Perhaps it’s a sign of my own arrested development, but Anne of Green Gables has been my favorite book since the moment I read it as a little girl. I know deep down that Anne will always be my favorite, no matter how old I get, and no matter how many other books I read in my lifetime.
The book has influenced my life in ways great and small, and I continue to connect with it in new ways each time I pick it up. As little girls, Anne and I both had a reverence for nature and imagination. As high school girls, we both strove to be the best writers and storytellers we could be. In my college years, my life, like Anne’s, was disrupted by the sudden death of a loved one. Like Anne, I realized that I needed to be near my family and that everything else, including my own future, could wait.
The entire Anne series has lessons that echo in my own life, and now that I’m ensconced in marriage and motherhood, I read the later books in new ways, too. I even have a theory that Anne Shirley would be a yogi today. So, without further ado, I give you the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from Swami Shirleyananda over the years:
1. Give gratitude and thanks.
There is an overlooked redheaded orphan inside all of us. We’ve all felt lonely or isolated or dejected at one time or another. Learning to be grateful for what we have, and not envious of what we don’t have, is the key to self-acceptance and happiness.
2. Appreciate the nature around you.
Find your own White Way Delight and Lake of Shining Waters in your neighborhood. Even if you live in a big city, they’re there ... hiding. I wonder what Anne would call the nearby Los Angeles River? The Trench of Sun-Drenched Dreams?
3. Once you find a true connection, hold onto it.
Be good to your bosom friends and keep them forever. My equivalents of Diana Barry are two girls I met in kindergarten, and two girls I met in college. Some live near and others far, but whenever we’re together it’s like we’re six (or 18) again. But bosom friends aren’t necessarily the one’s you’ve had the longest. My other great bosom friend is a guy I didn’t even know that long in college, but we’ve had an incredible and deep email correspondence in the decade since.
4. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Kindred spirits can come in the form of curmudgeonly old ladies. Marilla Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, Josephine Barry, Katherine Brooke, the list goes on and on. Anne had a habit of bonding with old spinsters or anti-social lonely-hearts whom other people wouldn’t take the time to get to know. Whenever Anne made the effort to get beyond a harsh unfriendly exterior, she found a true bosom friend hidden within.
5. Don’t hold grudges, a.k.a. The Gilbert Blythe Lesson.
In this lesson, we learn not by Anne’s example, but by her mistake.
If she had let go of her anger with Gilbert back in the Avonlea schoolhouse, perhaps she could have had him as a bosom friend all along. But instead Anne didn’t really forgive Gilbert until he gave up the Avonlea teaching job for her. Just think of all the friendship she missed out on! Luckily, eventually she and Gil got married and had kids and more than made up for all that lost time.
6. You don’t have to be religious to be spiritual.
Though Anne was a practicing Christian who was greatly influenced by various ministers and their wives over the years, I’d argue that in her heart she was a child of nature. She put it best: “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” Sounds good to me. It also sounds a lot like meditation.
7. Keep dreaming and let your imagination soar.
A good imagination is better than a fully stamped passport. Even if I never live to see all 50 states of our great country, I’ve been to Alaska in my mind. And I even saw a grizzly bear illuminated by the light of the Aurora Borealis. Does that sound crazy? It should! It’s make-believe! Imaginations don’t have to stay within the budgets of sanity. Anne’s surely didn’t. Living on a small-town doctor’s salary with many small children, did she ever get to see Africa or the Orient? I don’t think so. But she certainly imagined them.
With that, I close with Anne’s words, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
Yup, Anne’s a total yogi.