Far Off Fields

At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen.  Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon.’  My book group has just finished reading Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.  Insights such as this into Emma Bovary’s dizzy head are, I suppose, meant to direct us towards thinking she is – at best – a vacuous twit.  Not only does she think that far off fields are green but she also thinks that if she stares at them longingly enough she is sure to see a prince in a white horse galloping towards her, ready to swoop her up from the meadow where she is picking wildflowers, barefoot in a dreamy haze.  I first read it as a youth.  I remember being judgemental towards her, pitying the limitations of all women who lived 150 years ago.  Now, older, I feel a lot more sympathy for Madame Bovary.  I mean, who hasn’t yearned for far off fields?  Who hasn’t willed luck to tip in their favour?  These days I understand her propensity to lean on chance. ‘She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her.  But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day.’  The problem with Emma’s particular brand of ‘vain pursuit of hopefulness’ is that it came with an enormous side order of inaction.  She twiddled her thumbs, and out of thumb twiddling (I know too well) is often born less innocuous pursuits; as the old saying goes: the devil makes work for idle hands. Things did not end well for Emma.

Here’s the thing I find about idioms: once I use one, they just keep racking up in my head.  I think about how helpful it might have been for someone to have sat Emma down and firmly told some version of the Ernest Hemingway line, ‘you make your own luck’; or that other unattributed one, ‘the harder I work the luckier I get.’  Yes, I know, she is a fictional character, but I think there is a little of her in us all, where we long for something fortuitous to occur, an added sparkle to burst in our life outside of our own creation.  ‘Come on luck,’ we all beg at some time or other, ‘be a lady.’

Somehow linked to all of this is a chat I had at the weekend with the sisters about the phrase, ‘what’s for you won’t do past you.’  (See, more idioms!)  M. looked perplexed, ‘I don’t understand?’ she said, ‘You say it as though it’s a good thing, but surely it also means that all of the bad stuff that happens to you, the horrors that don’t go by you, then they’re for you – and that’s a bit harsh, is it not?’  We contemplated it; she was right.  Fortune is outrageous and can swing either way but I think that sitting around passively waiting for change to happen ‘to you’ – just like Emma did – leaves you with very long odds.

I wonder does anyone out there remember the band ‘Something Happens’? From Dublin, they were big in the late eighties and through the nineties.  I loved their song, Parachute, which to me, is about hanging around, waiting in vain for something to happen and leaving it all to destiny.  Then when destiny doesn’t show up, there’s just only one thing to do – take a run and leap yourself.

 

Parachute, Something Happens

Take your parachute and jump

You can’t stay here forever

When everyone else is gone

Being all alone won’t seem that clever

Take your parachute and go

There’s gonna have to be some danger

Take your parachute and jump

You’re gonna have to take flight

If the wind don’t catch you, I will, I will

If the wind’s not there, I’m here.

 

Don’t look out before you

You know it’s a long way down

I’ll make it safer for you

Your parachute won’t let you down

Take your parachute and go

And maybe come back tomorrow

Take your parachute, I am

Stop you ever getting sorrow

 

‘Cause the winds might change

And the winds might blow over you

And the winds might cut you in two

Unless perhaps you get a raincoat

Take your parachute and go

And wave to me as you are falling

Take your parachute and jump

You’ll hear a sound – it’s just me calling

It’s a beautiful day for jumping

And nothing’s here to keep you back

I’ll make it safer for you

Your parachute is on your back

 

2 thoughts on “Far Off Fields

  1. i love that saying ‘When you move Providence moves with you’. Who or what Providence was I know not but it sounds kind of biblical? Anyway, step out there, God has you by the hand, is maybe the meaning…..or take further encouragement from Seamus Heaney’s gravestone inscription…’Walk on air against your better judgement’

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