Marit paused to catch her breath, and she brushed a strand of silver hair out of her eyes. She picked up the bucket of water again and headed toward the house.
“What took you so long?” demanded Bjorn.
“I’m not young anymore, Bjorn. I’m sorry.”
“Humph,” Bjorn turned back to staring morosely into the fire while Marit filled the kettle and swung it into the flames.
While she cut thick slices of bread and set out a bowl of pickled fish, Marit remembered when climbing the fjord paths had taken little effort and packing heavy wooden buckets of water had barely beaded her brow. She had been lithe and agile then, and very much in love with Bjorn.
“Supper,” she said gently, not wishing to startle him from his reverie.
Bjorn came to the table. With no acknowledgment of Marit or the Almighty, he spread his bread with butter and stabbed chunks of fish. He gulped swigs of tea as he ate ravenously. Marit sipped quietly and nibbled at a bit of cheese.
It was always the same cautious dance, being careful not to ignite the smoldering fire within Bjorn. Marit knew his present quietness could change as quickly as shifting smoke, and for something just as trivial. The rage would erupt, and his venomous reprisals would spew at Marit. It often came as welcome relief when he sought solace from sleep or strong spirits, and she wouldn’t have to bear his fury.
What had caused his bleak despair and volatile temper? Too many years of poor fishing and failed crops on the tiny ledge above the fjord? The long, dark winters clouding his very soul?
Or was it that the midwife had come time after time to attend Marit, only to pull another fragile infant into the light of day, each child breathing its last before nightfall? Had disappointment birthed bitterness within Bjorn, coiling strangling roots around his heart?
Marit watched him as the food took effect, and Bjorn’s shaggy head began to nod. With a grunt, he heaved himself from the table and lumbered back to his place by the fire. Marit cleared the crumbs and the crockery, then sat down to mend Bjorn’s worn work clothes.
Why had they had such opposite responses to the same tragedies, she wondered? While Bjorn became increasingly hostile, Marit felt a peace that enveloped her more each day, sheltering her in a serenity that was as certain as the winds rising from the fjord, as reliable as the snows that blanketed their house each winter.
It wasn’t that Marit was insensitive about their losses. Certainly, she felt doubt when the hay didn’t grow or the barley harvest was inadequate. And each time a child had slipped away, her soul had been rent. Her empty arms had ached and her breasts had swelled needlessly. The tiny graves at the stavechurch still caused her to take a sharp breath.
When the priest had come to sprinkle each downy head, Bjorn would leave, slamming the door. He would return hours, days later, sullen and silent. Consoled by the soothing words of the priest and nourished by a growing peace that strengthened her, Marit had healed alone.
Bjorn suddenly awoke with a gruff snort, startling Marit, and the mending fell from her lap. He glared at her, as if his waking were her fault, and in a sudden epiphany, Marit wondered if he blamed her for the failed crops and the lost children. Without speaking, he moved heavily to the bedroom and shut the door.
Marit sighed and leaned into the embrace of the chair. She should be grateful for the quietness, but she knew it was not peace, but simply evidence of the chasm between Bjorn and herself, Bjorn and God. Bjorn wouldn’t know peace until he could accept his need for it.
What had the priest said? Ah, yes. Be still and know that I am God. God is God. He gives, He takes away. Always with grace, always in love.
I choose to be still. And let the peace of God, peace that I do not understand, reign in my heart.
The fire’s glowing embers danced to a silent lullaby and cast a youthful blush on Marit’s face. Her eyes closed and her breathing slowed.
I see Your face, God. I hear You. I hear my heart. Be still... be still...
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