I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: There is the hall, through which everyone passes going in and out; the drawing room, where one receives formal visits… and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.
—Edith Wharton, “The Fulness of Life”
In the book’s epilogue we discuss a beautiful quote by Edith Wharton from her short story The Fulness of Life that we put at the front of the book. The quote is worth repeating here and the story is worth reading since she was way ahead of her time as an author, feminist and observer of human behavior. Wharton’s character dies at the start of the story and goes to eternity, and there she contemplates her life and the fact that her husband was never her soul mate, never discovered the inner sanctum of who she really was and taking the house-as-self metaphor laments that she never said to him:
‘Fool, will you never guess that close at hand are rooms full of treasures and wonders such as the eye of man hath not seen, rooms that no step has crossed but that might be yours to live in, could you but find the handle of the door?’
Here we would tell Wharton that this was in fact her job, not his, and she was the one who was responsible for exploring those other rooms, the deepest desires of her being, turning the handles and opening the doors to parts of her self not yet discovered. The character thinks her spouse should “get it” but it’s not his to get. It’s hers, and it’s yours and all of ours, to understand what the “it” is for each of us in our lives. If someone else gets it you’re lucky, but that doesn’t have to be the case for leading a happy life.
So in the final chapters of The Nine Rooms, we ask women to think about what it is they would regret at the end of their lives, what rooms left unexplored, what were they waiting for someone else to stir in them that they could have done for themselves?
In the tenth room, where you get away from it all, we suggest that you find the time in your day, even if it’s just 20 minutes, to contemplate these “bigger” questions of what it is that you are truly about? What areas do you need to explore and what makes you happiest? That is the key to finding your passion, since the things you love will tell you about yourself. From there you can take the necessary steps from where you sit, reading this, toward your purpose, to the meaningful life we are all meant to live.
We’d add: don’t wait to figure out what you’re all about. Whether you’re married or single, younger or older, at the beginning of your career or the end, with or without children in tow, these self-exploring questions are about you and you alone, and they will help you live your life more happily, and more fully. (The Fullness of Life, the title of the Wharton story, refers to moments where you glimpse that higher purpose, since it comes in fleeting snapshots, but remember, they are worth appreciating and holding onto when they come.) Your life is your own story to write, your own house to design and build and decorate and inhabit. If you try to please everyone else you won’t please anyone, especially yourself. So your job is to be happy, or at least happier, whatever that means to you.
on February 11, 2010