As with every new year, we find ourselves drafting lists of resolutions. Eat healthier. Wake up early. Finish that novel. Run. Get to know that person. Keep your room clean. Practice daily. We all know these resolutions and, more likely than not, we’ve all broken them. Every year it seems we make the same sort of resolutions and the disappointing pattern becomes- well- dull. Perhaps it is time we made some different resolutions and, since, coming up with them can be a struggle, I’ve managed to poll our favorite literary characters for input. (How, you ask? Well I have all of these characters on speed-dial, clearly.) Maybe this year is the year to make a resolution inspired by the wisdom of literary legends, and- who knows?- maybe this will be the year where you’ll finally keep your resolution to the end!
“What is your top New Year’s Resolution?” as answered by our favorite literary characters:
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” –Anne of Green Gables
Anne Shirley: Cherish dear friends and make new ones.
“There is a stubbornness in me that can never bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises above any attempt to intimidate me.” –Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet: Be less concerned with the opinions of others.
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” –Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Share feelings honestly and respectfully.
“My mind…rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis…I crave for mental exaltation.” –Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of the Four
Sherlock Holmes: Be ever curious and value opportunities to learn.
“Courage is knowing you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” –To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus Finch: Persevere despite all challenges.
“Tomorrow is another day.” –Gone with the Wind
Scarlett O’Hara: Don’t dwell on the failures of the day; tomorrow brings another chance.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” –Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre: Appreciate freedom and enjoy independence.
“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea- any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Good bye!” –The Hobbit
Bilbo Baggins: Be more open to adventures.
“My principal sin is doubt. I doubt everything, and am in doubt most of the time.” –Anna Karenina
Konstantin Levin: Let go of self-doubt.
What’s my resolution? My answer is “all of the above.” Happy New Year everyone! Let’s make this an exciting chapter in our lives!
Standing at the checkout at the grocery store, I found myself incredibly bored having forgotten both my book and my phone. Most people in such a predicament would probably do one of two things: 1) make small-talk with fellow shoppers or 2) flip idly through the magazines on the racks. Similar to Mr. Darcy, I am unskilled at small-talk and what was I to say? “Oh, hello. I see you too are buying high-fiber granola. Good choice.” How about no. I’d rather not be the creepy granola girl. So that left me with the second option, but I wasn’t quite sure about this one either. As much as I hate to admit it, I was interested to see how Kaitlyn from The Bachelorette was holding up (watching her crazy drama is anthropology, okay? Don’t judge me.) However, were hot dating tips and fad diet plans really expected to hold my attention for more than about twenty seconds? That said, I was back to people-watching, wondering why the guy in front of me was buying only a gallon of milk and a giant bag of salt-water taffy. And then, taffy guy was forgotten as an idea came to me: a magazine filled with, instead of celebrities and gossip, book characters and authors and such! To my dismay, I have not the abilities or means to produce such a magazine on my own, but this blog is a good start, right? So I thought it might be fun (at least to my nerdy self…maybe not anyone else, but who knows!) to publish magazine-style articles based on books and thus, I present, the first post of my new Literary Living category.
In an exclusive interview with best friends Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, I was fortunate to learn their FiveSigns that You've Found Your Best Friend:
1. You knew right away that you’d be friends. Call it intuition or a sheer determination to like someone, the minute you two met, you knew that you were kindred spirits. Whether or not you were close right away doesn’t matter. Some, like Anne, lose no time in initiating a friendship, while others, like Diana, are more cautious. Still, there is that initial inkling that you share similarities, souls alike enough to be what Anne refers to as “kindred spirits.”
2. You remember the little things.Anne knows Diana’s weakness for chocolate cake and Diana knows Anne’s tendency to become too wrapped up in her thoughts. In the same way, when you’ve found a kindred spirit, you will probably remember what his or her favorite artist is to listen to when he/she is feeling down and, similarly, he or she will know what color you like to wear best or even what your favorite percentage of dark chocolate is.
3. You have each others’ backs.When Diana was picked on by the boys, Anne chased Charlie Sloane down to teach him a lesson. When Anne was nervous for her exams, Diana came with her for support. Even in small ways, like bringing over chocolate when one is sad or giving an understanding smile during a rough day, true friends will always know when they are needed and make every effort to be there.
4. You may not be completely similar, but you appreciate each others’ differences.Anne was an ambitious dreamer; Diana a comfort-loving nurturer. Both were imaginative, intelligent, and kind, but they were still different. Yet, Diana’s level-headed nature and Anne’s spontaneity provided balance and both appreciated it. Think of all the sets of friends in literature: Sherlock and John, Jane and Elizabeth, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Merry and Pippin, the Mysterious Benedict Society, and especially Anne and Diana! Each group had introverts and extroverts, nurturers and sass-masters, thinkers and doers, and these differences were acknowledged to be essential.
5. You sometimes seem to be speaking a language all of your own.The Haunted Wood, Mr. Blythe, cherry cordial. Anne and Diana had so many unique memories that they could probably have carried on conversations that only they would be able to understand. In the same way, when you’ve found a true kindred spirit, your conversations might consist more of awkward facial expressions, references to inside jokes, and perhaps snippets of musical numbers.
For the fun of it, Anne and Diana shared another tidbit: When you’ve found a true friend, you never really have to say goodbye because “kindred spirits are always together in spirit.”
Once more, I find myself in the uncomfortable situation of actually enjoying my homework. A lot. I know that many people in my class find this irritating, but I can’t help it; I like to write, so naturally I will like an assignment that requires me to write a short story using the literary elements that we studied this year. As my story turned out better than I expected, I thought that perhaps I would share it here on my blog, but I will add this disclaimer: I am rather shy about my stories (unlike blog posts and essays which are open to anyone and everyone and their cousins’ pets) and thus I am nervous about sharing this little scribbling with the world. Well, maybe not the world… I’m nervous about sharing my scribbling with my whopping double-digit number of followers. That said, read it if you will, but don’t judge me too harshly; I’m not a Montgomery or Bradbury by any means, although those authors may or may not make appearances in this tale…
Without further adieu, I give you “The Window Washer.”
The Window Washer
The first time he saw her, in the library on a school day like every other, he tried to ignore her, pretending not to feel the intensity of her gaze upon his face. If it were not for this penetrating stare, she would have been remarkably easy to look through; she was almost translucent, in a way. That is, if a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human could be translucent. She was like mist, for just as one can squint through mist yet still feel its cool caress against the skin, it was easy to look beyond her, with her powder-white skin and hair the color of a noon sun’s rays, but it was impossible to ignore the burn of her clear, clear eyes. If eyes are truly the windows of the soul, hers had no curtains to dull her spirit’s face as it peered out, smiling at the world around it.
The boy edged past her, not daring to let his soul wave at hers from behind its shades. Instead, he drew them further shut, trying to block the light that seemed to be streaming from her as lamplight from an open door. Crouching down at the end of the aisle, he began to search the lowest shelf.
“B…b-r-a-d…” he muttered to himself, still uncomfortably conscious of the girl behind him, watching as he searched for an author whose name he had already forgotten. Hopping a few inches to the right, he knelt, holding the shelf for balance, and scanned the middle row of books. Still not finding or remembering the author he had been sent after by his teacher, he grunted in frustration and hoisted himself to his feet.
Without warning, a warmth pressed gently into his shoulder. He looked up with a start and just as quickly ducked his gaze back to the floor, blinking rapidly like a child who has mistakenly stared into the sun. The pressure of the girl’s hand, so tiny and fragile, increased as if to insist that he look at her.
“What do you want?” he asked defensively. Thankfully no librarian was nearby for he had not bothered to lower his voice.
The girl gave no audible reply, but with her other hand, equally tiny and fragile, reached in front of him and pointed to a book so slim and short and dark that he had failed to see it hidden amidst the others.
The boy squinted at the faded name printed on its spine and after a moment, recognized it as the author whose name he had forgotten: Bradbury. Bending forward, the girl eased it from its resting place and held it out to the boy. He stared blankly at its worn cover, where an illustrated fire burned as brightly as it had since first printed and the shadow of a book flapped its covers helplessly amid the printed smoke. She gave it a gentle shake as if to say “Take it,” and dumbly, he grasped it, rose, and hurried away, never once meeting her gaze.
The boy awoke with a jerk. He had been having a nightmare. As his heart resumed its regular tempo, he cautiously turned his head to his right as if afraid that the monsters that haunted his dreams were still nearby. Instead, all he saw was a book, illuminated around its edges by the glow of his alarm clock.
“3:00 am,” read the neon blue letters of the clock.
“Everything always seems worse at 3:00am,” a silent voice quoted. He had read that line just the evening before in the book that lay beside him, another book that the silent girl had given him, one filled with the beauty of a distant Canadian town and the dreams of a fiery-haired girl with a temper to match her braids.
He had balked when the girl had followed him to the fiction section, turned her flashlight eyes on him, and pointed to this book; its cover image, so unlike the exiting flames of the first novel, was so pastoral, so…girly. That was the only way that he could describe it and was so doubtful of this selection (not in the least because he was decidedly against reading outside of that required to pass his remedial English class) that he had opened his mouth to protest.
“No, thanks,” he was about to say, holding up his hands and backing away from the girl and the paperback she held as one might from a coiled snake. But she was only- in appearance at least- a slender girl in a flowery blouse with a slight smile that might have won his immediate affection had he only had the courage to look at her face.
She was not to be deterred and softly but gently took his raised hand and pressed the tiny volume into it, closing his fingers around it and peering at him intently. His eyes peeked for a fraction of a moment into hers, but again he could not withstand the gleaming of her open soul. When he looked up again, she was gone, leaving only the book nestled in his arms.
Now it was sleeping on his nightstand between its thin covers, but he was learning that if he just cracked them open and gave the words his attention, a beautiful world of people and sights and emotions he had never before experienced would awaken all at once to comfort him in the face of nightmares, easing his rapid heartbeat, providing a means of escape.
Squinting at the letters of the book by the dim glow of the clock, still blinking “3:00am,” he watched a sunrise on Prince Edward Island from the garden of a little home with a green roof and a laughing girl named Anne.
The passport to Prince Edward Island fell with a soft thud into the book drop beneath the library counter. As he was turning to exit, the boy paused, swiveled slowly, and walked past the cluster of tables where fellow students worked or procrastinated and into the fiction section. Perhaps without even knowing it, he smiled softly as he passed the pastel sisters of the book he had once condemned as too feminine.
As he stooped to examine this shelf, a sparkle caught his eye. The girl with the crystalline eyes blinked at him through an empty spot on the shelf. She was surprised at first, but the boy did not notice the brief flicker behind her lashes as he averted his gaze in embarrassment and, although it was their third meeting, an inexplicable fear of her piercing gaze. A moment passed and he could still feel the prickle of her stare on his forehead. Finally, he cleared his throat, a harsh sound against the whispering and rustling of the library, and mumbled a greeting.
“Hello,” was the reply, and, as she spoke, he realized that he had never heard her voice before, but, somehow, she had spoken volumes. Her voice, in that single word, was as intense and clear as her eyes, though not nearly so alarming. There was a softness to it that reminded him of the breezes he’d imagined while reading the second book and it stirred something within him. For a split second, a spark leapt into his eyes too. It faded quickly, but the girl saw its ember and spoke again.
“Come here.” It was not a command, but an invitation.
“Why?” No amount of gruffness could veil the curiosity in the boy’s voice.
“Come and see.” The flame in her eyes danced to the lilt in her voice, hinting of a secret joy that she ached to share.
He rose and hurried around the shelf to where she squatted, several books piled on the floor around her while she held one like a child in her arms. It was open and she was flipping through its pages, pausing every couple of turns to skim a line and breathe deeply, as though drinking in the words with the scent of the grey pages.
“What’ve you got there?” the boy asked.
She just smiled and held it up for him to see its cover, where the silhouette of a man with a long nose, magnifying glass, and tobacco pipe was embossed in a dull bronze. The rest of the book was black, aside from the bold title.
The boy nodded appreciatively. Somewhere he had heard of this story… television, maybe? He could not remember.
“Is it good?” The rapt expression on the girl’s face as she read another page answered this question.
“What’s it about?” he tried again. This time, she closed it with a snap and held it out to him.
“That’s a mystery for you to solve,” she said, her voice lowered and filled with intrigue. Her eyes twinkled playfully as he took the book from her outstretched hands.
Several weeks passed before the boy returned to the library; it was a hefty book that she had chosen for him, after all, and there had been many cases for him and Sherlock to solve. When he finally returned with the finished book, there was a marked change about his eyes that at first glance was not obviously for the better. Large bags circled them in purply puffs and to outsiders, these bags might indicate insomnia or depression or the incurable procrastination that ails most adolescents, but if they had bothered to look beyond the sagging eyelids and the reddened whites, as the girl did, they would discover that these were not just the bags of a sleepless teenager, living off of caffeine and late-night cram sessions, but book bags, albeit of a different sort. These “book bags” were caused by late-night reading and early-morning rereading and reading at every spare second in-between. And, packed within them, there was a glow, like that of embers, waiting only for one final breath of oxygen before bursting into glorious flames.
The girl saw all of this, for her eyes too had once undergone that metamorphosis of readership, and she approached the boy at once when he reentered her domain.
“Hello!” he said, his voice less gruff than usual. His bloodshot eyes peeked into her stainless-window eyes from behind their fading curtains. Hers shone back, but somehow, despite- or perhaps because of- many nights of squinting in a darkened room at the many letters of many words on many pages, the intensity did not burn as much as it had at first.
“Enjoyed adventuring with Mr. Holmes?” she nodded to the book he held.
He broke their gaze and looked down at the book, fumbling absently with its pages, every one of which had been read in full, despite frequent requisite visits to online dictionaries.
“Yes, thanks,” he replied and then, on impulse, added, “Is there anything else you’d suggest?”
She gasped in excitement, clasping her cream-colored hands together and opening her mouth to speak. But, as suddenly as she’d opened it, she closed it and bit her lip in thought, as if struggling to contain the flood of authors and titles that threatened to burst forth. A few seconds ticked by. The boy again sent the finished book down the book drop and turned back to face the girl, who continued to look at him, the light of her extraordinary eyes dimmed to a warm fervency.
“I do,” she said at last, “but I think you should try choosing something for yourself.”
Long after the girl had left, he had stood lost in the maze of shelves, trying in vain to choose a book- just one book- but finding himself as helpless as he had been on his first visit. This time, however, he was not wholly blind to the arrangement of the authors and he stumbled back to the “B”s, back to the first author, back to the beginning.
But then, something flashed across the corner of his vision; it struck against the window of his soul and refused to be ignored. He stopped, staring at the book with the red-lettered title that seemed to shout at him from its perch. It called down to him from the top shelf, where it seemed exalted above the others. Perhaps it was its smooth spine, its creamy covers, or its bold title that grabbed at his attention and would not let go, but whatever it was that had distinguished it from the other books was unimportant; it appealed to some yearning in the boy’s soul and, while two months ago he would have shrugged off this entreat, he did not hesitate to answer it now.
The boy strode directly to the shelf and, standing on his tiptoes, pulled the book from its spot, heedless of its neighbors as they slide sideways in its absence. He marched to the desk and checked it out without bothering to read the synopsis on its back cover. Throughout the rest of the day, the bus ride home, and the tedious work of the evening, the book sat patiently next to the boy, secure in the knowledge that it would be read soon.
That night, chores done, homework finished, the moment that boy and book had been awaiting arrived. Picking it up tenderly, he sat on the edge of his bed, slowly drew it open, and turned to the very first line of the first chapter.
And then, as he read that first line, the veil was torn and his mind set free. The dusty panes of loneliness and worry that had dimmed his eyes were shattered and his soul shone from its windows as brilliantly as that of the girl who had washed away the grime of the world with words.
A week later, another young man entered the library, downtrodden, suspicious, and alone. He sat concealed behind a corner shelf, staring blankly at the bruised palms of his hands, when a voice broke in on his murky thoughts.
“Hello there,” it said. “I have something you need.”
Turning his shaggy head, which spoke sorrowfully of neglect and despair, he saw, crouched down beside him, another boy, with two shining eyes, two hands, and a book.
You nod vaguely, but inside you’re screaming, “Since when does ‘two inches’ mean ‘take it all’?”
You came in wanting a simple trim (freshen up the layers, cut the split-ends, the usual), but one ambitious beautician and several pairs of scissors later you’re sitting open-mouthed in a nest of your own hair.
I’ve been there.
We’ve all been there.
In fact, haircuts-gone-wrong are so common that some of the most beloved characters in fiction have also been there and can offer great advice for getting over the horror of your hair disaster. So here you go, 7 Stepsto Overcoming Your Hair Crisis, brought to you by some of your favorite fictional ladies:
1. Recognize that your new ‘do is…unexpected.
Especially if you’ve had the same hairstyle for a long time, change can be shocking and it’s perfectly normal to be startled. On the bright side, unlike Rapunzel, your hair probably did not turn brown and lose its power.
2. Cry a little if you want.
It’s okay to miss your hair; it was a part of you. And, like Anne Shirley, it’s okay to shed a few tears. After all, you were promised a “beautiful raven black” and given a sickly green; that is a serious disappointment!
3. Be prepared for others to notice the change.
Even if you cut your hair for the best of reasons, people will notice the difference. Sometimes this is affirming, but other times…not so much. There will always be that one Theodore (“Laurie”) Laurence who sees your new cut and blurts out “You look a little like a porcupine, Jo, but l like it.” Learn to take these awkward acknowledgements as compliments; it will help ease the self-consciousness of having everyone commenting on your hair.
4. Accessorize and experiment!
Yeah, your new hair may not be your best look, but there is a whole world of accessories that can make it more, well, you! Rapunzel totally rocks her short hair with the crown adding some sparkle. (And no, her hair isn’t perfect just because she’s animated…it’s obviously due to the accessorizing.) If headbands and clips aren’t your thing, try other styles (straight, curly, braided, etc.).
5. Take advantage of this opportunity to reinvent your style.
Green hair wasn’t ideal, but Anne used it as a chance to exchange her girlish braids for a sassy short cut and, later, sophisticated up-dos. Cutting her hair was a turning point in her life, marking the end of her rough childhood and the beginning of better years. Chopping off your hair probably won’t be as climactic as this, but it is still a chance for you to alter your style. Short cuts especially can look both hip and vintage if paired with the right outfit! (I speak from experience on that.)
6. Remember that it’ll grow back…unless you’re Rapunzel.
Unfortunately, Rapunzel’s hair did not grow back, but yours will! Brushing and brushing and brushing like Rapunzel might help it grow faster too. There are tons of ways to boost hair growth (try searching Pinterest!) but time is definitely the best remedy. Your hair will grow again and be as beautiful as ever. Meanwhile, Flynn Rider has a thing for brunettes and short-hair… 😉
7. Be confident.
Fake it ’til you make it applies to this situation; if you act like you are comfortable with your new haircut, others will accept it and you will get used to it. If Anne could make short hair look good even after dying it green, Jo could sell her hair despite it being her best feature, and Rapunzel could love her non-magical locks, then you can survive and rock this hair crisis. Who knows, maybe you’ll start a new trend? After all, somebody somewhere was the first person to get a pixie cut and now they are everywhere!
Leonardo da Vinci is remembered as one of the most ingenious men to have walked the earth. Even those unfamiliar with art recognize his name as the painter of the “Mona Lisa” and the innovator of ideas ahead of his time. And yet, this man, the epitome of a Renaissance man, believed that simplicity was the highest level of sophistication, that simplicity was the most apt means of communicating the most complex subjects.
I agree with Signor Da Vinci.
You see, this week I have been thinking a great deal about the relationship between simplicity of expression and beauty of thought and have realized that, when it comes down to it, they are inseparable. I sang in my regional honor choir last week and one of the songs we performed was a stunning piece of music, but when our director asked us what the lyrics meant, nobody had a clue. Normally, I am quite good at either discerning or inventing a meaning for the words I read, but even I was at a loss to explain what bizarre lines such as “born of scorpion need” could mean. Although beautiful when obscured by strong piano accompaniment and rumbling bass voices, these lyrics made no sense on their own; they were too vague to effectively convey their message and thus their potential beauty was lost.
In contrast, my favorite song from our concert, a joyful piece by Dan Forrest titled “The Music of Living”, was a rather basic work of poetry when examined apart from its music. It reads:
Giver of life,
Creator of all that is lovely,
Teach me to sing the words to Your song.
I want to feel the music of living!
And not fear the sad songs,
But from them make new songs
Composed of both laughter and tears.
Giver of life,
Creator of all that is lovely,
Teach me to dance to the sounds of Your world.
I want to move in rhythm with Your plan.
Help me to follow Your leading!
This song is joy! It is praise to God sung by His creation! It is a jubilant dance and encouragement between the faithful and a confession of dependence on His infinite strength! But even more than that, this song is simple and through this blessed simplicity conveyed infinitely more meaning and beauty than any amount of obscure metaphors and “scorpion needs.”
Simplicity’s sophistication is found in prose as well. Take this quote for instance:
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
I don’t know about you, but I read that and it took a moment to process. Even apart from the fault in this math (pun so intended it hurts…), this quote was wordy and unbelievably eloquent for a teenage character. I got the idea behind this passage: it’s a profession of love. But I was not left with any resounding emotion by this excerpt and within five minutes of reading it could not tell you what exactly it even said. I know many idolize John Green for his eloquence, but in this instance it seemed to get in the way of the raw emotion behind this scene. (Feel free
to disagree; this is just my opinion.)
“I don’t want diamond sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
It does not get much simpler than that and yet in those two brief sentences, Anne shares her complete love for Gilbert; she no longer dreams of castles or fairy tales, just him. If that is not true love, what is? And somehow L.M. Montgomery conveyed all that in twelve simple words. Beautiful. Crystal clear in wording and beautiful in meaning.
In my own life, simplicity has won out as the most sophisticated art form as well. Although I do not generally share my drafts of stories or scribblings of poetry, they have grown, opposite of what most would expect, more simple over the years and even the last few months. Where I used to dream up complex compositions of passionate lyrics and “artistically” dissonant music, I now find delight in honest writing and pure melodies. Where once I would have generated philosophical-sounding gibberish, I now dream up simple refrains such as,
“Let the red roses grow and fade; I’d rather have daisies on a rainy day.”
Even this line from my writing journal attests to the superiority of simplicity: red roses for passion are elaborate but predictable and when it comes down to it, daisies for no reason are simple but sweet.
Granted, I should add as a disclaimer that I adore complexity within literature and music. I love speculating and analyzing, but I find that the most poignant pieces of art tend to be the most simple, as seen in the power of “The Music of Living” or Anne of Green Gables, both of which spoke to me on a personal level and will remain a part of my artistic soul forever, whereas other, more “refined” works of music and literature will be sang, read, and forgotten because in all their complexity, they failed to have the impact of pure simplicity.
To sum up, often overly-flowery writing proves unnecessary; use too much artistic license and the artistry itself is diminished, try too hard to be deep and you’ll end up sounding shallow.
There are two tales to this post, one leading into the other. This is what literature enthusiasts would call a “frame tale” structure, but let’s not clutter this post, intended to be sweet and heartwarming, with literary devices. Instead, let’s begin with the first story…
It was nearly midnight, but my eyes, as usual, would not rest without being lulled to sleep by the words of books. So, stealing across to my bookshelf, I skimmed its neat rows in the dim light for something to read. But I did not want just anything; it needed to be something special… Tolkien? Too heavy. Austen? Too flowery. Poe? Too dark. Even these, among my favorite authors, were not the companions that I sought. Disappointed, I sat back on my bed and then, in a flash of inspiration, remembered the slender green volume that I had never gotten around to reading, waiting patiently under my nightstand.
Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
By L.M. Montgomery
It was cute and light and adorable, so I read several of its stories before falling asleep. Reading this book was like receiving a Christmas present and I am so glad I waited until now to read it. (Actually, I just forgot that I owned it, but shhh…) In this story collection, Montgomery writes of a woman sharing the bounty of her picnic basket with suffering strangers, a girl sacrificing her only valuable possession for the happiness of her cousins, and forgiveness restoring friendships. On the surface, these are just good “chicken soup” tales, but I realize that they are also tales of miracles.
When I say “miracles”, I do not mean huge displays of splendor, but tiny instances of service and joy that often get overlooked, but that Montgomery had a special talent for finding and recognizing in her writing. I seek to do the same in my own writing and it is here where the frame story comes into play. You see, the reason I find these stories so touching and lovable is that they are so clearly real. I do not know if they all happened exactly as L.M. Montgomery penned them, but they are distinctly believable in their displays of everyday Christmas miracles. (I know that sounds like a Hallmark card, but it is true!)
Today, I stumbled upon a Montgomery-esque Christmas tale myself…
My great-grandparents, both in their mid-nineties, live in an assisted living facility. My grandparents (who are pretty great, but not old enough to have the official title) heard that many of the residents of the care center do not have any family left and would be spending the holidays alone. Being the generous-hearted people that they are, they spent their day at the facility handing out gifts to these lonely people and invited me to come along.
As an introvert, I was uncomfortable speaking to and giving gifts to strangers, but, as a musician, I was in my element performing for them. So, forming a rather eclectic quartet of two basses and two sopranos, three friends and I set off to sing, praying that we would successfully sight-read our carols and – I’ll admit- hoping that the elderly residents would be either so tickled or so hard-of-hearing that they would not mind our lack of practice.
They did not.
Well, at least the ones who let us sing for them did not. There was the occasional woman who, upon being asked if she would let us sing for her, replied “I don’t think so,” and shut the door before we could sing the pickup note, but on the whole everyone was gracious. We were offered donations, candies (probably those little strawberry hard candies that everybody has yet nobody buys…), and, by one insistent man, cupcakes.
“No, thank you!” we replied to every offer. “We just wanted to spread some Christmas cheer!” Our listeners would look at us in surprise when we did not ask for anything in return and we would bow and “Merry Christmas” our way down the halls.
None of this really resembles Montgomery’s stories yet, but I suspect that if I had stuck around to hear what happened between the residents after we left, tiny Christmas miracles might have revealed themselves. Even from what little I saw, there were hints of miracles that made my heart happy.
For instance, there was the man in the wheel chair who beamed through our carols, cradling his Christmas gift in his arms. Then there was the woman who declared “This is the best way to wake up from a nap!” and proceeded to hug her friend, who wiped her eyes and wished us all of God’s blessings. And of course, how could I forget the single woman, perhaps a widow, who stood in the doorway with an expression of pure surprise and delight as we sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”? Even a husband and wife, who were said to be deaf by a man I assumed to be their son, smiled at us and clapped enthusiastically when we finished our song. And then there was the woman who asked us how much we had to practice to sound so beautiful (we quickly offered to sing another carol to avoid admitting that we had not practiced at all) and after her came the table of friends who applauded even after our truly horrible reading of “Silent Night.” Most poignant to me, however, was when my ninety-six-year-old great-grandfather, who has been more quiet and tired than before lately, laughed aloud, pretended to conduct us as we sang for him and my great-grandmother, and then bragged about us for the remainder of the afternoon to anyone who would listen.
Yes, joy resounded louder than our four voices in the halls of the senior living center. You might not think so to look at the dim rooms and quiet common areas, but behind the doors hung with wreaths and decked with an odd assortment of stuffed animals, holly, and stockings, lived men and women who, by hearing a simple carol, were able to remember Christmases past. As one tearful woman said, “Oh, this brings back so many memories. It’s simply beautiful.”
And it was simply beautiful. We certainly were not the Cambridge singers, being just four teenagers, but even our humble songs stirred memories long forgotten and warmed hearts that might not have been expecting visitors. So really, there were miracles today, and, though on perhaps a smaller scale, they were miracles yet.
Back to the frame of my story and reading Christmas with Anne and other Holiday Stories. The characters continue to be delightful, generous, souls and their stories equally lovable. It makes me want to go back and hug those who we sang for today, especially those who gave my friends and me a bad case of “the feels” with their shows of emotion. It also reminds me to be grateful for those who came with me and helped to make today special for so many, so I must post a brief shout-out here to my loving grandparents and great-grandparents, and especially my fellow carolers, who braved sight-reading and high notes in order to spread Christmas cheer.
“Let’s sum up… a little house, white and green or to be made so… with trees, preferably birch and spruce… a window looking seaward… on a hill. That sounds very possible… but there is one other requirement. There must be magic about it, Jane… lashings of magic… and magic houses are scarce, even on the Island. Have you any idea at all what I mean, Jane?”
~Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
During a visit to my favorite book shop (Changing Hands), I met a kindred spirit who, like me, has an obsession with the adorable works of Miss Lucy Maude Montgomery. She introduced me to Jane, a literary sister of my beloved Anne and Emily. Needless to say, her namesake book, Jane of Lantern Hill, served to deepen my yearning for Prince Edward Island. (I would venture to call this yearning “homesickness,” but I unfortunately was born in plain, unromantic Phoenix, Arizona.)
This sweet book, simpler in style than some of Montgomery’s other works, renewed my longing to plant a garden, swim in the chilly sea, pick wildflowers along the coast, climb barn roofs, bake pies, run barefoot through green pastures, wake up to a blossoming tree outside my window, and watch the elfin flames of a driftwood fire on a starlit night. Somehow, I fear, the scorching 110 degree heat of my hometown just does not compare to these charming P.E.I. summers described in Jane of Lantern Hill. If only I could sail to the Island in body as well as imagination…but in this instance, reading can only take me so far…