When I was a little girl my mother read me fairy tales from an old book that is now out of print called “Sven and Svea, or the Tales of Lapland.”
Few books stand out in my memory as clearly as that one. It could be that stories that are read to us sink in better when we are young, and particularly when we are in bed sick, which was often the case with me. At any rate, certain images and ideas were embedded in my mind.
One story was about a girl named Svea who with her brother Sven went on a perilous quest to convince the fearsome Bergsfrau to spare her family. The Bergsfrau (which I suppose might mean literally, wife of the mountain or woman of the mountain) lived way up high in the mountains in a cave and of course, it was snowing the whole time. Svea was often afraid but she was highly resourceful.
At the end, she succeeded in her task and the Bergsfrau offered to grant her one wish. She could be beautiful, wise or good. Without a moment’s hesitation, Svea requested to be beautiful. For, as she reasoned, anyone can become wise or good, but beauty is only given.
I may not have all the details right as my child’s memory is not as good as it once was. I wonder if we were given the same chance today, would we have answered as Svea did? Is the quest for beauty the ultimate goal? Or is wisdom? Or, perhaps goodness is the quality that will bring the most happiness.
I look around at my peers and especially fellow women in my country and I believe we are all under the same spell. We want to be young and beautiful and will do anything to attain such a state. Wisdom is debatable. One woman’s wisdom is another woman’s folly. Goodness is fine, of course, but in contemporary society, a bit tedious. The dangerous and the immoral fascinates us more, if you pick up any magazine or turn on television.
So, I wonder if perhaps we need to redefine what we cherish the most. Do the traditional values of compassion and kindness still hold a value for us? Or do we yearn for something more related to material success and well being?
Is mere survival enough? Having food, clothing and shelter might be the ultimate goal for the majority of humans on our planet. But for others, an elusive promise is always over the next horizon. It might be an award or honor or achievement, or challenge to be fulfilled. For some, a marriage; for others, a divorce.
All those superlatives are such slippery words. Goodness – wisdom – beauty. Everyone has their own concept. But when we are given images continually of what is considered beautiful by society at large, it is difficult to cling to one’s own conception. We each have to walk a dangerous path in life to find the true wisdom, and we each have to make a lot of choices to attain any measure of goodness. But beauty? I think we have lost the way.
What perhaps Svea knew better was that beauty is all the way through from the inside to the outside, like a perfect ripe apple just off the tree. I think she wanted what was inside of her to show on the outside. If we could apply that idea in our lives, perhaps we would have more than one wish come true.