Should I admit that every night last week we (well, the girls and I) parked ourselves in front of PBS’s replay of Downton Abbey Season III? That we might have shaken our heads in anger whenever Thomas or O’Brien (good riddance, by the way!) sneaked in the shadows to do something horrid. That we relished in the beauty of the English countryside, laughed at every Maggie Smith clever remark, and cried each time someone died – especially Matthew in that terrible car accident – even though we had already seen Season III?
Why the accidents? Why Matthew?! Oh – the humanity.
So – even though every time-sensitive thing I needed to get done yesterday was backburnered by the the craziest day EVER (See also: surprise house guests delayed at the airport who needed a place to stay, a terrible car accident with Snopes behind the wheel, 3 hours extremely cold afternoon waiting for the police and tow truck on Lovers Lane, and a very sad/scared young soul, shaken and swearing off driving “forever!”), we watched and relished each moment of last night’s Season IV Premier.
As we settled in and let all the loveliness of Masterpiece Theater fill our living room, I was reminded, yet again, why this show is so popular. Besides entertainment, the audience travels back to a day and time when propriety ruled (more on that here: Opting for Downton Abbey) and where the cures of life are gently woven into difficult stories.
Six months have passed since last season’s tragic ending. The pain of life-gone-wrong has sucked any semblance of living out of those left in its wake. Yet people that love those closest to tragedy didn’t leave them. They fight for their souls, trying to bring perspective and light back into the dark situation.
Mrs Crawly, the deceased Matthew’s mother sums up her hopelessness by explaining the fact that though breathing, she no longer exists: “But you see,” she tells Mary’s sister, “when your only child dies, and you’re not his mother anymore – you’re really not anything anymore. That’s what I’m trying to get used to.”
Friends and family step in, trying desperately to sew seeds of Truth so that Mary, Mrs. Crawley & Mosely can live again.
Mrs Hughes, one of the staff, tries in to help Mrs Crawley by bringing her a wounded person to whom she can attend and help. Mrs Hughes knows that serving others brings life. A forlorn Mrs Crawley protests, explaining, “In my present state, I don’t think I’m strong enough.” But because she cares for the kind and broken-hearted mother, Mrs Hughes doesn’t let go, “Oh, but you are, M’amm. If you could just set aside your grief and use that strength for another’s good.”
Lady Mary, also gets a dose of perspective from another unlikely character. Mr. Carson steps crosses societal boundaries when he tries to snap her back to the present. He tries to remind Mary that she is still alive and strong. She like Mrs. Crawley protests. But Carson doesn’t stop, “You’re letting yourself be defeated, my Lady. I’m sorry if its a lapse. But, someone must say so.” Mary’s grandmother in another scene fights for her, begging her to come back to them, confirming the young lady’s strength, offering her truth, “You must choose either death or life.”
Mary, Mrs Crawley, Mosely had the choice to either let the difficulties in life define them or to get beyond the grief and live again. It was beautiful to watch the people around them, regardless of their station in life, point them in the right direction. More than point, they walked alongside, forcing the characters to get their eyes off of themselves and back onto others and their purpose in life.
It was clear that in the midst of self absorption, even when that absorption is a by-product of grief, life ceases to be lived. The message: “You must choose … either death” continuing to wallow in self pity and self-absorption, “or life” – getting your eyes off yourself and getting back in the car to drive again.
Downton Abbey, whether on purpose or by accident – maybe in the name of good television since the stories are something to which we can all relate – gave to all its viewers a glimpse into life’s cure. The key: Embrace life. Run away from the gravitational pull of self-absorption – especially in tragedy. Ditch self-pity and wallowing and run toward purpose. Purpose that most certainly involves caring for others. Putting others’ interests ahead of our own. It has a little something to do with the “greatest commandment” thing.
The scene we saw on screen had played live for us on Lovers Lane only hours earlier as a fifteen-year-old student driver tried to compose herself in the midst of her worst nightmare coming true. After the frightening accident, Snopes was literally shaking from her core. To snap her out of it, I introduced her to the woman who had caused our accident. A very sweet, well-meaning, flustered and scared woman, herself. Comforting that woman helped. But it didn’t address Snope’s fear. Friends stopped to help. The father of one of Snope’s good friends even pulled over, got out of his car, and gave her a hug. “You’re okay,” he kept saying. “It’s going to be alright.”
But it was the policeman who stepped in to snap her back to life. He gave the choose-to-live-speech.
“Accidents happen,” he said, looking straight in my daughter’s eyes. “Get in a healthy cry, be thankful for the good (no one was hurt), then get back behind the wheel. Getting back on the road is the very best thing you can do. You cannot let this define or defeat you.”
“I can’t do it,” she whimpered.
“Yes. You can. And you will.”
He later pulled me aside and said, “You drive away from this spot. But as soon as you get on a less crowded street, get out and put her behind the wheel.” He was right. That’s part of walking alongside someone. Believing in them when they don’t believe in themselves. Then helping them to snap out of it and to live life again – in spite of the hiccups.
A good word from a kind man and, believe it or not, a television show. So much to consider.
Thanks for walking the road with me.