Tonight I discovered the Anne of Green Gables audiobook on Youtube, and began listening to it. The ‘Anne’ books comprise one of my favourite series of any I’ve ever read. As a series that walk you through a young girl’s life from early days to later life, I find that I enjoy them in new ways as my own life unfolds. I loved the first few books when I was a young girl myself, in school and making friends and losing them and being extremely passionate about things that later faded in importance. When I felt the hope and possibility of the life stretched out before me. I loved the next few books as I grew up and went to university, while Anne got her own degree and became a teacher and wrestled in her mind about the men in her life, about what and who she really wanted, and what her prince looked like.
And I love still the later books, when Anne moves from a fairly happy, cheerful, simple life to one that, sometimes, bears its own challenges and pain and hurt and heartbreak. That’s when I love Anne best, when the truths that she held to rose up to sustain her through things she had never imagined. There is a friend she makes in ‘Anne’s House of Dreams’, a friend who has not had an easy life – it has been hard, and weary, and nothing like she imagined. She has born up well, but being Anne’s friend has not always come easy, when Anne seemed to be blessed continuously by an overarching Providence that sent everything good and beautiful and right her way. She comes to visit Anne and Gilbert one night, and enjoys herself immensely. When the time comes to go, however, the struggle returns.
“‘I must go. I didn’t realise it was so late. Captain Jim is always saying it doesn’t take long to stay an hour. But I’ve stayed two–and oh, but I’ve enjoyed them,’ she added frankly. ‘Come often,’ said Anne and Gilbert. They had risen and stood together in the firelight’s glow. Leslie looked at them–youthful, hopeful, happy, typifying all she had missed and must forever miss. The light went out of her face and eyes; the girl vanished; it was the sorrowful, cheated woman who answered the invitation almost coldly and got herself away with a pitiful haste.”
There’s something about Leslie that appeals to me. As much as I love Anne, although she’s had some difficulties in her life after moving to Green Gables, overall she seems to have happiness wherever she goes. I feel a little as though if I were to sit down with Anne, I would, like Leslie, perhaps feel a little cheated. Anne herself doesn’t understand why it is difficult for her to be friends, to have the truest deepest kind of connection with Leslie that she has been used to having with all those she meets. She discusses it with Captain Jim, a friend at the nearby lighthouse.
“‘I don’t know why I can’t get closer to her,’ Anne said one evening to Captain Jim. ‘I like her so much–I admire her so much–I want to take her right into my heart and creep right into hers. But I can never cross the barrier.’
‘You’ve been too happy all your life, Mistress Blythe,’ said Captain Jim thoughtfully. ‘I reckon that’s why you and Leslie can’t get real close together in your souls. The barrier between you is her experience of sorrow and trouble. She ain’t responsible for it and you ain’t; but it’s there and neither of you can cross it.’
‘My childhood wasn’t very happy before I came to Green Gables,’ said Anne, gazing soberly out of the window at the still, sad, dead beauty of the leafless tree-shadows on the moonlit snow.
‘Mebbe not–but it was just the usual unhappiness of a child who hasn’t anyone to look after it properly. There hasn’t been any tragedy in your life, Mistress Blythe. And poor Leslie’s has been almost all tragedy. She feels, I reckon, though mebbe she hardly knows she feels it, that there’s a vast deal in her life you can’t enter nor understand–and so she has to keep you back from it–hold you off, so to speak, from hurting her. You know if we’ve got anything about us that hurts we shrink from anyone’s touch on or near it. It holds good with our souls as well as our bodies, I reckon. Leslie’s soul must be near raw–it’s no wonder she hides it away.'”
This I understand. The hurt and challenges and pain that have come into life that those who have not had that kind of experience does create a barrier. I found that when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. People who had lifetime, extended illnesses, or continual health problems, immediately connected with me – they ‘got it’. They knew what it was like to even on the good days feel the shadow that hung over, that brushed even the most joyful and beautiful experiences with a little tinge of pain. I didn’t have to explain what it felt like, or try vainly to describe what it does to the mind, to the body, to the heart. With those who had been mostly healthy their whole lives, although sympathetic and gracious and kind, there was still a barrier.
Over time, though, I’ve come to see that the experiences don’t have to be the same, or even similar. Suffering is suffering, and pain is pain. There is no scale on which I can measure my own hurt and compare it to others’ – to say that I am now at a level 8, when they are only at a level 2. What brings me to my knees might hardly register for someone else, and what burdens them deeply I might never understand. And I’ve learned that those who have suffered deeply, in any way, break through the barrier.
Anne discovers this too. Later in the book, when she has experienced a true heartbreak, something that she never imagined and feels she can hardly bear up in, Leslie comes again to visit. Leslie opens up to her about how difficult it has been to love Anne, to rejoice in her rejoicing, when her own life has been so hard. And she explains how things have changed now, and tells Anne that she was grieved to the core of her heart that Anne had to hurt so, “but,” she adds,”Your sorrow has brought us closer together. Your perfect happiness isn’t a barrier any longer. Oh, don’t misunderstand, dearest – I’m not glad that your happiness isn’t perfect any longer – I can say that sincerely; but since it isn’t, there isn’t such a gulf between us.”
Anne, even in her struggle, still holds onto the beautiful hope that has been hers all her life. “I do understand that too, Leslie,” she says. “Now, we’ll just shut up the past and forget what was unpleasant in it. It’s all going to be different. We’re both of the race of Joseph now. I think you’ve been wonderful – wonderful. And, Leslie, I can’t help believing that life has something good and beautiful for you yet.”
Leslie disagrees, but this is where Anne is one of the best friends she could ever have. Leslie is tempted, like many of us are, to think that because things have been hard that they will always be hard. That there are only small glimpses of beauty, constantly overshadowed by pain. But Anne insists to Leslie, and insists to you and I, that there is beauty coming. That in the midst of pain there is grace. That when our life doesn’t go the way we imagined, it is still a beautiful life, and worth living, and worth embracing, and worth it all.
In one of the earlier Anne books, when life is just beginning for her, Anne and Gilbert are talking about what they want to do with their lives. Gilbert wants to be a doctor, and “add a little to the sum of human knowledge that all the good men have been accumulating since it began. ‘I’d like to add some beauty to life,’ said Anne dreamily. ‘I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more. . .though I know that IS the noblest ambition. . .but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me. . .to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.’
“‘I think you’re fulfilling that ambition every day,’ said Gilbert admiringly.”
I’d like to add some beauty to life, too. I’d love to help you have a pleasanter time because of me, to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have exited if I hadn’t been born.
May you see the beauty today that Anne sees, and may your life be just a little bit better for it.