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Reflecting on "Little Women"- Real or Ideal?

Over the holidays we re-watched the “correct” version of one of our favorite movies, “Little Women”. (See the picture with this post to see which version we prefer!) Having four girls, this book is on the 7th grade reading list for everyone. Having four girls, we often hear referrals to the March family in relation to ours. Having four girls, it is easy to be intimidated as well as inspired by this famous brood and their amazing Marmee. The very mention of the title conjurers up picture perfect, too good to be true family life; something we may aspire to but likely never achieve. But do we see this semi-autobiographical portrayal of family life truly, or through a lens of inferiority? This time I saw it in a way I had missed.

What stood out to me this time around was the realness of these siblings. Of course the ideal moments were there- but in between they fought, like pulling hair and screaming, and threatening to kill each other fought! A peak we have thankfully managed to avoid!

The March sisters each had their turn to show that they were catty, petty and vain (except Beth!); traits that make me cringe and feel a tinge of despair when spotted in my own girls. In this story life isn’t perfect and smooth. There is discontent and heart ache and some of it not handled very gracefully, but there is still that glow of the ideal that pervades it all. What is it about those Little Women that inspires -if it is not perfection?

I decided that it must be the realness of it that glows. I was reminded of a sticker we have on our bus that says, “Life doesn’t have to perfect to be wonderful.” This was a statement I believed enough to buy and stick, but apparently not something I fully embraced. This year I saw it in the March family. It is true, the point came home. Those Little Women weren’t perfect- but they were definitely wonderful.

Another thing I became aware of during this viewing was that I wasn’t the only person attracted to this family, certainly not on this side of the page- but not on their side either. This family held a captivating draw for the people they came in contact with. All of their outspokenness and imperfections, but "trueness", created a magnetic draw. From their neighbors to Laurie and John there was a pull. Of course we can’t rule out the romantic mystic, but what is it Laurie said to Amy? That it wasn’t really one particular sister or personality he desired- but the family as a whole that he desperately wanted to be a part of. While this may seem insincere to our modern sensibilities, there is truth there. I think there can be a hint of truth to it for the people our families come in contact with. Our families don’t have to be picture perfect, too good to be true in order to glow, to draw.

What a relief! As parents we can perceive the ideal - yet rest in the real. We can have goals and standards yet remain composed when we fall short. It isn’t perfection that is tantalizing, but the realness of a family that loves well, speaks their minds, holds their convictions and aren’t afraid to buck heads and engage in life fully within the strength of a bond that can’t be broken. This world is hungry for what family really means; I think that that is what I got from Little Women this time.

This is what I see as I look around. I see people drawn to various families- even my own, and I am sometimes confused about why that is, especially when we have one of those weeks, or months, or years, that when it is over, I feel like we have been drug through a ditch backwards! What is the draw to this humble and faltering representation of family life? It is just this, it is true. It is determined. It is insoluble. The draw is in the realness. And in fact, the draw isn’t really about us at all but rather towards the idea of a divinely ordained institution, being thoughtfully walked out and held up by imperfection - and it is wonderful. People want to see that. In a society of disintegrating families people, like Laurie, want to be a part of that.

I think we sometimes feel that what we do for our families, is for our families. But there is a bigger picture. The life we nurture and cultivate around our families moves beyond our four walls and into the communities we inhabit. Our families in the truest sense can be a ministry to bring others to Christ. In our humbler moments we recognize that that tantalizing draw is not anything we have or can produce or can maintain, but is Christ in us, having expression in tangible form. In being drawn to us- are we not drawing them to Him? Was the family not His idea? Wasn’t the idea of unconditional love His first?

The themes of forgiveness and redemption have the potential to be played out in the truest sense in the family amongst personalities that clash, and wills that strive, and hearts that burn, if we will let them. When viewed this way we see that our imperfections and rough spots are not something to be ashamed of but rather a part of the whole that He can make glow. Can make draw.

The family was God’s idea, His template if you will. There is an ideal- but the ideal is His and His to work out. He chose us and put us together, in what sometimes feels like a motley mix, to live and love in the context of family and commitment and thus set a model for the church and wider community as a whole. Family isn’t second best, shouldn’t be pushed to the side to make space for more important, or more “spiritual” activities. It is the bedrock upon which all else rests. Let us cherish it. Let us nurture it. Let us not set it up as an idol but let us also not let it fall into disrepair and disrepute. Let us recognize that in devoting time and energy to God’s idea we are investing in the eternal, not only for our circle but for the wider world. Let us recognize the Lauries around us- that they are desperate to be a part of a true family. May we draw them and welcome them into our circle and may our families be a segue to God’s.

Blessings on you and yours and Happy New Year!

S.Timothy 2020

Post Script: 1994 version ;)


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