Thursday, June 24, 2010

An evening in Avonlea

Tonight, Thad had to work late, so the girls and I ate dinner in front of the TV (a rare occasion). We were watching some of these discs, enjoying the chance to reacquaint ourselves with this charming version of the Anne of Green Gables stories and to share and discuss them together.

In the blink of an eye, Anne seems to grow from an awkward, romantic-minded orphan to a polished young lady who handles herself well in any situation. I'm seeing a similar transformation occur in three young ladies who aren't even aware of just how fast they're growing, just how much they've matured in the last few years--and yet, just how much more they will grow in the years that lie just ahead of us.

In the fictional Anne's day, there were little clues that a girl was becoming a young woman. She stopped wearing her hair in a long pigtail under a plain straw hat, and started to pin up the large imposing knot of hair, and crown it with some whimsical yet grown-up fashion that could still be called a "hat," if somewhat imaginatively at times. She stopped wearing sturdy shoes and started wearing more elegant ones; she spent more time in front of a mirror and less time gathering flowers in a field; she started to dream not of romantic scenes involving the Lady of Shalott, but of more homely ones, involving bridal lace, a trunk full of hope-linens, and a groom whose face was still shadowed, but who was nonetheless real.

In this movie version (and perhaps in the books as well; it has been a long time since I read them) Anne thinks she wants a teaching career, along with the adventures she can find away from Avonlea. But being away from home teaches her that the grand adventure of life doesn't require one to travel far from home to live it--and that in her own dreams the dream of husband, hearth, and home may have lain dormant for a short time, but were there, waiting for her to grow up just a little more and realize that life was calling her down a path she never thought she would take.

When I talk to my daughters about adulthood (and we have these conversations more often these days, as the mystery and promise of growing up seems more and more enticing), we often speak of two different things: the job or career they might hold (and the course of study required to achieve it), and their vocations. As Catholics, we believe that all people are called to a vocation--to a way of living that goes beyond what they do and speaks more to how they serve God, which itself has a lot to do with who they are being called to be. No matter what sort of work they do, studies they take, adventures they have, ultimately their vocations will be God's call for them to follow the best path to holiness and to Him.

Things have changed a lot for women since the days of Anne. In particular, women are encouraged to think of "relationships" as things that are nice to have but not terribly essential, which do not need to be permanent, or held down by the stuffy notion "marriage" at all--but to think of their careers as the important and meaningful work that defines them regardless of the relatively unimportant thing called "family" lurking in the background. And that is something--well, something "tragical," to put it in Anne-speak.

Because it is in the nature of a woman to wrap herself up in the people whom she loves. It is something few women really lack--this nurturing, self-sacrificing impulse that wishes to pour itself out daily in service to all of her beloveds. It is something that is stifled or stunted only at a great cost to a woman. It is why, in the movie, Anne returns to Avonlea even before she realizes that she does actually love Gilbert and wants to marry him; she returns to be with the people she loves, and to cast her lot with them, for good or ill.

If my daughters are called to marriage, they will enter that state at a time when it is widely denigrated, under many different kinds of attack, and not respected as the permanent and exclusive committment it is meant to be. They will also enter it at a time when the notion of giving up one's job to stay at home (eventually) with one's (hopefully) future children will be even harder than it is today--and it's not easy today. If any of them are called to religious life, they will enter the life of a religious sister at a time when the world tends to see sisters as a quaint anomaly, a medieval throwback--and a sign of contradiction. If, by chance, they are called to remain single, they will be challenged to live lives of loving service to the community instead of the hedonistic selfishness our culture expects of single people.

But whatever their vocations end up being, I know one thing: an evening in Avonlea is a reminder that a woman is never happier than when she is surrounded by the people she loves, and can live, with great joy, a life of selfless and happy service among them.


Barbara C. said...

The second movie is an amalgam of books 2-5, if I remember correctly. The books are definitely worth a reread as they follow her as a teacher, then a college student, and then a school principal (working while her fiancee is in medical school). Then there is her transition into wife and mother with a writing career on the side.

I think those books are definitely a wonderful guide for modern womanhood.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Your daughters are blessed to have you for a mother. I have been blessed to never really have a career, so I can keep at least one eye on what my vocation might be, although God seems to change what I thought it was as fast as I figure it out. I hope I'm not just being lazy about pursuing it.

Anonymous said...

And that is something--well, something "tragical," to put it in Anne-speak.

I loved this.

Your points are spot on.