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“Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
That quote greets me every morning. I stump downstairs to the kitchen, dump some food in the cat’s bowls and fumble around for the light switch to turn on the dimmed lights beneath the cupboards. Next to that light switch is a square marbled white board upon which I’ve copied this quote from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Some days I stand and look at it a moment. Other days I hardly register it’s there before turning the kettle on for coffee.
In college, our dorm room doors always had laminated name plates, usually following a theme. The year I was a Resident Assistant, my co-RA and I decided to ask each resident for a quote from their favorite childhood book to go beneath their name. The above quote was mine.
I’ve always loved Anne of Green Gables, and I’ve always loved Anne. Her imagination, her vivacity, her sense of wonder, her pluckiness, her overly dramatic exclamations when she finds herself “in the depths of despair.” Anne sees the world as a place of great possibility and delight. Apple trees in blossom are brides adorned for their wedding day. A pond is a great shining sea. An old rowboat is the vessel upon which the Lady of Shalott takes her final voyage. Anne’s world shimmers with magic, with mystery, with possibility, with sacredness. Anne walks through the world cloaked in sacramental awareness.
There are days in which I find myself caught up in the wonder of the world. I call these my “Anne Days.” The contentment of being in good company; the shimmer of mist upon the ground in the early morning; sunlight dancing over classroom desks; a stream bouncing over the rocky playground of the Canadian Shield in northern Ontario. I can feel my heart expand, feel an overwhelming sense of the presence of something sacred, something magical, something beyond myself.
October is the “Anne-iest” of months for me. In part because of another Anne quote: “Oh, Marilla. I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” But mostly October – and Fall in general – is the season in which the world feels most alive. The leaves aflame with color, fires crackling, birds hopping amongst the bushes, flowers insistently holding onto their place even as the nights grow cold.
“It would be terrible,” Anne continues, “if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”
Part of me wants very much to skip straight to November. Heck, we could skip straight to 2022. These days it’s incredibly difficult to feel Anne-ish. The world doesn’t seem all that magical or sacred or alive or delightful. It feels…benauwd. That great Dutch word that encompasses all sorts of unpleasant adjectives – stuffy, stale, worrisome, perilous – all indicating a sense of things closing in around you.
The world – my world – feels small right now. Walled in by the ugly realities of this moment. Like the constant wondering of how to do church so we’re offering what is both safe and meaningful. Or the soul-searching required to pastor people through this political season, insisting on the sovereignty of God, insisting on unity, insisting on dialogue, insisting on courage, even as I am so weary of the president’s antics I can barely stand to scan the day’s headlines. Or the list of questions I have to run through in my head before proceeding to do anything fun with friends: is this safe? Is this wise? Am I acknowledging other people’s comfort levels? Am I putting anyone at risk? Will I feel comfortable asking others to change their behavior if I feel it’s too risky? Is all this overkill? Am I being irrational? Should I just stay home and watch TV ‘cause that’s easier?
This is what my head is full of, leaving little space for wonder and delight and magic.
I want to be able to say, “Even so, here’s how I’m experiencing Anne-days these days.” But maybe this is simply not the season for Anne-days. Or, at least, maybe it’s a season of more “depths of despair” Anne-days than “Lake of Shining Waters” Anne-days.
Or maybe I need to change my definition of Anne-days.
I’m so used to my white board quote that I had forgotten where it comes from in the book. It seems like an exclamation Anne would make in a moment of sheer delight and exuberance. But it’s not. The quote comes from the very last chapter. Marilla and Anne are grieving after Matthew’s sudden death. Anne has given up her dream of attending college so she can stay and look after Green Gables with Marilla. Anne’s future, which she once described as stretching out before her like a straight road, now has a bend in it. “I don’t know what lies beyond the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does,” she tells Marilla.
It is as Anne returns from a visit to Matthew’s grave one evening – all the emotions of grief, love, uncertainty, and wonder held together in her heart – that she murmurs, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
So the quote remains, and will remain, on my little kitchen whiteboard, to greet me every morning, and remind me that an Anne-day might yet be ahead of me, beyond the bend in the road.