By Annie Holmquist
Christian Action League
April 14, 2023
Roadside billboards are intentionally eye-catching, seeking to gain the one or two seconds of attention a driver has as he zips by on his way to work or an errand. I’ve seen some pretty shocking billboards over the years, but the one I saw while driving the other day reached a whole new level.
This billboard wasn’t shocking for the image it contained—two toothbrushes sitting in a cup. Instead, it was shocking because of its—pardon the oxymoron, but it’s the best way I can think to describe it—subtle overtness. “Conserve energy,” it said, and then, “Shack up.”
As I considered this billboard, I had to admit that its message is really nothing new. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the message advanced by the Communist Party in the 1920s and ‘30s, which former communist spy Whittaker Chambers masterfully depicts in his autobiography “Witness.”
In the Communist Party, Chambers writes, marriage was a loathsome institution, regarded as a “bourgeois convention.” Instead of traditional marriage, communists “sanctioned and, in fact, favored” something called “party marriages,” an apparent euphemism for what our billboard above now crudely terms shacking up. In other words, promiscuity was par for the course in the Marxist/communist circles of the time.
Because of this attitude, two young ladies who ran with Chambers’ communist crowd, but were not communists themselves, were mocked “for their inviolable ‘prudery,’” meaning that they did not follow the promiscuous communist lifestyle. One of these was Esther Shemitz. She eventually became Chambers’s wife, but not without resistance from those in the Communist Party.
It was a good thing for Chambers—and all of us—that the Party didn’t win out and prevent his marriage, for their union proved a source of strength and encouragement for the many trials he encountered in the years ahead. And in the hints Chambers drops about his wife throughout his 700-page tome, we see some practical elements of love and marriage that each of us can take to heart and apply in our own lives.
In Esther, Chambers found a wife who could make a home regardless of her surroundings. Before marrying, Esther lived with her roommate in a little house in a New York tenement district. Despite the fact that these dwellings were labeled “tuberculosis traps,” Esther and her roommate were “clever with their hands and had remodeled the interior of the little house so that, when the fire was burning in the living-room fireplace, it was like a cozy farmhouse in the heart of the slum.” Esther also disregarded her poverty, working diligently and living frugally in order to make ends meet.
Once the two married, Esther became a supportive wife, willing to follow her husband wherever he went, even when they and their two children were forced into hiding when Chambers left the Communist Party. She also refused to leave him in later years even when the pipes froze in the car, the furnace was smoking, and all they could do to keep the children warm was pile blankets and coats on them.
Such support, however, did not mean she was a quiet mouse who never expressed her opinion. She did the latter when Chambers was offered a position in the communist underground in their early years of marriage, begging him not to take the job, but promising not “to stand in the way of anything” he thought was right. She also defended him, even when Chambers took his high-pressure stand in the Alger Hiss trial, seeking to expose the communist infiltrators in the U.S. government.
But perhaps the most precious aspect of their marriage, at least in Chambers’s eyes, was the gratitude and respect his wife showed him. He admitted to keeping a letter she wrote many years before, treasuring it by storing it in the pages of his Bible. The letter read:
Dearest Loved One,
I want to tell you how very proud we are of you and how much we love you. You have achieved so much in such a short time. It probably doesn’t seem so short to you, but when I remember that only so short a time ago you made your little trips to Center Street that we might eat, I am filled with the marvel of you and the tremendous urge that kept you at your job which has often been too humiliating and difficult. I naturally cannot see the entire picture as you have gone through it, but I could guess at agonies you have never expressed. Through it all, you have been the kindest, sweetest of husbands and most loving and thoughtful parent.
In a time when marriages are falling apart and promiscuity is so rampant that it is promoted from roadside billboards, the love story of Whittaker and Esther Chambers should give us hope and encouragement. It reminds us that we should be spouses who stick with our mates through thick and thin, who respect one another and express that respect through visible acts of gratitude, and who are committed to making home a place of refuge and comfort, regardless of our physical surroundings.
And for those singles who feel that finding a traditional, like-minded mate is hopeless in this messed up world of ours, just look at Whittaker and Esther. Even in the midst of the Marxist-minded communist camp, Chambers found a domestic-minded woman who wouldn’t bow to the promiscuous society around her. It’s likely that even in our messed-up generation, there are still individuals who have not bowed the knee to this world’s idols and will be loving, faithful, and solid mates in this heartsick and lonely world.
This article was originally published by The Epoch Times and posted here with permission.