Saturday, February 16, 2008

Heaven's Last Best Gift

In the concluding chapters of Jane Austin's "Mansfield Park," Lady Crawford asks her husband, "And what is it that the poet says about a wife?" To which Henry Crawford replies, "She is Heaven's Last Best Gift, my dear." What a thought, what a confession, usually only given by a man who has lived a long time. I had to find out what inspired poet came up with such sentiments!
Awake, My fairest, my espous'd, my latest found,
Heaven's last best gift, my ever new delight! - John Milton, Paradise Lost (bk. V, l. 17)

All other goods by fortune's hand are given,
A wife is the peculiar gift of heaven.

- Alexander Pope,

Heaven's Last Best Gift. At first I thought Lord Crawford was just being flattering, but then realized the historical significance of his statement; Eve is the last creation ever mentioned. And if we do our best work when we have obtained the most practice and skill, then God's ultimate creation would indeed make woman, "Heaven's last best gift."
After all, what could induce Adam to take a bite of the forbidden fruit? Well, probably the thought that without Eve, all he was ever gonna do anymore was kick around Eden, eat some kosher fruit, maybe rename the animals and have long conversations - with himself, "Shut up Wilson!" Or maybe think about painting the garage. I believe evidence shows that he recognized Eve as heaven's last best gift, and figured that it would be better to be with her, in difficult circumstances, than to be in paradise all alone.

Though I feel, at the moment, like earth's only housekeeper, the idea of being Heaven's Last Best Gift has it's charm. Matthew took off this morning, and the house is in disarray - despite my best interventions. Boxes, discarded laundry, unmade beds, and more yucky floor greet my weekend of solitude, but we handle it in the best way we can. Just a bit here and there until this place is restored back to an Eden. In the meantime, I'll entertain you with my thoughts on other women who are indeed, Heaven's Last Best Gift. Perhaps I have more perspective on my sisters as this gift than any other.
Reagan is so many things wonderful: She's hilarious. She is witty and incredibly creative. She makes up songs, and games and dinner if you are complimentary enough. Getting her to laugh is as easy as finding a mini-van in a Mormon church parking lot. She makes life fun, and does fun things as well. My child's first birthday cake was a disastrous reproduction of my own. Reagan's daughter had a little baby cake made out of rice krispy treats, and covered in frosting, then fondant covered cake presents and a "1" candle. I think she made 3-4 mock ups before the final one was acceptable. A better mother, you could not ask for, a more pleasing companion is more rare than a Hawaiian blue diamond. She is inspirational, and, you ought to know, the initiator of this blog, "Oh, I'll set it up for ya!" What a heavenly delight.

Danika has been married for just over a year, but it is easy to see how she is truly heaven's gift: her husband says it, and shows it, all the time. It has been her personal delight to "upgrade" all aspects of her spouse. Though he came highly recommended in the first place, she has worked her wifely magic to transform him from a "nice guy" into, "Wow! I hope my daughter can marry someone like that someday!" She has detailed him out - from cuff links to camelhair coat, and all those things that men don't think are THAT important, but which we women know better. She puts him in the best light possible - always. She has truly smoothed out some of his rough edges, and softened some of her own, to make a home where you would truly long to be.
Lisa, my sister-'cuz she's-married-to-my-brother, is truly heaven's gift as well. Spiritual and caring, she was foreordained to be a mother. And by that I mean that she was raised with just a brother, but has taken on the "crowd control" art of raising FOUR boys. She dispenses medical wisdom, and has fallen gracefully into the role of "everything mom." I have inner guilt when I hear about the valentine airplanes she made for her son 'til 1 am, "because he admired them so much last year," as I only fulfilled the minimum duty in that area. Lisa has a heart as big as all outdoors, and has been more patient with my brother, often, than I would have been.
Her true delight is in her family, and having even more extended family around - like me! Our chocolate fountain sits in her cupboard because we knew that there would always be a party when we came to visit, and that she would make sure it got used far more than our hermitish home. She parties, we . . . think about the possibility every now and again. She is a saint.

And leading the example of us all, my mom. I am still coming around to some of her wisdom, but these things are true: Mom got it done. And she was nice about it too. Six children, author, seamstress, home decorator (DESPITE my father's help), educated through a PhD (BECAUSE of my father's help), and serving a full-time mission, mom is an angel. And her sister said of her, "Your father adores her - even [after all these years] now. You can tell that he worships her - even when she is just crossing the room." True true.

Not to dispense with the schmaltz, but let it also be understood, that each of these women also maintains a strict consistency of character, and is loving and giving in most areas, until crossed. Do not challenge Reagan on matters of spiritual import, do not drive with Danika if you can help it, a chauvinist pig will soon be breakfast sausage at Lisa's table, and don't ask for anything from my mother if it will take her time, her car or her money. After 9pm, whatever your question, the answer is "No." Even heaven has it's limits.

So, in looking for this inspired quote, I found it's match - just as appropriate:

In the election of a wife, as in
A project of war,
to err but once is
To be undone forever.

- Thomas Middleton, Anything for a Quiet Life (act I, sc. 1)

I hope that the title of "Heaven's Last Best Gift," will be fitting for me, and that I can also stay true to the wittiness and humor that God has blessed me with, in whatever small amounts. For now, it will have to involve a little vacuuming and garbage.


Lisa said...

Aaaaaw. Thank you for ALL the kind words! I'm feeling so loved. I may have to print this and hang it on my mirror to read every day. Don't sell yourself short, missy. You are one FANTASTIC wife and mama! So selfless you would give anybody you know the shirt off your back. We sure love you!

Danika said...

I know nothing about your sister Danika, but with a name like that, she's got to be cool!!!

Reggs said...

OO OO!!! How sweet you are. :) :) I am feeling so loved. Thanks for the loving thoughts. It is all so much felt towards you as well. You are so loyal and creative, and incredibly giving. You are someone who has seen some dark days and have in my case, been an amazing cheerleader through my dark days. I love ya. MUUUAAAAH.

Faye said...

I totally agree with you! I think that you all are amazing women. I have made the best memories with you guys and I treasure the moments that we get to spend together! You guys are truly a blessing :) I'm lucky to call you family.

Anonymous said...

Just to point out that you have mis-quoted Jane Austin. Henry Crawford does indeed say that a wife is "heaven's last best gift" but he does not say it to Lady Bertram. If you are referring to the film when Lady Bertram asks her husband Sir Thomas "how does the poet describe a wife", Sir Thomas answers "she is heaven's last best gift, my dear". Just thought I'd let you know!

Anonymous said...

It is Lady Bertram that asks Sir Thomas Bertram what the poet says about the wife... Henry Crawford ran off with Maria Bertram Rushworth and Mary Crawford went to live in Westminster...