Dear Sylvia Plath, I disagree with you.

Recently I was exposed to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. 

I wish I could say that I was brushing up on my list of 100 Books to Read Before I Die or that reading the classics is a habit of mine. But, in truth, I was watching the new Aziz Ansari show on Netflix, Master of None

Zach and I had been looking for a Netflix show to watch sporadically, which is our way, and stumbled upon Master of None. 

At first we thought it had this Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm feel to it and we were so. on. board. Since those are two comedic greats in our house. The show even has a minor part for Jon Benjamin- whom we love! But as the show goes on it becomes less hilarious sitcom and more... romantic drama. 

The Season One ends with Aziz/Dev reading a passage from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and making a major decision about his life. 

First, let me say that Sylvia Plath is a genius. That can't be disputed. Her imagery, her word choices, her obscure but painfully realistic thoughts are just... incredible. 

When I read her, she truly takes my breath away. And once upon a time, I could truly relate to her.

She saw life through the lens of depression and so her words came out raw and real and painful. She is this heartbreaking tragedy that makes me just want to reach through time and hug her. Me, the non-hugger. But as I read about her and researched The Bell Jar, I felt her pain... her misery. She had everything going for her and yet she couldn't see it. She had talent for days and years and eternity and yet that wasn't enough for her. She had life and chose death. 

Anyway, so Aziz reads this quote and it, like most other things that Sylvia wrote, made me pause in the busyness of my life and think. 

She says this, 

 “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

What a thought!

What a FEELING!!!

To think that you had to choose one path and one path alone and that once that path is chosen no other paths can be taken. Once a wife. Always a wife. And once a mother. Only a mother. 

My heart hurts for this woman who committed suicide only one month after this novel, her only novel, was published. 

The Bell Jar follows Esther Greenwood as she struggles to decide what to do with her life during the beginning stages of a breakdown. She eventually does have a nervous breakdown and spends significant time in a mental institution. The book is applauded for its stance on early feminism in the 50's when feminism wasn't actually a thing yet. The novel is wrapped up in beautiful prose and elegant thoughts and you can't help but relate to the main character because we've all felt like that. We've all wondered if our choices have imprisoned us into this one place. We've felt the consequences of choosing a fig. We've felt the indecision of not being able to choose one. We've felt the aftermath of the shriveled figs drop to the ground around us while we sat there idly, watching the world go by. 

That quote. That idea of life that small and isolated and strict hurts my heart more than anything.

And after I had thought about it for all of three seconds, I easily decided that Sylvia Plath is wrong. 

While she was obviously smarter than me, more talented by leaps and bounds, more lasting, more impacting, more... revolutionary than me... I have to say. I disagree with her. 

Life isn't one path. Or two paths. There is no before and after. Or cataclysmic moment when you're finally clicked into place never to be moved again. 

Life is a journey. An epic journey. With peaks and valleys and twists and turns. There are innumerable beginnings and endings and new beginnings and chapters that close and doors that open and left turns and right turns and mountaintops and ocean bottoms and endless, infinite things. 

When Zach and I watched the Master of None episode, Aziz reads this passage aloud. And Zach turned to me and laughingly asked, "Rachel, which fig did you choose?" 

Because I chose them all. Sylvia and I are different in that I saw a fig tree filled with possibilities and stories and different paths and lives and destinies and I. chose. them. all. 

I didn't look up at the fig tree and feel despair or hopelessness or crippling indecision. I looked up and saw hope and promise and life- in all it's difficult, massive, beautiful glory.

There is no law that you choose one thing in life and give up on all others. There is no slave master that demands you pick your fate and never deviate. There is not just one thing.

There is all the things. 

And there will always be all the things.

When I was growing up I had one dream. And that was to be a journalist. I wanted to travel the world and report on the most dangerous conflicts in the most dangerous areas. That was my dream of dreams. My heart song. The only thing I could imagine for myself.

I even had an epilogue to my dream imagined- When I retired, I planned to be a syndicated columnist writing from the comfort of my sprawling ranch in the middle of nowhere. The perfect, relaxing ending to a wild, adventurous career.

But when it was time to go to college, my dad had cancer and I was in love with the man that would one day become my husband. And so I stayed close to home. I put that dream on pause until I was forced to give up on it completely when my college dropped their journalism program the very year I started. 

No traveling the world for me. 

No syndicated column. 

No writing.

Except I didn't let that stop me. I traveled the world with a different degree, a degree I became and still am very passionate about. I traveled all over. I had Europe and South America and Asia. 

And then I got married. And I got to be a wife and a mother. 

And then I started writing books. And now I get to be an author. 

And then I started teaching a Bible Study. And now I get to be a teacher.

And last week I fulfilled my journalism dream when I had an article published in 

But that was 14 years after I gave up that dream of dreams. 

I thought about that the other day. About how God had taken my dream and set it aside while he worked all kinds of wonders in my life. He gave me a better life than I had imagined. A more fulfilling one. A safer one. One that's filled with so much love and so much laughter my heart aches with happiness. 

I thought about how He brought me back to the original dream and it was so much better than I could have imagined it to be. I ended up sitting on my bed crying happy tears because it was just too much for me. 

That article, those 500 words, weren't worthy of a Pulitzer, they weren't about an African genocide or ISIS terror, I didn't even get paid for them! But they were the fulfillment of a dream that I never imagined would come true. And that means something to me. 

That moves something so deep in my soul I can't even find the right words to describe it. 

Fourteen years ago, I felt like I was sacrificing my dreams for the sake of the people I loved on the alter of martyrdom. It felt like the death of something vital inside of me. 

Even after I had kids, there was this sense of being lost. I couldn't figure out what to do with my life or how my decisions had gotten me to that point. 

But I didn't let that stop me. I found writing. And writing books brought me to myself again. And I had purpose as a wife and a mother and then as a writer. I have purpose now as those things plus more. 

My destiny didn't stop when I became those things. My destiny became more. Each path I took, opened up more paths, each more fulfilling, more purposeful, more exciting than the last. 

Life isn't a series of check lists or concrete decisions. Life is fluid and ever-changing. The decisions we make are temporary. The decisions we make lead to more decisions, more action, more purpose... more life

Life is not a Fig Tree with fruit that withers and dies. Life is not one choice that determines every step thereafter. 

Life is a labyrinth of fate and God's sovereignty and more and more and more. 

 We are meant to do more. 

We are meant to be more. 

This is one of my favorite verses from the Bible, because in my youth, while I was stuck in confusion and self-centered despair, God said this... 

I'll agree that hindsight is 20/20. I can look back and see how each piece and part of my life wove together to make this breathtaking canvas that reveals a never-ending journey. 

But that gives me hope for the future. I can't fear what's ahead because I know it will be good. And if it's not good, then it can be used for good.

I can look forward knowing there are so many more figs to pick. So many more paths to take.

I can get excited because even if I have no idea what the future will hold, I know it will be an adventure and not the end. 

Never the end. 

Life is not a fig tree. Life is a complex and magnificent journey that goes on and on into eternity.


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  1. Oh Rachel this is so beautiful, and exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  2. We live in a much different world today than Sylvia Plath did in the 50s. She lived in a world where if she needed a break from mothering to write, that not only wasn't an option, that was a carnal sin. Nowadays it's much, much more socially acceptable to choose more than one fig so to speak. If you're into TV, maybe look into the kind of sexism she experienced day by day by watching Mad Men or even the movie Mona Lisa Smile.

    I agree we all can choose multiple figs much easier nowadays. I just it's unfair to compare her life to ours, though, because at that point in history, she lived in a much more volatile environment for a mother wanting also to be a writer.