It used to be cold late nights of December and January when I would slip into a reading spree. School had winter vacation and it was Christmasy around the house. Despite my lamentation of ‘I can only dream of a white Christmas’, I used to be mostly cheery. It was that time of the year when I was allowed to read books outside school curriculum. Yay!
We would come back home from Christmas caroling late in the night and I would still have the appetite for ‘just a few more pages’. I was fated to discover this amazing book ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott.
I was 15 or 16 years old. Our school had the annual book sale when some noted publishers would put up stalls for us to take our picks. Pocket money was limited, to say the least. It was also hard-earned through ironing, polishing shoes, doing the laundry. My brother Abhishek and I had our priorities fixed when it came to spending it – his on his latest toy car models; mine on British Classics. That’s how Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and C S Lewis made their way into my heart.
Abhishek and I shared one bedroom back then. So I had to use a candle or an electric table lamp to read, he was fussy about his sleep. It was some of those magical wee hours of winter nights, tucked comfortably inside a warm blanket when I journeyed through the life of the March Family. A typical classic setting that was, much like the many premises of Jane Austen’s novels. A Civil War with the men gone to serve; poor wives and daughters trying to make the ends meet; grandmothers and aunts teaching teenage girls to find wealthy husbands; a rebellious female protagonist and a good breakfast for the morning of a white Christmas.
Living like a rebellious protagonist
It took me only a few pages of ‘Little Women’ to start acting like Josephine March, known in the book as Joe – the central protagonist. Joe wanted to be a successful writer in a world where women writers (like Jane Austen) had to use a male pen name to be taken seriously.
When she said – “I like good strong words that mean something..,” it was as if I was a superhero but with writing skills. Or when she said – “I am not afraid of the storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship,” it felt like there’s nothing in the world that couldn’t be achieved.
My own writing portfolio had just a couple of silly poems that rhymed, and numerous daily journals replete with the “cruelties of the world”. And so when Joe excelled in her writing back home but got rejected by numerous publishers in a big city, I felt the pain.
I used to dream of being a published author by the time I was 30. That didn’t happen and I am still a struggling author trying to impress publishers. Yet, I am happy because I tried.
In a way, ‘Little Women’ prepared me for these rejections. In Joe’s disappointments, I learnt that the essence of life was not in achieving but in trying.
Joe’s mother Marmie put it beautifully in the book –
“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”
Am I the woman I dreamed of?
I faced this question last night while driving back home. A friend and I watched the latest adaptation of the book, this one written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Thanks to Gerwig’s remarkable screenplay, I relived my teen years in those two hours. My heart skipped a beat when it struck me how far I had come. Or to put it more honestly, how far God had led me. I cannot say that I am exactly what I dreamed I would become. More so because I care about the kind of believer I am today than I care about the kind of woman I am. Praise be to God that He shows me almost every day that the life He asked me to live was always worth living, worth trying and worth relishing.
And here’s a little miracle. That 16-year-old girl has managed to survive.
She is still aware that –
“Conceit spoils the finest genius.”
I still feel excited over sunsets, and swoon over full moons. I am still stunned by the expanse of the sea and the magnificence of the mountains. I still search for God’s face in the moving clouds or feel His presence when I am most alone. That is the beauty of those books. They taught me to be always excited, hopeful and romantic about life.
Another beautiful lesson from the book –
“Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don’t let it spoil you, for it’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.”
It’s great to dream. But the process of evolving is greater. Let us stop obsessing over the unfulfilled dreams and start focusing on the existing joys.