As I discussed yesterday, I have a difficult time doing small, ordinary things that don’t involve a larger picture. This curse applies not only to doing little things for other people, but it also carries over to my cultural pursuits. For example, I wasn’t satisfied with simply rereading Gatsby, so I decided to tackle all of Fitzgerald’s novels. (I finished This Side of Paradise this past weekend.)
I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s on a whim earlier this week because because Netflix Instant recommended it based on my previously watched films and because I had never seen it. I loved it, so I’ve endeavored to watch several more movies in which Audrey Hepburn stars. Because she was quite prolific, I’ve limited my list to ten films.
And in a fit of insomnia induced by the subject of my ruminations yesterday on living an ordinary life, I enjoyed Roman Holiday around 3:00 a.m. this morning. Once again, Hepburn shined, and my heavy eyelids were the only reason I didn’t start Sabrina immediately after finishing Hepburn’s first major American picture. I wanted to have enough energy this morning to delve into a few ideas that sprung from last night’s restless slumber.
The reason for this rather long introduction, however, is to tie together two recent references to the elation-filled but mind-numbing, exhaustion-causing but sleep-preventing tough life we live. After returning to Joe Bradley’s (Gregory Peck) tiny, no-frills apartment in Rome, Princess Annya (Audrey Hepburn) asks:
ANN. Shall I cook something?
JOE. No kitchen; nothing to cook; I always eat out.
ANN. Do you like that?
JOE. Well, life isn’t always what one likes-[pauses] is it?
ANN. No, it isn’t [Ann sits down].
She laments, “I’m a good cook; I could earn my living at it. I can sew too, and clean a house, and iron–I learned to do all those things, I just haven’t had the chance [slowing, turning away] to do it for anyone.” Annya alludes that her status as royalty prevents her from practicing these household pleasures because other people insist on doing them for her. Unbeknownst to her, Bradley knows of her royal status and gets the allusion.
Soon after or soon before viewing this scene (I don’t recall in my sleepy state), I read an address from Father Tony Jarvis, then headmaster of The Roxbury Latin School in Boston and now director of the Educational Leadership and Ministry Program at Yale Divinity School, in his collection of speeches to his “boys” entitled With Love and Prayers. Fr. Jarvis remarks,
What, then, is the truth about life? The truth, I submit, was stated succinctly by Jesus of Nazareth: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Life is not easy. Life has its troubles.
He goes on to give a “short, quite personal, list” of how to approach these tribulations, and I find his last suggestion to be most poignant:
One wartime day (when I was four or five) my mother and I were in the laundry room with Mrs. Jacky [Jarvis’ family maid] and I suddenly realized that my mother was crying. (A parent crying makes a strong impression on a small child.) She was talking to Mrs. Jacky about her brother, my uncle George, a Marine pilot who was missing in the Far East. When my mother finished, Mrs. Jacky said, “Offer it up, Prudy. Offer it up.”
That’s what prayer is: the crying out, the offering up of the mess we’re in. “I don’t know if I can hack this this. I don’t see a way out of this mess.”
This passage strikes me for several varying reasons. Fr. Jarvis is correct when he writes that a parent crying makes a strong impression on a small child. It also makes a strong impression on a child of any age. I’ve seen my dad shed tears only once in my lifetime, and I remember everything about the circumstances, from the reasons behind the tears to the calendar hanging on the kitchen wall over his shoulder. I’ll leave my discussion about this experience for another day.
Another reason for Fr. Jarvis’ story hitting close to home is the presence of Mrs. Jacky and her impact on the young Jarvis. Fannie Mae Martin, like Fr. Jarvis’ maid, was a heavenly presence in my household when I was child. I owe her for fostering my innocent wonder about all things Biblical. From making me memorize “The Lord’s Prayer” to answering my terror-filled questions after reading about four-headed beasts in Ezekiel when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, Fannie Mae’s influence has never left me. This is also a topic for another day.
But on this day, as it pours down rain in central North Carolina, as the state’s death-row inmates can no longer challenge their sentences based on racial bias claims, and as the literary magazine rejections fill my inbox, all I can do is “[o]ffer it up, Win. Offer it up.”
10. Wait Until Dark, 1967
9. Love in the Afternoon, 1957
8. Paris When it Sizzles, 1964
7. How to Steal a Million, 1966
6. My Fair Lady, 1964
5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961
4. The Nun’s Story, 1959
3. Funny Face, 1957
2. Sabrina, 1954
1. Roman Holiday, 1953
 F. Washington Jarvis. With Love and Prayers: A Headmaster Speaks to the Next Generation (David R. Godine 2010), 15.
 Jarvis. With Love and Prayers, 17.