>Cosette

>“I am Cosette.” This was the somewhat strange word I received through prayer during a support group meeting back in April. Cosette is a character in Les Misérables and a striking literary counterpart of me. She is the illegitimate daughter of Fantine, one of the destitute proletariat in nineteenth-century France. Forced to keep her daughter hidden for fear of losing her job, Fantine boards her daughter with the Thenardiers, who abuse Cosette horribly while pocketing the money her mother sends for her care. After losing her job and hiring herself out as a prostitute, Fantine is unfairly arrested but pardoned by the mayor, Monsieur Madeleine, aka Jean Valjean, the main character of the book. He promises the dying Fantine that he will fetch her daughter; when he goes to the Thenardiers he quietly pays an exorbitant price to take her away. He then dedicates his entire life to raising this girl.

Sin had me captive, but Christ was willing to “pay what I must pay to take Cosette away” (from the musical). The passage where Jean Valjean keeps handing over money to the greedy Thenardier is incredibly moving. After rescuing her, he nurtures her and she becomes a beautiful young woman, though sheltered because of the danger that stalks Valjean.

At the very end of the book, however, I saw a new dimension of Cosette that really hit home. By now, she has married Marius, with whom she fell in love at first sight. (“A Heart Beneath a Stone” is a love letter from Marius to the yet unknown Cosette and is possibly my favorite chapter in all of literature.) She is so wrapped up in her new husband that she fails to see her adoptive father’s heartbreak at losing her. His sacrifices for her never stopped: he risked life and limb to rescue Marius from the barricade, slogging four miles through the sewer to bring him to safety so that she could be happy, but he never tells her any of it for fear of giving away too much information that might incriminate his past. (The Valjean/God metaphor is, of course, far from perfect.)

How often do I do this, falling in love with some happy circumstance, some bit of creation, to the neglect of the Creator? Let me never again be like Cosette in this respect! I once prayed that God would keep away anything that might tempt me to forget Him, and I’m sure He’s done that in some situations, but He lets others pass, to give me the chance to remember Him freely. There’s a difference, I’m realizing, between never being tempted and being tempted but not giving in. It’s hard, but I’m slowly learning to feel honored to be deemed worthy of trial.

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