When Hope is Weak

When you’ve had as many cats as we have, you’ve seen cats get sick. A sick cat is a sorry sight. It creeps about with sunken body and head hung low. It stops making the Contented Cat Face. It hunches there, listless and still, waiting.

Sick Cat1

Sometimes the cat gets better. Its eyes clear; it starts eating and drinking and taking an interest again. When you pet the cat, it presses against your hand to get in a really good rub. It narrows its eyes to slits and rounds its back in comfort. A convalescent cat is as happy and grateful as any human recovering from a bad illness and just as wonderful to see.

sick_cat4

And sometimes the cat dies. Its fur and skin grow cold. The color recedes from its gums, leaving them pale and grey. Its eyes dull. It sinks into a stupor. Occasionally it rallies and fights for a while, meowing desperately, arching its back, scrabbling at the floor with its paws. Its breathing is shallow but strained; existence is hard labor. But it holds on.

For hours on Christmas Eve I watched a young cat slowly die. Several times I truly thought he was getting better, but he wasn’t. When my husband got home he took the cat outside with his .22 and ended it.

A recent remark from a friend got me thinking about hope, about how hard it is to let go even when you’re all but certain it’s in vain. It dwindles to a hard little kernel that lodges in your mind and will not move. Hope is part expectation and part desire, and it’s not particular as to proportions. Expectation may shrivel to a dry husk while desire remains robust and green, and together they still add up to hope.

You can tell yourself every hour of every day how unlikely you are to get what you want, but you cannot by an act of will stop the wanting. The most meager grain of expectation is enough to keep hope alive, and desire can actually nurture expectation, doing violence to intellect.

sick-cat-2

The trouble is that we can’t predict the future. If we could, then hope would be neither needful nor possible. We’re caught in the uncertainty between fulfillment and disappointment, and there’s no way out but through.

I think that faint hope is like a little cat that’s sick. It might make it and it might not. And the tension of watching and wondering is a terrible, terrible thing. Even when it seems that the most merciful thing to do would be to kill it, you can’t, because you can’t willfully end hope without ending yourself. The most you might manage is to stifle it, and if you make a habit of that you’ll end up like what C.S. Lewis called the Disillusioned “Sensible Man.” Though priggish and repressed, such a man “rubs along fairly comfortably” without being a nuisance to society. According to Lewis, such a state “would be the best line we could take if man did not live forever.”

Lewis continues,

The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. (Mere Christianity)

Is this any help for the one who is suffering not from the failure of earthly things to satisfy ineffable desires but rather from a simple inability to get those earthly things which he so badly wants? I think so–I hope so. If nothing else, it affirms hope itself as a virtue. Continuing to hope past the point of pragmatism can make us feel foolish and embarrassed. It shouldn’t. Hope and folly are not the same thing. We may or may not get the thing we want, but while we wait we can take comfort in knowing there are other, better things awaiting us whose fulfillment is sure.

I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the LORD more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Psalm 130:5,6

sick-cat-IV

The Intolerable Situation

perelandra

I was twenty-one when my first child was conceived. I approached pregnancy like I approach most unfamiliar things: I bought a book and read it cover to cover. I had that book down. I was going to rock this pregnancy thing, just as I rocked everything I put my mind to in a serious way.

Before long I was diagnosed with one of the complications from the book: hyperemesis gravidarum, which is Greek and Latin for throwing up like crazy. The quaint term “morning sickness” was completely inadequate for what I experienced. It lasted all day every day and all through the night. Whatever I ate, it was a toss-up (ha) whether it would stay down. The book advised eating small meals and nibbling crackers before getting out of bed. This did as much good as throwing salt over my shoulder at midnight. I didn’t just not gain weight; I lost weight. I got dehydrated. I was admitted to the hospital where I was given IVs and an anti-nausea medication that I later learned is also used as a tranquilizer. It didn’t make me feel tranquil. It made me feel slow, out of sync with time, uneasy. It also caused my arms and legs to jerk uncontrollably. Sometimes I inadvertently slapped myself in the face.

Later, after that hospital stay ended, we learned that our insurance would send nurses to our apartment to set up an IV there, so the next time I got seriously dehydrated we did that instead. At one point I was completely dependent on intravenous nourishment for two weeks, taking in no food by mouth.

There are some types of pain you can’t compartmentalize. A migraine headache is like this. So is nausea. You can’t just drink a cup of tea and lie down and rest or whatever. It’s a pain that infects everything. There is no escaping or mitigating it.

I was productive of almost nothing during this time—except of the baby, which continued to develop just fine. I couldn’t write or even read much. At first this bothered me. Once in a while I’d pull myself together, get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed in something I could have left the apartment in, and sit down and have some serious Bible study. I had an idea that there was some lesson to be learned from this illness, and that if I hurried up and learned it—studied the right passage in the right way, prayed hard enough, exercised sufficient patience, surrendered adequately to God’s will—it would end.

Guess what? It didn’t work. I went right on being sick. I stayed in bed for days at a time. I couldn’t think about anything other than nausea, pregnancy, and how long it would be till Greg came home. I would lie in bed with this tight, twisty feeling in my stomach—kind of a burning sensation, but also something like a clenched fist—and I would count. In theory I was counting the seconds and minutes till Greg would be off work, but I went very, very slowly, stretching the intervals far beyond actual seconds, almost as if I could fool myself and be pleasantly surprised when he turned up earlier than expected. Or maybe I was just reassuring myself that time was linear and that units of it were indeed passing, however slow the process seemed.

(This habit of counting is something I’ve kept for over twenty years. When I’m bored or stressed and have to sit still, I slowly count, sometimes tracing the numbers with a finger. I might start over when I reach sixty or a hundred, or I might not. Sometimes I start over in a random place. I also count the hours and days and months leading to and from certain events, repeatedly. The events themselves may or may not be significant; I’m just marking time.)

I reached a point where I simply could not take any more. I reached it a lot of times. That’s it! I’d think. I can’t take this any longer! This situation is intolerable! It must change! It didn’t. Nothing changed. I just stayed sick. I had taken all I could take and nobody cared. When I say “nobody cared,” I mean God didn’t care, or didn’t appear to. I myself was powerless to change things. There was no “final straw” action for me to take, no “that does it” plan to put in place, no scenario where I’d finally give in and spend more money or whatever and fix the problem. Only God could fix it.

I know now—know experientially—that people do reach this point again and again, or reach it and stay there: the point of Oh God I can’t take any more of this, this is the absolute limit, something has got to give—and nothing does. In some cases people truly can’t take any more, and they die. The rest of the time they keep going.

There’s a part in Perelandra, the second volume in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, where Ransom, a college professor from Cambridge University, finds himself on the planet Venus with a green lady, the Venusian equivalent of Eve. The green-skinned Venusian version of mankind is unstained by sin. But there’s another non-indigenous guy there on the planet who turns out to be no less than the devil himself inhabiting the undead body of Professor Weston, one of Ransom’s colleagues from earth. (I know how wacked that sounds, but trust me, it works. This book has to be read to be believed.) Devil-possessed Zombie Weston is tempting Venusian Eve. She hasn’t fallen, but she’s listening to his reasoning, and his arguments are good. Ransom argues back but feels woefully out of his depth. He is a well-educated, rational, thoughtful believer, but this is the devil.

This goes on for days and days. Ransom thinks, This can’t be allowed to continue. Something must be done. Reading the book for the first time, I wholeheartedly agreed with him. I actually felt that Lewis had a sort of authorial obligation to take narrative action—have Venusian Adam show up and give the devil what-for, have God speak from the heavens in an unmistakable audible way, something. But nothing like that happens. The temptation continues. Ransom finds some mutilated animals that Devil Weston has tortured but not killed. Their suffering is acute. Though the man and woman have not sinned, pain and cruelty have marred their world. Ransom is horrified. Again he thinks, Something must be done. Again nothing happens.

Ransom’s story takes a turn I did not expect. Eventually he realizes that, yes, something must be done, and he’s the one who must do it. He has no clear direction from God, no heavenly voice or prophetic utterance or anything, but he thinks things through and decides that he, Dr. Elwin Ransom, alone and unarmed, must kill the undead corporeal vessel of the incarnate devil. Two out-of-shape college professors, both naked, neither one experienced in hand-to-hand combat, must grapple to the death. The thought is both terrifying and repellent to Ransom, but he does his duty. It is all very difficult and awkward, and it takes several days. (You just have to read this book. It’s one of the darnedest books I ever read.)

The resolution to Ransom’s narrative is the exception rather than the rule; most of us do not have such a bizarre conclusion to our final-straw extremities. We just keep waiting, and getting loaded with more and more straws.

Paul’s metaphor of a thorn in the side is an apt one for certain types of suffering. A thorn is a constant irritation, an ongoing intrusion, different from an honest cut or scrape or puncture. It produces not only pain, but swelling, pressure, and inflammation. It doesn’t belong. The body wants to get rid of it, and over time healthy flesh can break down or expel a foreign body of manageable size and substance. But a thorn like Paul’s is either too big or too resistant to be worked on in this way.

When you have a thorn in your flesh, you just want it removed, and until it is you can’t really rest. Every movement of the affected area, every bit of contact whether accidental or intentional, is a painful reminder of its intrusive, maddening presence. You can’t feel truly whole or sound while it’s there. And once it’s removed, there is instant relief. The puncture wound remains, but the foreign body is gone. There is rest and release. You can heal now.

Some pain is like that. It may be physical, emotional, or psychological. While you have it, you are fixated on relief, and the relief you want is removal, cessation. The greatest possible good you can imagine is the absence of this irritant.

Why was I sick? I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be much point to it. Eventually I got better, and delivered a healthy (though skinny) baby boy, but I didn’t become a better person or anything. Often suffering does have a point; often people undertake it willingly for some higher purpose, as with some over-the-top athletic achievements. More often, suffering is completely unasked for, and instead of making you stronger it weakens, scars, or kills you. Don’t mistake me. I believe in the sovereignty of God, and I believe that suffering, like everything else in our lives, has its purpose. But that purpose may not be anything we can ever realize in our lifetime. From our perspective, we are in pain for a long time, and then it stops, either because we get better or because we die. Of course there is the idea that suffering makes you more compassionate and better able to comfort others in their own suffering. This is a sound Biblical principle, but it will only satisfy us so much. So, the reason I am suffering now is in order to become able to help someone else who will suffer later. Well, why does that person have to suffer? Is it just for the purpose of comforting yet another person farther in the future? Why not just end the suffering and let people be? What is the meaning of this cycle? Is it an empty cipher, unending and void?

The official answer is that suffering exists in the first place because there is sin in the world. It just happens. It has to be simply as a condition of our fallen existence. And God is able to shape it to his desired ends. I believe this. But the desired ends are too complex for me. When I hurt, or when people close to me hurt, I just want it to stop.

The cycle of suffering and comforting is not an empty cipher. It is not just a matter of passing off comfort like a baton. When we comfort one another, when we suffer vicariously on another’s behalf, and pray or labor or just commiserate, God knits our souls together in a way that is not possible when we are sharing our happiness. Suffering can be a great social equalizer; it can humble us and strip away pretense. When you are in sufficient pain it becomes difficult to lie about it.

Outside of our homes, most people present a public image most of the time. It’s all very clean and positive. Projecting such an image is natural social behavior. It makes people comfortable. No one likes the person who reveals all the ugly personal shortcomings of family members, or even of himself, to any and all. We would rather emphasize the positive, not just to look good but because we want to encourage positive things. But sometimes we grow discouraged, comparing the public images of others with our own private failures. Sometimes we need counsel or empathy, but we are too ashamed to seek it.

More and more as I get older I understand that every individual and family has secret sorrows and patterns of sin, no matter how good they look on the surface. The community of grace should be open about such things, while still respecting personal boundaries. If just a few people within a given church community were to stop caring about appearances and authentically share their struggles, more revelations from others would probably follow. There would be a lot of surprises, and a lot of relief.

The church should be lots of hurt people helping one another, like a company of soldiers behind enemy lines, the wounded supporting the wounded—binding, medicining, carrying, dragging, encouraging, and also trusting and relying, all of us doing our best to make sure everyone makes it safe and sound back to home territory.

Does this sound like a tidy way to wrap up my thoughts about the apparent futility of suffering? It shouldn’t. There’s nothing tidy about it. It’s messy and irritating and hard, and it doesn’t make pain any easier to bear. But I am beginning to think that it is in the tension of pain that we truly draw near to those who become most dear to us.

We can do this because of One who suffered all things, and gave us a pattern for submission in suffering, and empowers us to follow it. He suffered and even died, and he overcame. He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger–of all the lines of all the Christmas songs I know, this is the one that most consistently moves me to tears. He has defeated the intolerable situation.

Waiting for the Moving of the Water

  1  After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

  2  Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

  3  In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

  4  For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

  5  And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

  6  When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

  7  The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

  8  Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

  9  And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked….

John 5:1-9

How often did the restorative stirring of the water occur? The passage doesn’t say. Perhaps there was no predictable pattern, and that’s why those who wanted healing had to wait there at the site. What a constricted existence that would be, constantly waiting on an event you have no power to accelerate or affect in any way. You would be forever focused on the water, watching for ripples, with nothing but your own pain and infirmity to compete for your attention. The primary definition of impotent is still “lacking physical strength or vigor,” but the word has an additional meaning today, and to modern eyes its use in the passage adds a layer of humiliation to an already bad situation. Perhaps this is not so inappropriate. Chronic illness always has an element of humiliation. All the things you would like to do—perform useful work, move around by yourself, enjoy a meal—are trumped by the words I can’t.

The man has been in this state for thirty-eight years. We don’t know how much of that time has been spent at the pool, but it’s been long enough for him to observe a pattern. The healing at the pool doesn’t work by queue. It doesn’t matter who’s been waiting longest; once the water is stirred, whoever gets in first is healed, and the sick people don’t take turns. There is typically such desperation about serious illness. All you want is to feel better. Your mind has no room for thoughts of equity or fairness, much less generosity. If you let the guy with the thirty-eight-year infirmity go ahead of you, who knows how long would pass before the angel troubled the water again, if ever? And the guy probably wouldn’t make it anyway because he had no one to help him. Someone else would beat him, and you’d have given up your chance for nothing. Your most prudent option is to stay vigilant and be ready to get into that water the moment its surface starts to stir.

So the sick came and went, while this man slowly became a fixture, an institution, all his mental and emotional energy fixated on an impossible dream of restoration and health.

Jesus asks him, Wilt thou be made whole? This is a straightforward, yes-or-no question. And the man can’t answer it in kind. He says, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. He is so focused on the perceived means of his deliverance that he can’t separate it in his mind from the deliverance itself. “Getting to the pool” has replace “getting healed” as his aim.

I can’t say that I blame the guy. I don’t have anything like his excuse, but I often get fixated on some intermediary thing that has become so closely associated with what I really need that they appear to be one and the same. Then God causes me to step back and reassess. Every fixation has some legitimate, God-given desire at the back of it—sometimes so far back that you have to chisel through years of habitual misguided thinking to find it, but still there. That is the need God wants to fill.

Jesus was present at creation, and without him nothing was made that has been made. He has the power to restore what is broken, to cut directly to the heart of what we need without following what we perceive as the necessary steps. He can heal without the pool. He made this man to begin with, put together his genetic code in all its potential for health and strength before sickness ever cast its shadow. He made the angel who stirs the water. He configured the molecular structure of all the water in the world. He is master of all creation, and as such he has authority.

And here’s the really beautiful thing. He has compassion as well. He doesn’t point out the faults in this man’s perspective. He just heals him. There will be time later for the man to reflect on legitimate needs versus felt needs and to ponder the sufficiency of God; now is the time for him to be made whole. He’s already demonstrated faith by staying at the pool day after day when his case appeared hopeless rather than giving in to bitterness and despair. That faith is enough, and Jesus honors it.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench (Isaiah 42:3). These words bring a sting of tears to my eyes every time I hear or read or think them. I am a bruised reed and a smoking flax, and if God’s intervention in my life is dependent on my own right understanding or on some lofty level of obedience or faith, I’m sunk. Praise be to God that it’s not.

A Princess Inside

Some years back, my girls and some of their friends were being mistreated. The details aren’t important; it was just one of those things that happen all the time, caused by carelessness more than malice. I could have complained—I was in the right and can be eloquent when roused—but in so doing I would have damaged some relationships to a degree out of proportion to the problem. The girls weren’t being harmed, just annoyed. My best course of action was to swallow the pill and move on.

And that made me think of the book of Job. Not that my daughters’ suffering, or my vicarious suffering on their behalf, had anything on the trials of Job, but Job’s experience does shed a lot of light on unmerited suffering in general.

The book of Job is fascinating for many reasons, not least of which is that it shows Satan having access to heaven. We’re not given details of the arrangement, but there he is in verse 6 of chapter 1, presenting himself to God.

  7 And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

Evidently Satan just cruises the planet, seeing what’s up.

Then God says something extraordinary.

  8 Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

The word “perfect” doesn’t mean “sinless” in this context, but rather “complete” or “mature”—like a perfect fifth in music or the “more perfect union” spoken of in the Constitution. God doesn’t claim absolute moral purity for Job. Still, the claim he does make is a big one. And he’s making it to Satan, the Accuser, who gets off on defying God and discrediting his followers.

I just can’t get out about that. Here is a man so praiseworthy that God himself holds him up as an example of upright character.

It’s easy to imagine a sneer in Satan’s reply.

  9 Doth Job fear God for nought?

 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

  11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

At this point you can almost hear a chorus of “Oooooooooo!” from any demons who may be in attendance. Then heavy silence. The court of Heaven awaits God’s reply.

For this is the sort of question which, once raised, cannot be dismissed. Do we follow God merely because he blesses us? Are we mercenary creatures, obeying God in order to reap the benefits of a godly life, without loving God himself? Is virtue a strict business relationship—sort of an I-stay-chaste-and-honest-and-you-bless-my-crops-and-protect-my-health-and-family thing?

Or is there more to it than that?

There’s only one way to answer the question: put it to an empirical test.

  12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.

Once permission is granted, catastrophe falls swiftly on Job. In a stunning series of acts of war and freakish natural disasters, his blessings of wealth and comfort and children are wiped out in a single day.

We must remember that in Job’s culture, material blessing was considered the mark of God’s favor. The whole cause-and-effect, blessings-for-obedience thing was intrinsic to contemporaneous thought. It was just the way things were.

Job knew he hadn’t sinned in a way that could have merited such heavy retribution from God. He’d been faithful—unusually faithful—superlatively faithful. A chasm gaped before him, an apparent rift in the very order of the universe. How could he reconcile what he believed about God’s goodness with the evidence of his eyes?

  20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,

  21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

  22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

Imagine the exultation among God’s angels and, yes, God himself when Job spoke these beautiful words. A mortal man, prone to frailty and doubt and despair, and not privy to the counsels of angels, had risen above cultural assumptions and held firm to God when he had ample reason not to. When you continue to love and trust someone even when his behavior baffles you—when you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t know why he’d do that, but he must have a good reason,” and you are content to wait on the full explanation—it means you have faith in that person’s character. He is a friend of the highest order.

The thing that caught my attention that day four years ago is how God regarded Job. He had confidence in him; in some mysterious way he trusted him, if I may be allowed to use the word. He trusted him to such a degree that when Job’s integrity was questioned, God could say with assurance, Go ahead. Put him to the test. You’ll see. God allowed Job to be attacked because he thought Job could take it. And he was right.

Suddenly my vexing little social irritation took on a new significance. Could it be that God thought I could take it, too? That he trusted me to handle this small piece of unmerited suffering with grace and tact and self-control? If so, then it was a compliment for me to be experiencing it at all.

And suddenly I wanted to make good on that. I wanted to justify God’s confidence in me—to glorify him. I would take the blow on the chin, keep my feet under me, and smile.

Job’s trials didn’t end that first day. By the time Satan had finished, he’d lost wealth, health, family, and community standing; and the company of visiting friends only added to his misery. True to their culture, Job’s friends held stubbornly to the dictum that suffering is the direct result of sin. Actually, most people are quick to search for simple cause-and-effect relationships to explain suffering, even those who don’t consider God part of the process. You did X, and now Y is happening to you. The reaction is a defense mechanism. We want to distance ourselves from the possibility of future suffering of our own, and it makes us feel secure to believe we can avoid Y by not doing X.

To a degree, this is sound thinking. It’s prudent to take note of relationships between behavior and consequences and direct our paths accordingly. They say experience is the best teacher, but experience doesn’t always have to be direct and personal. The book of Proverbs is all about gaining wisdom vicariously.

But the truth is that people often suffer through absolutely no fault of their own. And that is a terrible thing to see.

This is not to say that unmerited suffering is without purpose. God does nothing by chance, and he puts limits on what the Enemy can do to us. But we don’t always learn in this lifetime what that purpose is. The point is that the suffering may not be our fault. It may even be our merit.

But I think we can safely say that undeserved suffering always has one particular purpose behind it. That purpose is the demonstration of character.

This works on earth as surely as in heaven. When adversity delivers an upper cut, some folks cave and others stand firm. I am a devoted student of human nature, and I watch these reactions and quietly file away my observations for future reference. I’m sorry if this sounds creepy, but I can’t not do it. I assess character all the time. I’ve seen some friends and acquaintances handle serious adversity with such cheerful patience and faith in God’s goodness that I feel humbly grateful just to know them. Others have lost my good opinion by pouting and making others miserable over small matters. Most of these folks would probably be surprised to learn that their integrity of character matters to me in the slightest, but it does.

Sara Crewe, the heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic story A Little Princess, is a pampered girl who has always been surrounded by luxury and affection. She is well-mannered and accomplished and treats others with kindness and consideration.

But she wonders how much of her reputation for goodness is deserved, and how much is owing to the environment in which she was raised.

‘Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? Perhaps I’m a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.’

Later in the book, Sara loses everything—family, wealth, position, and almost all physical comforts—in one Job-like swoop. This is her opportunity to show what she’s made of. Sara proves her quality, and it is sterling.

‘Whatever comes,’ she said, ‘cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.’

Being a princess is not the same as being rich or comfortable or happy. Being a princess is an identity. A princess is a king’s daughter. She might lose her fine clothes, her wealth, even the high regard of the multitudes, as many princesses throughout the history of the world have done. But she never stops being a princess inside. A princess is a princess, always—as surely as her father is a king.