When It’s Gone

I just learned that Santa Claus isn’t real. Ok, that’s really a metaphor, but I have had a fundamental shift in my beliefs, so I’m comparing it to learning that Santa doesn’t exist. For the first time in my 30s, I read Gone With the Wind, and I realized that it’s not my favorite book any more and I don’t like Scarlett O’Hara.

For anyone who hasn’t known me since I was a pre-teen, this probably doesn’t sound like foundation shifting news, but if you have known me since I was 13 or so, this is big news. For the last 25 years, when asked what my favorite book is, I have easily, without hesitating, answered Gone With the Wind. Now, I’m questioning why and how I could have obsessed over this book.

I fell in love with this book after falling in love with the movie. It was my version of Twilight or Harry Potter. I soaked up the words and the stories, fell for the characters and the sweeping dramas. I pestered every teacher (History, English, Social Studies) to let us watch the movie, hoping to infuse my fellow students with my love. I collected anything that I could afford that was about the 40+ year book and movie — movie posters and postcards, autobiographies about Margaret Mitchell, Vivien Leigh, documentaries on making the movie, collector’s plates, dolls. If I had had money, I would have had the most extensive GWTW collection possible. My mom named our cat “Scarlett” in honor of my obsession.

My first day as a freshman in college, I was hanging one of my GWTW posters in my dorm room, when my new roommate said that the girl two doors down also had a GWTW poster on her wall. Expecting a “wanna-be” fan, I stopped by to see for myself the inhabitant who also liked my Scarlett. I then met the girl that would be my roommate for the next 3 years, but only after we circled each other like lionesses, throwing out GWTW questions, sniffing each other for weakness and blood. Only when Betsy and I were both satisfied that we were equally devoted (and knowledgeable) about GWTW did we realize that we each had found a friend for life.

So, this is why it is so hard to accept that, after deciding that it was time to reread the book, I don’t like Scarlett, and that I am offended by some parts of the book. Scarlett isn’t heroic, she’s selfish, two-dimensional, unimaginative and hard. The love of money, the absolute hunger for money, gives her the justification to turn her back on her God, her family, and her morals.

She is a survivor, however, and I can understand how her story would be so compelling when it was published during the middle of the Great Depression. The story is, in essence, one of surviving after the world in which you know is completely turned upside down. I have thought several times while reading it recently that this story has become relevant again during our current ecomonic and financial breakdown, war, massive lay offs, etc. Thousands are people are dealing with the same issues that these characters dealt with — how do you live you life when your life doesn’t resemble anything that you’re used to?

I don’t want to deal like Scarlett did. I don’t want to become hard or focused only on money, with no thought to how my actions impact others, or with only “me” in the middle of my actions. Here is my lesson — not how to survive, but how not to survive.

I’m looking for a new favorite book. Betsy, if you read this, I don’t know if you are saddened, indifferent or surprised that it took me so long to come to this realization. But, I’ll always be glad that Scarlett introduced me to you.

Love Letters

I have had computer problems for the last week. I haven’t been able to use my home computer, and I was very surprised by the feeling of helplessness that followed. How am I going to know how much money I have in the bank? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to keep up with the latest news? How am I going to talk with my friends and family?
Wha? Have I succumbed to the internet’s pull and left human contact behind? A 2002 study by Lutz Ebring, a professor of Mass Communication from the University of Berlin, concludes that “For each minute spent on the Internet during the last 24 hours, there is a reduction of approximately one-third of a minute spent with family members.” Professor Ebring estimates that at current usage, this means that the average American is spending one less hour per week with his or her family.
That doesn’t mean that we aren’t emailing them or instant messaging them, but apparently, we aren’t phoning them or visiting them, and we definitely aren’t writing letters to them. I know that my contact with my family was drastically reduced the last week. Yet, the postal service was still available to me. Why didn’t I write a letter?
Writing a letter is an art form that has seemingly been lost. My roommate from college was a genius letter writer. Betsy could write a letter that would leave you feeling like you were right there with her, sharing a great conversation, witnessing the same events, feeling the same emotions. While I missed her terribly every summer during our four years of school, the letters that she sent me during the breaks almost made the time apart worth it. Getting a letter from her was an event.
During our time in college, Betsy and I spent a semester in France. I was terribly home sick — my French was weak, I missed my mom, my sister and the rest of my family, I felt very out of place, and my solace during this time was writing letters home. I wrote constantly. If I knew you, you probably received a letter from me during this period. It wasn’t unusual for me to mail two or three letters each day. And my loved ones were awesome and wrote me back often, brightening my day during a time when I was really struggling to be strong.
Unfortunately, I went through a “purge phase” several years ago and threw away a lot of the letters that I received during my time in France (as well as the great letters from Betsy). Two of the letters that I kept, however, are two of my most treasured possessions — letters that my Mamaw wrote to me.

I love to reread these letters. Mamaw had the same letter writing genius as Betsy. She wrote as she spoke. Reading her letters thousands of miles away in France felt like sitting in her kitchen having a conversation with her.
“Well, I had the usual crowd for lunch today. Ashleigh’s [my sister] girlfriend the Ham came with her. She is a pretty girl to live up Poe Hollow.”
“If you see a cute boy over there, leave him be.”
“Wendi [my cousin] came out Sunday. She ate two tables down, bless her heart. It was good to see her eat.
I can hear Mamaw’s voice when I read these letters, and it almost hurts to think about how much I miss her, but I’m reminded of just how wonderful she was. I am so thankful that I have these letters — an email wouldn’t be nearly as good. Maybe all our computers should go down on occasion and we should write each other some letters.