I feel that I ought to begin this post with apologies – it has been several weeks since I’ve updated. And I feel like I have a pretty good reason for that lapse! On June 26th I was married to my soul mate and a few days later, my mother and I packed up all my worldly possessions (which, I must confess, did not fit into an old carpetbag as did Anne’s) and my sweet kitty Lydia, and we drove from Los Angeles to Fayetteville, Arkansas. My husband took a job near Fayetteville this past spring and he’s been here since March. I’ve been here for about ten days and I finally unpacked the last of my boxes so you could say I’m more or less settling in, albeit with significantly less optimism than Anne when she moved to Green Gables. I miss Los Angeles desperately and to say that I’m experiencing extreme culture shock would be the understatement of the century.
So now I am sitting in this coffee shop across the street from my new house (which is two doors down from where they are building a new Firestone car service place, WTF?) and this coffee shop does not have non-fat milk (WTF?). There have been a lot of WTF moments in the past ten days. I am trying my best to channel Anne’s optimism but it’s an uphill battle.
Speaking of Anne, let’s get back to chapter five.
At the end of chapter four, Marilla was taking Anne to see Mrs. Spencer to find out how the mistake occurred and to possibly send Anne back to the orphan asylum. Matthew unaccountably wants to keep her. During their drive to White Sands, Marilla asks Anne to speak a bit about her life before coming to Green Gables. Besides Anne’s indefatigable optimism, and her belief in the uplifting power of beauty, Anne’s narration also reveals what I believe is one of the key components of true happiness.
“‘Do you know,’ said Anne confidently, ‘I’ve made up my mind to enjoy this drive. It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will. Of course, you must make it up firmly. I am not going to think about going back to the asylum while we’re having our drive. I’m just going to think about the drive.’”
And that, my friends, is the secret to happiness. Right there. It’s so simple.
When you have the opportunity to experience something nice, be completely present in the moment. Ruminating on the past or fretting about the future is often an exercise in futility that prevents you from fully taking in the present. Being able to recognize those moments that deserve, or rather that you deserve, to be given the full attention of your mind and senses is, I believe, one of the most important aspects of happiness. Second, of course, to actually being able to be present in the moment.
(And obviously, everything in moderation because there are a lot of times when we need to be thinking about the past or future. That’s why I say that being able to recognize these moments is so important.)
This is a very valuable lesson I learned from Anne, and even though I’m not always able to achieve it, I think knowing that it’s often really just that simple is comforting when it seems like happiness ought to be this enormous, profound, or complicated undertaking.
So, there you have it.
Both of Anne’s parents died of fever when she was three months old. She tells Marilla that the woman who took her in as a baby, Mrs. Thomas, informed her that she “‘was the homliest baby she ever saw, I aws so scrawny and tiny and nothing but eyes, but that mother thought I was perfectly beautiful…I’m glad she was satisfied with me anyhow; I would feel so sad if she thought I was a disappointment…’”
Mrs. Thomas had an alcoholic husband and life was tumultuous for Anne there. Although she was young herself, she was obliged to watch the Thomas children, and the entire family was very poor. She eventually was shuffled off to another rather dismal family, the Hammonds, where there were eight children for her to look after. In both places, Anne was barely able to go to school, although she confides in Marilla that she managed to borrow books from other children and memorize pieces of poetry.
Now, memorizing poetry was an integral part of nineteenth century education but to me it seemed like the most novel and wonderful idea to keep terrible realities at bay. I was always a voracious reader but to be able to walk around with volumes of beautiful verse inside your head sounded like the perfect solution for the endless boredom at school and other difficulties of my life, when it wasn’t practical to whip out a book. (Such as when I didn’t have a car in LA and had to take the bus. Reading in a moving vehicle makes me very ill.)
When you look back at my notebooks from classes I particularly detested, there are lines and lines of poetry I’d memorized scribbled into the margins. Once, I had a particularly horrid art history teacher who made the entire class sit for the whole allotted time during exams, which I’d generally finish in about twenty minutes (thanks to my Academic Decathlon training, mostly). So one time, I wrote on the back of the exam a conversation between myself and Oscar Wilde, with all Wilde’s responses being actual quotes and lines from his plays.
Anyway, over the years I memorized dozens of pieces of poetry as well as bits of Shakespeare plays. I still have at least snippets of most of them, and the entirety of a few, floating around in my head and they are often still a great comfort to me. I especially recommend them for people who are very anxious or who have panic attacks. Reciting the poetry focuses your mind on something nice, plus the rhythmic nature of the verse actually can help to regulate your breathing and soothe your nerves.
By the end of the chapter, Marilla begins to inwardly question her decision to send Anne back to the orphan asylum. She recognizes that Anne’s life had been one of extreme neglect, but that she was a bright and kind child who would likely thrive in a more stable environment.
“‘Were these women – Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond – good to you?’ asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.
‘O-o-o-h,’ faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. ‘Oh, they meant to be – I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite – always.’”
I think it takes a great deal of courage and security of self to give people the benefit of the doubt in this way, wouldn’t you agree?