No Man – or Girl – is an Island

26 Mar

I have been struck anew, this past week, over the tenderheartedness of my two daughters. Though, to be sure, their emotions are shown in different ways.

Boo, age 6, was watching The Lion King the other day. She came up to me, scared, but dry-eyed, when Mufasa the king was thrown off the cliff to his death by his own brother, Scar. I held her, and together we weathered the injustice of the jungle out there.

The Lion King

But her indignation at Scar’s behavior was not done. Later, at the end of the movie, as Scar is trying to convince a young Simba that it is his, Simba’s fault, that Mufasa died, Boo suddenly shouted from her place on the couch. “Dummy head! Double Dummy head!”

That, to Boo, is high abuse indeed.

I must say, I loved that what came out of her mouth in that moment of unguarded behavior was something so benign…and yet so full of truth.

She knew, though perhaps could not articulate, that the “jungle out there” is, truly, the jungle we all live in every day.

I couldn’t help but think of our other daughter, now age 11, who behaved much the same way when she was Boo’s age.

She and I were watching A Little Princess, a nicely-done movie based on the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

A little princess

She was sick that day, as I recall. She liked the movie, followed it along, understood – for the most part – what was going on. But every so often she would turn to me and ask, “Why is that woman so mean? What did Sara do to deserve that?”

I suppose I said something about injustice in the world. About bad people. About things not always working out the way we wish.

But then came the end – the part where Miss Minchin lies and denies that the amnesiac man is Sara’s father. And our daughter stood up on the couch and cried, “NO! NO! He is her father!” And she cried and cried and cried and could not be consoled.

Her tender heart has not changed over the years. Just now, at age 11, she came upstairs in tears. It’s well after bedtime, but she’s caught up in her book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, and Beth, the sweet, kind sister, just died.

Little Women

“Why do we care so much about storybook characters?” she asked me through her tears.

Because we love them, my sweet girl. Because books have power to change our lives. Because you have a kind and gentle heart and when you cry over injustice and sorrow and sadness in the books you read, you are really crying over the things in this world you have not yet faced, but you know are real. You know they could happen, and you weep for those they have happened, and will happen, to. You weep for the imperfections of the world. You weep because you are not an island. You are a part of the continent, a piece of the main.*

Never send to know, my darling girl, for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.

*John Donne, Meditation 17


31 Responses to “No Man – or Girl – is an Island”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots March 26, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    This rates as an incredibly touching post, Gretchen. What sensitive and caring daughters you are raising. I would most definitely want them on my side, to empathize and support. What beautiful, beautiful girls and a mother who understands and nurtures them with such love and wisdom.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 26, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      Thank you, Audrey. I wrote it Saturday night, right from the heart, I suppose! Then this morning I thought, “Huh. This isn’t as great as I thought it was, but here goes.” So I’m glad that it came across as I wanted it to!

  2. julie wellnitz March 26, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Simply Beautiful, Gretchen! I love your kids!

  3. rutheh March 26, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Reading your post today touches my heart and conjures up memories of sweet moments in my own children’s growing up with books and movies. Thanks for sharing. Poignant.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Thanks, Ruth. Kids can definitely make us think, can’t they? They often clearly point out what they see without filters – which can be both good and awkward!

  4. cravesadventure March 26, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Beautiful post – thanks so much for sharing:) Happy Tuesday!

  5. Alice March 26, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Such tender hearts come from a mommy heart. Don’t we wonder so often–“Why is that woman/man so mean?”

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Yes, indeed. There is so much good – and so much bad – in the hearts of people.

  6. Jenny March 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    When having to fill out a questionnaire about me recently, one question was “5 things I disliked”. One of the things I put down was I disliked mean people. So I totally agree with your girls! Why is it that the best movies and books always make me cry, was what I had wondered when I was younger, according to our mother! So they come by it naturally I guess. Another wonderful post G!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      I certainly thought of Mom’s words that all the best books make us cry! Remember The Mouse and his Child – was that the title? I remember bawling at that book.

      • Jenny March 27, 2013 at 10:50 am #

        That was the title of the book, and I love it! It think about parts of it still. I wonder who ended up with that book?

        • Gretchen O'Donnell March 27, 2013 at 10:56 am #

          We might have it – I need to sort/straighten the shelves downstairs…I’ll let you know when/if I find it!

  7. Kari Bukowski March 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Powerful and so very true and part of the reason I teach literature – hoping that these messages you have captured so succinctly and pricelessly take seed in the minds and hearts of my students.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      There are days, I’m sure, when you despair of that happening…and days when you see glimpses that shine through! Those days make it worth it!

  8. treadlemusic March 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Your sweet story brings back memories of my many hours, as a child, spent in my small dormer bedroom, carried many miles away, to a wonderful place called Prince Edward Island….to this very day, I am captivated by the Anne of Green Gables series. There were many moments that I joined the written conversations….adding in my “2 cents” worth!!! Books and imagination, together with a caring heart, are great things!!!!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 27, 2013 at 7:29 am #

      Indeed they are! I too, loved those books. My daughter started the first one a year or so ago – either she was too young or the writing style turned her off. She didn’t finish it and I didn’t force her. Hopefully she’ll return to it in a couple years. Love your description of your room!

      • treadlemusic March 27, 2013 at 7:48 am #

        I loved that little refuge!! (Still do, even though that home was sold 15 yrs ago!!! ).

        • Gretchen O'Donnell March 27, 2013 at 8:21 am #

          I had a loft in my room when I was a kid – such a great hang-out!

        • treadlemusic March 27, 2013 at 9:03 am #


  9. Ashley March 27, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Few blogs ever strike a chord with me, Gretchen.
    This one did.
    This is surely one of your best.

  10. gardenfreshtomatoes March 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Just beautiful…may they never lose it, that tender soul.

  11. hotlyspiced March 29, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    I love the Lion King – such a good movie and I’ve seen the live music theatre version too. It’s true what they say, being in the wild is no Garden of Eden. Looking forward to seeing how the animals all relate and are treated by the humans in heaven! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell March 29, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

      I made the stupid choice years ago NOT to go to it when it was touring – and I’m still kicking myself!

  12. The Water Bearer April 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    A touching post indeed. Reminds me of my own two girls who question the bad deeds of others, and weep for injustice also. I adore how you explain that they care about the characters because they know these things happen in real life. A compassionate heart cares for the suffering of others and your two daughters are a credit to you. Keep up the good work. Blessings to you!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell April 9, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      Thank so much. Books matter – they reflect the world around us – or inspire us to change the world because what we see around us isn’t that great – or they give us a change to imagine a whole new world where we can be in control of it all! (Fantasy – there’s value even in that!) I am currently reading a book that I read and wept over as a child…but now I’m feeling just irritated with it. Interesting how we change over time…

      • The Water Bearer April 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

        Yes that is so true, I have read to my girls every night before bed up until they could read for themselves. They are both excellent readers, although the older one has always had the courage to tackle thicker novels than the little one does, even at the same age, the youngest enjoys knowing what happens straight away, the older is patient enough to wait and enjoy the story. I know what you mean about changing as we get older, I have gone back to books (and movies & TV shows) that I adored in my youth, and yet to experience them again at this age leaves me flat. Lol

        • Gretchen O'Donnell April 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

          My mom read to me for years – I loved those times together! I still try to read to my older kids – longer books, just for fun – but we don’t usually have the time. I do every night with my youngest, though!

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