Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Dignity of Refusal

Welcome back to the Empathy Series! We are at week 8 and I am happy to introduce to you another guest from the Story Community. Please give Leigha Cann a warm welcome and feel free to visit her blog and/or leave a comment to show your appreciation. I am honored to be hosting these insightful stories.

The Dignity of Refusal

I was born of royal blood. A Babylonian daughter. Descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. Child of Belshazzar. I have seen how tyrants rule. I have seen my father killed. I have been stolen away in the night, a prize for a Persian prince. I know how men undress conquered nations.

But you probably don’t know that. You probably think of me only as the prologue. A footnote in another’s saga. The foil to the blessed heroine.

They have trampled my name. Twisted it to mean vanity, to mean wicked. My name means beauty, but I am so much more. My name means uncertain, but I changed that.

There is always a cost for defiance.

The King called for me. To enter his chamber, where nobles and servants alike, reclined on cushions of silver, their golden goblets heavy with royal wine. I was summoned to entertain them wearing nothing but the crown of a country that was not my own. I did not come from opulence. I was opulence.

They came for me. Surrounded by the wives of noblemen, the daughters of civil servants. And I felt the weight of their eyes, anticipating my response. Sometimes, it takes more muscle to stay than to go. “You tell the King that I will not come.”

No. The syllable reverberated from Ethiopia to India. One word, with so much power. And it frightened those men. Shook them to their core. This would be the downfall of society. Women would follow my lead. Wives would cease to obey their husbands. For to disobey a man was to disobey the empire. The keepers of history have sought an explanation for my defiance. I must have been grossly disfigured. Or perhaps an angel attached to me a tail, rendering me hermaphroditic. Surely, no woman could cause such a rebellion. But it was I, Vashti, Babylonian Princess, Queen of Persia and Media, woman. You tell the King that I will not come.

So a decree was issued and sent to all one hundred and twenty seven provinces of the empire. Each man, the king of his own household. And I, never again to appear before His Highness.

No one calls me the hero of a nation. The book does not bear my name. But without me there is no Esther.

Esther and I are two sides of the same coin. We both gained our title because of our beauty. We both defied a King. Her by going, I by staying. Both actions equally brave.

They banished me. Took back their crown and royal title. No one knows what came of me after this. No search of the Bible or the Midrash or ancient Greek texts will provide you a clear answer. Some say I was vanquished from the kingdom. Others say I was sent to live out my days in the royal harem. Some have suggested that I later returned to a position of power after my husband’s death. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the gift I have given to the women of Persia and Media, and every woman since. The dignity of refusal, the blessing of no.

Before Esther rescued the nation of Israel, I gave the daughters of Persia a voice.

You can read the story of Queen Vashti in Esther, Chapter 1.

Leigha is a recovering Sunday School Scholar, who is learning to embrace questions without answers. An MSW candidate and lover of words, she believes in the power of narratives, both the personal and the collective. Leigha writes her words and lives her life on the East Coast of Canada. She blogs at and is on twitter @leighacann


  1. I'd never thought about Vashti much before because, as you say, she seemed to be just a footnote. I love your perspective, though. Your empathy really takes me to a place of reflection, and gives me a new appreciation for the characters who linger in the details. Thank you for highlighting her story.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts. As Jamie mentioned, I never thought or heard much about Vashti either except that she disobeyed the king.. But you have brought her to life as a real woman who was being used and she was tired of it. And yes, she and Esther defied the king and really God used both of them to bring about His will.


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