Four Things I've Learned from Gil and Anne

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.

For women of my generation, before we were old enough to even know ourselves, there was the love story of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.

The death announcement of actor Jonathan Crombie, 48, who starred as Gil in the CBC miniseries "Anne of Green Gables" (1985) and its sequels ('87, '00), sent many of us reaching inward and outward for comfort yesterday, feeling at once sheepish and proud for grieving so deeply for someone most of us never met.

Jonathan Crombie (Oct. 12, 1966-April 15, 2015)

But to us, Crombie wasn't just some celebrity. He was the personification of L.M. Montgomery's fictional hero, and he felt very real and very heroic indeed. He was the one who showed us the richness and power of romantic love built on the foundation of friendship.

Anne and Gilbert ride bikes and argue.
That knowledge is especially resonant because Anne and Gilbert's friendship couldn't take root until Anne let go of her tightly held pride and stubbornness over a minor infraction years in the past. And Gil waited for that to happen. I know I certainly can relate to this shortcoming of Anne's, this tendency to cling to "I was right and you were wrong," despite its petty destructiveness.

Anne fumes as Gilbert tugs her braid after calling her "Carrots."
I have been thinking a lot about Anne and Gil since I heard the news yesterday. The moment I read the announcement will be frozen in time for me, one of those "Where were you when..." stories. I was leaving the library, and I had paused on the sidewalk to check my Facebook Newsfeed. I sank down onto a bench in the 73-degree April sunshine and felt my eyes fill with tears, right out in the open.

I've been trying to figure out since then what exactly their story means to me, what I've learned from repeated readings of the series and re-viewings of the movies — not just from Gilbert, but from both of them, together as a team. What is their combined appeal? It may take some time to understand all of it, but here's a start:

1. Gilbert, the faithful, grounded friend, lends balance to Anne, the head-in-the-clouds dreamer. Ever the teasing, mischievous voice of pragmatism, Gil has innately what Anne doesn't: A vision of reality, possessing a solidness that Anne certainly matches in her character, but that takes her years of growth and hard work to uncover and embrace. Gilbert is there for that process, watching her mature, not giving up on her. Despite his frustration with the slow process, deep down, I think he recognizes she must be who she is and learn her own lessons; he can't do any of the work for her.

2. Anne breathes life into Gilbert. Imagine, if you will, what Gilbert's life would have been like had not the creative redheaded orphan arrived in Avonlea. There was no one on the scene, not then, not later, with the vivacity, intellect, imagination, wit, courage, fierceness and loyalty of Anne. Capable of great injustice, Anne also is capable of abiding love. As my fellow writer Lorilee put it in her "Eulogy for Gilbert Blythe," Anne was "most decidedly other," and Gilbert knew it to his core.

3. Together, Anne and Gil help each other meet their goals. Gil gives up the Avonlea school and takes the one in White Sands so Anne can be near Marilla after Matthew's death. After they graduate from Redmond and Anne (finally!) accepts Gil, she waits for him for three years to finish medical school. Together, they build their House of Dreams, and they fill it with little dreamers.

4. Forgiveness is a powerful, powerful gift. They both need it from each other: Gil needs it from Anne after years of being shut out, and Anne needs it for trouncing on his heart over and over again. I don't think this story's core and beautiful truth came about by accident. I think L.M. Montgomery knew what the human heart craves because it's what she herself craved. What I crave. What you crave. Montgomery's love life didn't work out happily, but she sent Anne and Gil's story out as a prayer into the universe anyway, to bless all the lucky and unlucky lovers to come after.

I'm so thankful she did. So, so thankful.

Read more posts in my Storytelling Sunday series here

You may also like


Makayla said...

Wonderfully written!

Rachel E. Watson said...

Thanks, Makayla. It's so tragic Jonathan Crombie died so young -- but I'm amazed at how it's united "Anne of Green Gables" fans everywhere and made us think about how the books and movies impacted our lives. That's what great art does. I'm so glad to be part of this calling. :)

Anonymous said...

I love Gilbert and Anne together.