We were standing in the middle of her bedroom when a clap of thunder rumbled. The shades were drawn over the large windows, obscuring the view of the sprawling farm outside and the storm clouds overhead. When she lived here, Flannery O’Connor would have kept the shades wide open so she could watch her beloved birds strutting outside. At one time more than forty peafowl lived at Andalusia Farm, along with O’Connor and her mother.
The bedroom was crowded with furniture, original to the years O’Connor lived here. Barrister bookcases lined two of the walls, and on another wall a slender bed sat next to a massive walnut desk. Sitting atop the desk was a manual typewriter, and perched atop the bedside table was a small bell. The juxtaposition of these two objects was sobering, and the sound of the storm served as an appropriate soundtrack for holding the tension of the sight.
An up-and-coming writer of fiction, O’Connor was forced to return to Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1951 when she was diagnosed with lupus, the disease that had killed her father. When she returned home, O’Connor was only 26 years old. For the next thirteen years she lived on the family’s farm. Despite the painful and debilitating disease, O’Connor wrote nearly every day and managed to produce two enduring collections of short stories and her second novel before her death at age 39.
Tim and I waited out the worst of the storm from rocking chairs on the spacious screened-in porch of the Andalusia farmhouse. I felt the thinness of time; how O’Connor and her mother must have sat on this same porch, watching and waiting for storms to pass. Soon we made our way to a cozy coffee shop in downtown Milledgeville, just two blocks from the Catholic church where O’Connor attended mass each morning. As we settled onto a leather couch, Tim closed his eyes and nodded off as I opened my laptop to write.
The rain continued to fall, and I watched the blinking cursor awaiting my next word. I began to feel frustrated that it was waiting and ashamed that my editor was waiting too. My essay was long past due. I thought of O’Connor’s discipline to spend a portion of each day writing, despite obstacles greater than any I’ve ever known, and I thought of my meager excuses for a delay. “But she was a real writer; one of the greatest of the 20thcentury,” I sighed. “I’m just…not.” And there it was: Envy.
As an Enneagram Four, my “passion” (i.e. root sin) is envy. Upon first reading this data, my reaction was skepticism; however, then I read, “When I become aware of this Passion of Envy active in me, I see that I am comparing myself to others and feeling superior or inferior in order to be special,” which can leave Fours feeling stuck, rejected, or abandoned. I have to admit that this rings true.
I often compare myself to others…other mothers, other teachers, other writers, other women. However, I wonder if I am alone with only Fours here. I would venture that most women, regardless of our Enneagram numbers, struggle with comparison.
Can I admit that this “comparison” is more rightly named “envy”? Can you?
Dan Allender says, “Envy is where two rivers meet, and the two rivers are lust and anger.” In this conflux, I experience both a desire for what someone else has—her youth, health, charisma, talent, platform (to name just a few)—and a desire to mar glory, either hers or mine. I feel deflated and defeated, which leads to humiliation and degradation. Allender explains that envy always leads to cursing. Most frequently I’m aware of how these curses take the form of shame, belittlement, and contempt that I direct toward myself; to admit that I release these curses toward others is tough.
The tension of these thoughts settled over me like a dark cloud. It thundered in my heart as I considered how, in my envy, I have cursed both myself and others. And I sought a solution that would provide respite from this seemingly relentless storm.
Again, Allender steers me toward shelter: “You counter envy by calling for the love of God for you and for them. Nothing is more powerful than the love of Jesus.” Love. It is by receiving love and offering love—blessing rather than cursing—that my vice is transformed into virtue and envy shifts to equanimity.
“Equanimity”—what a perfect word to describe O’Connor, who was forced to forfeit expansive dreams for what might appear to be a small life in a remote land. Instead of envy or resignation, she curated a life and legacy of beauty, faith, curiosity, and creativity during her years at Andalusia. I love this; it’s not something I envy, but rather something I deeply admire.
The rain continued to fall outside the Milledgeville coffee shop, and I finally shifted my gaze from the window to the blinking cursor. I placed my fingers on the keys and began to type, choosing to curate my own story, despite the storm.
A lover of story, Susan Tucker has always been captivated by beautiful writing. She is drawn to themes of tension, joy/grief, hope/loss, freedom/shame, which she explores in her own writing. Susan spends her days teaching middle school English, mothering her two teenage sons, and loving her husband of 25 years. She cherishes her first cup of coffee each morning, moments of quiet and solitude, restorative yoga, worship music, and faithful friends.nbsp