Are you following your heart's desire?
Do you have any big dreams? If not, then why not? And if so, then are you also doing as well as dreaming in pursuit of your desire?
As I've mentioned before here, I grew up in an 800 square foot rental house on the outskirts of Durham, NC. We had small shelves of books in various rooms. And we often made trips downtown to the public library, which seemed to me as a boy like a magical place. My father was a high school graduate and lifelong reader. He always had a book in his hands, when he wasn't working at one of his many jobs. I recently rediscovered a book of his that had long been hidden away on one of my bookshelves. It was a boxed edition of a small format volume, with beautiful artwork on the box. Just inside the back cover was my father's signature, and a date: June 9, 1959. The book was Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, first published in 1958. It was written by Paul Gallico, who was born in 1897 and was, to my knowledge, the first participative sports journalist, once actually knocked out in the ring by the heavyweight boxing champion of his time.
This wonderful short book is about a cleaning lady, or "char woman," in London, presumably in the 1950s, a Mrs. Ada Harris, who one day sees two ethereally beautiful dresses in the closet of one of her employers. She's never come across such beauty in all her life, and is astonished at the fabrics, colors, and workmanship of these garments. The lady of the house explains to her that they're both Christian Dior creations. On the spot, this older, working class widow forms an overwhelming desire to own a Dior dress for herself. She knows that she will never have an opportunity to wear such a thing - not within the tight strictures of her plain and simple life. But if she could just buy one and have it in her possession, and be able to gaze on it now and then, she feels her life would be complete.
She soon discovers that the price of such a dress is four hundred and fifty pounds sterling, more money than she can believe. But she's undaunted by the apparent impossibility of her heart's desire, and right away forms plans to gain this elusive object of her dreams. She saves a little. She enters sporting lotteries. She bets on a dog race. But as soon as she gets a little ahead, she's thrown back to square one. Still, she keeps her dream alive, and sacrifices both comforts and entertainments to save as much money as she can. She sits down to figure out on paper how long it will take to put away such an amount, making as she does the equivalent of about forty five cents an hour for her daily labor. The author writes:
Mrs. Harris had never in her life paid more than five pounds, roughly the equivalent of fourteen dollars, for a dress, a sum she noted down on the paper opposite the utterly fantastic figure of four hundred and fifty pounds.
He adds that she would not for a moment even have considered a dress costing fifty or sixty pounds. The Dior, however, was something on a level of its own. It was set apart, extraordinary, awe inspiring. He writes:
But the very outrageousness of the sum put it all into a wholly different category. What is it that makes a woman yearn for chinchilla, or Russian sables, a Rolls-Royce, or jewels from Cartier, Van Clef & Arpels, or the most expensive perfume, restaurant, neighborhood, etc.? It is this very pinnacle and preposterousness of price that is the guarantee of the value of her femininity and person. Mrs. Harris simply felt that if one owned a dress so beautiful that it cost four hundred fifty pounds there was then nothing left upon earth to be desired.
Years pass. Our lady eventually saves enough to fly to Paris for a day, and visit Christian Dior, to buy a dress. But she discovers that, even with the full amount of cash in her shabby old purse, such an acquisition isn't as simple or easy as she had hoped. She's at first shunned by those she meets at the cathedral of couture, as oddly out of place, unsettling, and unworthy of their notice. She doesn't belong in such a high end designer's showplace. But one haughty lady who serves as the manager of the enterprise eventually comes to notice the authenticity, independence, and fierce desire burning beneath Ada's awkward and untoward appearance. And, without giving away any of the amazing story that ensues, I want to tell you that in the dogged and impossible pursuit of her heart's desire, she ends up helping several other people to attain theirs. They see something in her spirit that helps them in their own challenges. She sees into their hearts and takes action, with small suggestions, that make all the difference for their unfulfilled dreams. There are twists and turns in Paris that I never expected. And on our hero's return to London there is the biggest surprise of all. As a result, her life is changed, in the end not by a dress, but by the adventure of seeking it, the things that happen along the way, and the realizations that all of it brings into her life.
The author wants us to understand the true value of pursuing our heart's desire. Whatever it may be, however worthy or unworthy it may seem in itself, if our quest for it is difficult and challenging enough, and if we engage in it with an open heart and authenticity of spirit, then throughout the pursuit we can often have the chance to do a form of good in the lives of others, as well as in our own, that we never could have imagined.