Thursday, May 25, 2017

Really Loving Anne (with an E)

Two nights ago, despite the fact that the air outside was the pitch-perfect shade of Spring, we opted to hunker down inside. Neighborhood living demands this sometimes, and we're learning to listen. I baked strawberry shortcake and we queued up the new Netflix series, "Anne With an E."

I began blogging almost ten years ago. From the gates, there were a few things I caught onto, here in this online subculture. Everyone was gaga about drinking coffee (and wine,) a surprising number of people were runners, and quoting lines from Anne of Green Gables served as a sly litmus test for friendship compatibility.

Not surprisingly, I failed at all three. I couldn't order a specialty coffee drink if my life depended on it, all wine smells the same to me (bad,) and the only things I knew about Anne were that she had red hair, was quirky and bookish, and tossed around the phrase "kindred spirit."

When Ruby and I attended the high school performance of the play last year, she spent the two hours utterly transfixed while I spent them spackling the holes in my Anne deficiency with newfound context. Anne was an orphan. She was adopted by an older brother/sister duo, and she had a classic love/hate romantic interest named Gilbert. I still had a lot of catching up to do.

Netflix's "Anne with an E" stopped me in my tracks just a few moments in. I wasn't in full-journalistic mode (yet,) so I'm paraphrasing here, but she says something along the lines of, "I have never had cause to belong to someone."

This is the language of my heart, this desperate longing to be known, to be chosen, to be seen and valued. This is the unspoken pulse shuffling down my streets. It knocks at my door. It rattles in its cell. It calls me up after dark and during the most inconvenient hours of my workday. I know this pain, mostly secondhand. I could pluck its voice from a crowd.

Anne had my attention.

We continued watching, Calvin and Ruby rapt on either side of me. Through flashbacks of abuse, gut-wrenching sobs, tension tight as a cello's bow, I was grateful for a family-friendly show that didn't dodge the realities of trauma. I was beginning to understand the appeal, and surprised I'd never known the depth of the story.

Later I learned about the ire the adaptation is drawing, Anne's loyal fans in full despair that the show has taken a darker turn than the original. I'm in no position to draw comparisons or critique the remake. All I can tell you is that I exhaled. Finally. My heart, its resting state always at least half on-edge for the lonely and the suffering, snapped awake with hope. I felt a certain kinship with the droves of women who have held this story to their chests. Maybe we were kindred spirits all along, and I just hadn't known.

I took notes as we rode along in the horse-drawn wagon with Anne and Matthew, their hopefulness electric for different reasons. Anne imagines a future whose luck has finally turned. She's about to cash in on every injustice the world has dealt her. At last, she is wanted. Someone came for her. She will be loved. "Home," she sighs. "What a wonderful word."


This is what we come for, right? This is why we're here, to watch this lush Canadian unfolding of a wholesome, newborn family, before our tender eyes.

We want it, but only from a safe distance.

Why? Why does our compassion for the orphan, the poor, the difficult, the cast-out, so often meets its capacity before we've crossed over from hypothetical to real-life messy? How can we root for Anne, cry real tears for her, love her with our whole hearts, dream about sharing her with our daughters one day, yet be so disinclined to invite her into our actual homes?

I know so many Annes with an E.
We all do.

This morning I drove an Anne to a church food pantry downtown. I stood awkwardly at the periphery, twitchy-skinned from my nearness to her need. I watched as she was kindly told she could take two items from each bin - two boxes of off-brand spaghetti, two cans of tuna, two boxes of rice, two cans of peas. She moved haltingly, hesitant to accept all that was offered. She made eye contact, thanked the older woman profusely, attempted small talk. I watched and waited, trying not to feel too much.

I know an Anne who gets four hours of free time every week, but has no where to spend it. "You're the only sober people I know," she told me once, shrugging her shoulders.

I know an Anne who is sixty-five years old, and needs the occasional comfort of chaos like she needs blood pressure meds and air.

I know Annes with no teeth who smile anyway. I know Annes with tattooed necks and shredded confidence. I know Annes desperate for affordable housing, desperate for a job, desperate for someone to understand who they have been and love them anyway.

I know so many Annes who fold in on themselves, dreaming up a new narrative because the real one scorched their long-term memory and they're scared to death of remembering. Their lake of shining waters is an income tax return, a debt finally paid, the baby growing in their uterus despite everyone saying they aren't ready, they'll never be ready, they won't do right by that baby.

They wrap themselves in name-brand shirts and pretend to be kings. They choose new names because the one they were given has never been enough, never served them well.

The Annes I love lash out with their words sometimes, but we don't applaud their resilience. We don't admire their quick wit or commend their courage. We call them crazy, not whimsical. They're disrespectful, not "sassy."

"You can't make up a family. Only kin is kin," Marilla Cuthbert tells Anne upon her mistaken arrival. Anne already knows better. We all know better. We know how this story will end, and we cheer from under our Target throws, under our mortgaged roofs. Our hand hovers salty over the popcorn bowl and we smile. We watch Anne's family unfold, transfixed. Marilla has no idea! we think. She's so wrong!

But is she?

Is she wrong enough that we will prove it?

I think we will. The biggest change is often measures in fractions, in blinks. It's long in the making and I'm encouraged. I read your emails and hear your stories. "What do we do?"  you ask. "Where do we start?"

We start right here, wherever our feet are standing. We start right now.
We swallow Anne's raw backstory and begin to understand we can do that for anyone. We walk toward her discomfort, admitting along the way that maybe we ourselves are not "fine" after all. Not by a mile.

And then it gets even better.

Because if our hearts can ache for a literary heroine with wounds that reach the depths of despair, we can bleed for the heroes living just past our line of vision. If we can wait with anticipation for Marilla to come around to authentic love and unconditional acceptance, we can find those in our midst lacking both and offer them with open hands.

I'm only on the first episode, but my hunch is that this is no ordinary orphan tale, where Anne is the spit-shined project and the scales lurch off-center. I'm guessing the Cuthberts bear a burden of gratitude equal to Anne's, in it for the long haul, love unending. I know this in living color.

If we think God is above tending to our souls through the glare of our TV screens, we are underestimating him. He will do whatever it takes, the earth, the air, the streaming and electric all firmly beneath his feet.

He wants nothing more than to bless us, and he tells us how it will all go down. Poor, needy, sad, and humble. We will be blessed. Hungry, angsting, lavishing mercy. We will be blessed. Pure of heart. Dissatisfied with status quo. Exhausting our bodies for the sake of peace. We will be blessed.

We will be blessed as we learn to love those he loves.
We will be blessed as we trade our treasures and pay attention to what (and who) makes us cry.

It's in us, I know it is. You can't convince me otherwise.

All that's left to do is find our unsuspecting Anne out in her howling wilderness and choose it all, the tension, the practiced defenses, the inconveniences, the knotted roots, the mud, and the rain that sweeps it away.

"What is your name?" we will ask.
"What does it matter?" she'll counter.

This will be our moment, the one where we cross over, climbing into the drama and heartbreak playing out in real time on the soil that grounds us. This will be the beginning of a very long story, an epic tale, where we simply stay until Anne stops asking, where our circle widens, and where we're all so much better for it in the end.


"Family was meant to live on a loop, a hazy beginning with no end in sight, the pulsing bass line that God's kingdom on earth is alive. Right here." - Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted