I Live Again by Ileana, Princess of Romania
IN NEED of comfort, I would sit quiet at the little chapel door, looking down upon the church of Bran or up toward the mountain back of the castle and often a great peace would come upon me. "Be still, and know that I am God."
I remember especially one day a year later, in July, 1945, when a great sorrow had come to me in the form of what seemed to me a terrible injustice. I had been excluded from being present in Curtea de Arges, where the seven years' memorial service was being held for my mother, an important service to us in the Orthodox Church. It was one of those needlessly cruel things which hurt beyond words. I felt, This I cannot endure. This is too much. I cannot bear it.
So I sought refuge again at the little chapel, seeking for strength to bear the unbearable; for even physically I felt that I could not endure the pain. Then my eyes fell upon the eternal unmoved perfection of the mountain. So long had it stood there just like that—so very long: even before history began. It had been unchanged and unhurt by human strife and endeavor, by humiliations, hopes, and despairs. How small I and my pain were! And suddenly I understood that such things did not matter; that they were of no importance at all. Such things were there simply to be overcome; they were put in our way for us to use in building the staircase of life. On each one we could mount one step higher until finally we attained the Mountain, the eternal reality of living.
I mention this moment because it was such a deep and real experience that it was one of the greatest events of my life: a day of revelation when I definitely opened another door and stepped forward. It was then also that I better knew and understood my mother, and how she had been able to build from anguish and sorrow a stairway to attainment.
We had always stood close together: our understanding had been extraordinarily complete. Apart from being mother and daughter, in our relationship we were friends, and something still more nearly perfect; companions in our tastes and ideas, as well as in our aims and ideals. I can see her so clearly now, wandering among the flowers she understood and loved, and which she planted with such extraordinary knowledge. They always looked perfect where she put them. They stood as if they had always grown in their beds in the garden, or in the vases in her room, or on the dining table. Their beauty was enhanced by the background she had provided for them. In her paintings, too, they were perfect. It was one of her great gifts that she knew her limitations: she painted only flowers, which she did beautifully; she never attempted landscapes, for which she had no talent.
This enabled her to grow old gracefully; she stepped aside simply and naturally from things she could no longer do. She did not try to compete, but found new outlets in sympathy and understanding, so that the young loved to have her with them. No party of mine would have been complete without her. She would start us off and then leave us, but we would seek her out. Even at the end of one of my rare balls we would stream into her bedroom and wake her up, just to have her know we loved her and to feel she had participated in our fun.
To the very last of her life she was genuine and near, understanding and simple. No one was too humble or too exalted for her not to see the human being first. Kind and long-suffering, her every thought was for others. Royal to the backbone, she had no false modesty as she had no false pride. She knew her worth and the part she had to play; she was sure of herself; her very walk was regal. Once when I protested at her crossing a Vienna street in total disregard of the traffic, she answered, "But who would run over me?" And of course no one ever did. Her pride lay in the fact that as both the symbol of an ideal and the implement of an accomplishment she served her people well. As a private individual she regarded herself humbly and modestly. When her favorite sister lay dying. of all those who were there and who claimed to be most wanted and essential my mother alone stood aside, conscious of her lack of medical knowledge and unconscious that of all the hands outstretched to help, hers alone gave the dying woman peace.
Brave and wise, she was as guileless as a child. She loved riding, and was a consummate horsewoman. Romantic, as her novels prove, she beautified life, even though at the same time she was practical in planning and efficient in carrying out her plans. A great organizer, she had little love for detail, but her need for harmony drove her to create order even in small things.
Her strength was fabulous, her health marvelous. When in the end a cruel illness fell upon her, she could not believe that she—Regina Maria, who had walked the plague-ridden hospitals with impunity, who had driven endless hours over impassable roads in midwinter to reach some distressed village, who had been tirelessly at need's beck and call, endlessly giving ear to the complaints, hopes, and joys of her people—that she could possibly be ill. Yet her stupendous strength finally failed, and for nearly two years she fought her sapping illness, remaining always the same—busy, cheerful, and thoughtful of others. Her face ever became more beautiful and harmonious. When in the end the doctor's efforts proved useless, she sighed, "Poor doctor! I am so sorry for him. He is so disappointed!" The last time I spoke to her it was by telephone when she was at Dresden, and we discussed her having received a person who had hurt her deeply. "I received her with open arms," she said, and I could almost see her perfect smile that made her startlingly blue eyes so extraordinarily tender. "You see, there is little left to me except to be kind." Yes, to be kind. That was, I think, the purpose of her being.
Death had never parted us. Even as no shadow came between us when we walked together in this life, so death cast no shadow between us either. Why, then, should it matter that I could not kneel at her grave on the anniversary of her death? So near did I often feel her that when I rearranged things in the Castle of Bran I almost felt it was she and not I who did so, in a strange, momentary union of personalities which brought us together and yet left us distinct and two. Even here in New England, as I place some belonging of hers on a table or wonder what she would say to this or that, she is so near me that I am as conscious of her as I am of myself, yet without ever losing the feeling of my own personality. Curiously enough, at such times I have heard people remark suddenly, "Oh, how you did remind me of the Queen just then!" although actually I do not at all resemble my mother.
Once this happened to me when I was visiting one of her favorite convents in Romania. As I stood in the courtyard I had that strange, double feeling, and was awakened out of my reverie by a peasant woman exclaiming, "Oh, I almost thought you were the Queen standing there!" Another time it happened was in the New York Town Hall, after one of my lectures, when I had had that especially conscious feeling of my mother's presence. An old friend of hers—no fanciful person, but a poised woman of the world—who had loved her well, came up to me and curtsied and kissed my hand with tears in her eyes. "You are so like your mother," she said.
What is "now" and what is "then"? There are moments when things merge and time is not. I live again—both the past and the present.
Someone once said to me, "All your mistakes come from loneliness for your mother"; and a psychiatrist once told me, "You must get rid of your mother complex and stand on your own feet." Each had put things in the wrong order. It was my mistakes that made me lonely for my mother, not the loneliness that made me make the mistakes. It was after my feet stumbled that I had the "mother complex"; not the complex that made my feet stumble. No, the memory of my mother, the spirit she instilled into me, the knowledge of her deathlessness—all of this is, next to my Christian faith, one of the greatest factors in my life.
These pages may not seem to you to belong here, but to me they do because of the merging of time and of the thread that binds life into a whole. Let me therefore pause a moment, and return to the house in Newton to take a deep breath and rest awhile, and to explain how it is that I can bear to write and to tell all this.
I do not know if you can imagine what it is like to part from all you have loved and known, and to start again without being able to share memories of the past with any one of those you live with. There are those with whom I can share this or that fragment of the past, but the whole I carry alone. It is sad not to be able to turn around and say to someone, "Do you remember . . . ?" But because wonders never cease I have found a friend who has come so close to me that she understands. What I tell her becomes real as if we had shared it in very truth as sisters. It is thanks to her love, appreciation, and intelligence that all these stories I have lived can be put together; that I can say to you, my reader, "Come and see these two rooms which hold my present and my past."
God's mercies come to us in devious ways. We go through sore travail; we lose all; we suffer all. But if we do not lose hope, even when we have lost faith in ourselves, if we still cling to what God is, to what the death and resurrection of our Lord are for each individual, then "All these things shall be added unto you." But first we must realize that there is only one Power that does not fail; one Love that is eternal; one Friend who never leaves us, however imperfect and sorrowful we may be: God. Until we learn this, disappointment after disappointment will meet us. We must not seek for human comfort, but rely upon our Father to give us our desire. And in due time, in the moment when our hearts are still and ready to receive in full understanding, and not merely in blind hunger, then only do we receive what we most need. Thus I found a mother and a sister.
Perhaps to you this does not fit in here, but to me it does. I am writing in these chapters of the fullest and most creative period of my life; of the years when I was, I believe, giving the utmost of myself spiritually, intellectually, and physically—and all of that was wiped off the face of the earth as a sponge washes off a blackboard. It was not easy to find my balance again; to live again; and when I did I was bitterly lonely. It was only when I had turned entirely to God and forgotten myself and my pain that I found I was neither lost nor alone.
There is in Louisburg Square, in one of those lovely old Boston houses so full of dignity and of the tranquil atmosphere of an undisturbed past, a house of prayer, where the quiet, gentle nuns of St. Margaret receive those weary and lost souls who are seeking a surer footing. A co-worker out from Romania led me there one September morning, and I knew that I had found my spiritual home. And as with time I went there more often, I felt less and less a lost and wandering spirit, but more as one who returns. One evening, when more tired than usual I knelt in the chapel, not praying with words but seeking to enter the communion of peace, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a kiss on my forehead, "Just to welcome you home, my child!" and I knew that in my home I had also found a mother.
Later, in the world of work and striving, in the course of giving one of my first talks about Romania—an activity which now seems to be developing to an extent I never dreamed of—I met Dorothy; though then I did not know her name, nor that she would be as a true sister to me, nor that her home would be mine. For when one is a mother one's own home is especially the home of the children; the place in which one carries the burden and is responsible. That life would be empty and meaningless without this responsibility for the children does not change the fact that to be at home somewhere where one carries no responsibility is unbelievably wonderful, and restful beyond words.
I do not feel I would be telling my story truthfully if I did not mention these two other homes that I have been blessed with, that give me the strength, the courage, and also the wisdom to keep the home of my children happy, harmonious, and on solid foundations.
What is the connection between Jassy, Sinaia, Sonnberg, Brasov, Bran, and today in Massachusetts? There is a golden thread that hinds them and makes them one, in time that is past, present, and future only to our imperfect, human conceptions. They are together and one in me, in the object for which I am striving: the achievement of a better, higher concept of events and of actions as mounting by slow and painful steps toward a final goal which is beyond home, country, and race; a goal which is the development of an understanding of the reasons for the happenings in a world where joy and sorrow seem so inextricably mixed. I have not yet found my answer—not wholly, because my road has not yet ended. One thing I know: the golden thread that binds a life together is love in its many and wondrous forms; love of beauty, love of children and of mankind, love of home and of country, and ultimately love of God—whose perfect Love includes all others.