Like Hester Prynne, I’ve come to realize I wear a letter A. Mine isn’t scarlet, symbolic of immorality’s blush of sin and the emblem of passion’s deepest hue, unless you consider the brick red of mud to be of the crimson cast. Mine is forest interspersed with palm frond green, savannah gold, and the most translucent sea foam aqua this side of heaven.
Like Hester Prynne, I too feel the shame of unfaithfulness, albeit justified or not. But my infidelity wasn’t against my husband. Just my God.
Like Hester Prynne’s lover, the Reverend Dimmesdale, I wear my letter both deep inside my heart, and physically tattooed on my body. The angst is not really external, but internal, a conflict for the soul, not the outer adornment of garments and aprons.
Unlike Hester Prynne, I may be my worst critic, the greatest judgment I may sit under, just short of THE Judgment Day.
And like, Hawthorne, from whom Hester owes her being, I may perhaps have a penchant for the melodramatic, the supernatural, the dark romantic, the gothic and twisty.
But, as an allegory, it works. Since about two weeks ago, when I asked my kids to think about a personal “A” they might be wearing, obvious or hidden, I’ve slowly begun to realize my own.
My “A” is Africa. It’s rolling hills, and big white smiles, and mango-papaya-passion fruit salad, and babies playing on front porches while their mothers open coconuts, and students sitting in wooden desks and friends around a table in a land far away and…
I could go on.
But, the guilt lies here. Here. Since I am not there. And I ask myself, should I be? Should I have gone? When I last set foot on the dark continent, God taught me my purpose can no longer be for short service trips. Discontentment with the superficiality of three weeks made that clear as I journaled on the sands of the Indian Ocean. And so I came back, resolved to research, to review, to possibly remove myself from America.
But, the cares of this world, and the fears of living somewhere so far as Africa choked out the passion and the hope and the inspiration I’d felt in August of 2010, after I tattooed the entire continent on my right hip. And so I see Africa every day on me. But that’s not really where the haunting guilt surfaces.
It surfaces in the face of my chocolate puppy. Did I pick her over chocolate children in Rwanda? It surfaces in my credit card bills. Did I choose new jeans and new couches and tanks of gas over red dirt, a home with no air conditioning and heater, and the bright colored cloth of a land I came to love so much? Did I pick roommates and friends who think and look like me over students without teachers and textbooks?
In essence, did I choose comfort over calling? Did I follow the wrong path? Did I look in the direction I was meant to go, facing far from the Pacific Ocean, and simply walk the other way, back to this place it is much easier to call home, Southern California?
Unlike Hester Prynne, I don’t know the degree of my own ignominy. My free-thinking doesn’t liberate me, it imprisons me. It plagues me with doubts and questions, and spoils, at least in part, some small happinesses I wish I could find in good things like puppies,and homes, and roommates.
And like Hester, I long to throw my letter away somewhere deep into the forest, but to no avail, Back on it must go. And unlike Hester, I love my A. I love Africa with all my heart. I just wish I knew when and where we’d meet again. If we have a future and if one day I’ll have to stand on the scaffold of my life and explain to my Creator why I didn’t go back when I was young and free and relatively without a care.
I wonder if, in some ways, the “letter has not done its office” because I have not let it.