task to others more fitted for the work."
"There are but few who can rightly sympathize with that mother and her babes; and I am one of the few. Ah! my kind friend, none but the mother, who like me has been brought to the verge of eternity, can truly feel for one in like circumstances. I have looked at my own precious ones, as I felt the waves of time sweeping my feet from their earthly resting place, and wept bitter tears as no answer came to the earnest question, 'Who will love them, who will care for the when I am taken?' You cannot know, Mrs. Endicott, how profoundly thankful to God I am, that He spares my life, and yet gives me strength to do for my children. I bless His name for this tender mercy towards me when I lie down at night, and when I rise up in the morning, I bear every burden, I endure every pain cheerfully, hopefully, even thankfully. It is because I can understand the heart of this dying mother, and feel for her in her mortal extremity, that I undertake her cause. You have only one child, my friend, and she is partly grown. 'A babe in the house is a well-spring of pleasure.' Is it not so? Take one, or even both of these children, if the mother dies. Nurture and raise them up for God. Come! oh, come with me to the bedside of this dying mother, and say to her, 'Give me your babes, and I will shelter them in my heart.' So doing, you will open for yourself a perennial fountain of delight. The picture of that poor mother's joyful face, painted instantly by love's bright sunbeams on your memory, will be a source of pleasure as lasting as eternity. Do not neglect this golden opportunity, nor leave other hands to gather the blessings which lie about your feet."
That earnest plea was echoed from the heart of Mrs. Endicott. The beautiful enthusiasm, so full of a convincing eloquence, prevailed; and the woman in whose heart the waters of benevolence were growing stagnant, and already sending up exhalations that were hiding the Sun of Heaven, felt a yearning pity for the dying mother, and was moved by an unselfish impulse toward her and her babes. Half an hour afterwards she was in the sick-chamber; and before leaving had received from the happy mother the solemn gift of her children, and seen her eyes close gently as her spirit took its tranquil departure for its better home.
"God will bless you, madame!"
All the dying mother's thankfulness was compressed into these words, and her full heart spent itself in their utterance.
Far away, in the inner depths of Mrs. Endicott's spirit — very far away — the words found an echo; and as this echo came back to her ears, she felt a new thrill of pleasure that ran deeper down the electric chain of feelings than emotion had ever, until now, penetrated. There were depths and capacities in her being unknown before; and of this she had now a dim perception. Her action was unselfish, and to be unselfish is to be God-like — for God acts from a love of blessing others. To be God-like in her action brought her nearer the Infinite Source of what is pure and holy; and all proximity in this direction gives its measure of interior delight — as all retrocession gives its measure of darkness and disquietude.
"God will bless you!"
Mrs. Endicott never ceased hearing these words, and she felt them to be a prophecy. And God did bless her. In bestowing love and care upon the motherless little ones, she received from above double for all she gave. In blessing, she was twice blessed. About them her heart entwined daily new tendrils, until her own life beat with theirs in even pulses, and to seek their good was the highest joy of her existence.
Still there were times when Mrs. Endicott felt that to some, God was not just in his dispensations, and the closer she observed Mrs. Adair, the less satisfied was she that one so pure-minded, so unselfish, so earnest to impart good to others, should be so hardly dealt by — should be compelled to grope through life with painful steps along a darkened way.
"There is a mystery in all this, which my dim vision fails to penetrate," she said one day, to Mrs. Adair. "But we see here only in part — I must force myself into the belief that all is right. I say 'force', for it is indeed force-work."
"To me," was answered, "there is no longer a mystery here. I have been led by at way that I knew not. For a time I moved along this way, doubting, fearing trembling — but now I see that it is the right way, and though toilsome at times, yet it is winding steadily upwards, and I begin to see the sunshine resting calmly on the mountain-tops. Flowers, too, are springing by the wayside — few they are, as yet — but very fragrant."
Mrs. Adair paused for a moment, and then resumed, "It may sound strange to you — but I am really happier than when all was bright and prosperous around me."
Mrs. Endicott looked surprised.
"I am a better woman, and therefore happier. I do not say this boastfully — but only to meet your question. I am a more useful woman, and therefore happier, for, as I have learned, inward peace is the sure reward of benefits conferred. The doing of good to another, from an unselfish end — brings to the heart its purest pleasure; and is not that the kindest Providence which leads us, no matter by what hard experiences, into a state of willingness to live for others instead of for ourselves alone? The dying mother, whose gift to you has proved so great — a good, might have passed away, though her humble abode stood beside the elegant residence I called my home, without exciting more than a passing wave of sympathy — certainly without filling my heart with the yearning desire to make truly peaceful her last moments, which led to the happy results that followed her efforts in my behalf. My children, too; you have often lamented that it is not so well with them as it would have been, had misfortune not overshadowed us — but I am not so sure of that. I believe that all external disadvantages will be more than counterbalanced by the higher regard I have been led to take in the development of what is good and true in their characters. I now see them as future men and women, for whose usefulness and happiness I am in a great measure responsible. And as my views of life have become clearer, and I trust wiser, through suffering — I am far better able, under all the disadvantages of my position, to secure this great end than I was before."
"But the way is hard for you — very hard," said Mrs. Endicott.
"It is my preparation for Heaven," replied the patient sufferer, while a smile, not caught from earth, made her countenance beautiful. "If my Heavenly Father could have made the way smoother, He would have done so. As it is, I thank Him daily for the roughness, and would not ask to have a stone removed, or a rough place made even."