Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey

Having a bad back (and achy legs and feet as well as sore neck) made me couch ridden for 2 days trying to seek relief along with a Chiropractor's treatments.  This isn't about what I did to hurt my back - it's too much hard work done by someone out of shape and not getting any younger.  That aside, being couch bound allowed me to watch every past chapter of Downton Abbey.  Yes - from episode 1 of year 1 to episode 8 that aired last Sunday night on 2/12, I have seen the whole thing in 2 days.  

It is an epic story of the changing of the old world of the 19th century for the new one of the violent and chaotic 20th.  I suppose if the story were to go on long enough, we could drag each of the players into World War II and see their lives, especially the older ones, effectively drawn and quartered with total finality from what they knew in, say, 1910.  At the same time, you witness the rigidity of the classes of pre-WWI England and, realize that the chances of having been born a servant versus having been high born and wealthy weigh much more heavily on the side of being born the servant.  Which would not have been fun.  They worked from sunup to sundown for the sole purpose of making the lives of the wealthy effortless and smooth.  Knowing what it is like to have an education and the ability to make my own decisions (however I may have screwed some of them up) about my life, it is stifling to imagine being stuck in a "class" and having to live out the role expected of me solely based on the accident of my birth.  And to treat those who are wealthy with respect, often when it is not earned or due to exemplary behavior - that goes against my American grain.  I'm somewhat of a defier of authority anyway, so I wouldn't have done well.  I'd probably have ended up like Ethel, the poor little housemaid who slept with the soldier who was not held accountable for anything because he had money and position - and because he was a man and able to get away with it.  For all that, I loved the security and safety of the old ways where everything was clearly defined.  Those who worked for their living were humble and grateful and proud of their labor for the most part, and happy, too - not even imagining a different life.  One of the main things I noticed and remember from the teaching of my youth is the great truth of self sacrifice.  Today it is all about being happy and doing what makes one happy - but living for others, however unpopular that idea is now, is far more fulfilling in reality.  How about those WWI soldiers who didn't question, but did their duty?  In our human thinking, there was no purpose to the war, but in God's plan all events have a purpose, as does every life however short.  Those men and women were operating on that principle - that what we do, we do for a reason that we may not understand, but it is God's will;  and that others are more important than ourselves.    The other thing I noticed was the crassness of Richard Carlisle and all his money solving every problem.  Granted, I like a comfortable house and the idea of modernizing things is alright to a point.  But it was his attitude that struck me as representative of the new age that came after the War to End All Wars (yeah, right....).  His attitude was that money is the most important thing, not family, not tradition, not rules, not honor or integrity.  Money.  It can solve all ills according to men like Richard Carlisle, whose philosophy comprises today's thinking.   To hear men and women referring to honor and dignity and protecting women is beautiful, while at the same time acknowledging that the human race is flawed and while some women were protected, others were left without recourse because they were women.

Our society doesn't make men and women with integrity or values anymore - Christian values.  The parts of the series that most moved me?  The scene where Anna and Bates go into a Church to pray and the wedding scene with it's old fashioned Biblical language between man and woman under the headship of God.  And most of all?  The funeral scene of Lavinia where the priest intones "earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes", which sounds horribly dreary until he continues with the beautiful words.... 

"The sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ who shall change our vile body that it may be like unto his glorious body according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to Himself."

To hear the words "Lord Jesus Christ" in a respectful way on television these days is amazing and refreshing.  Thinking about my own father who is in a home and unable to take care of himself or remember much - these words are water to the thirsty, life to the dead.   I look at pictures of dad, young and handsome and with his whole life ahead of him, and clutch the words above to my heart with their comfort and promise that we shall be like Jesus in eternity, young and vibrant again.  I noted that Ethel's little boy, born in 1919 would be my father's age today - 93.  How odd to see that little baby and realize that today he, if he survived all that came between, would be today quite old and doddering.

Because I saturated myself in this story for 8 straight hours each day, it became more real than my own life for a short time.  It made me pause and reflect on my own youth, the lovely summer days in upstate New York as well as the cozy falls and winters I remember.  They, too, seemed safe and secure in comparison to the knowledge I have today of the world.  I look back and remember that some of the accoutrements of everyday living that were in use in the early 20th century were still around here and there in the late 50's and early 60's when I was growing up.   I don't think of them until I notice something, perhaps in an antique shop or in a movie and I realize that I remember when those things were used in everyday life - and had forgotten them.  How can we forget what people used to look like and how they dressed, or what buildings were like and cars?  When I look back I deliberately try, sometimes, to remember not just the interactions with people, but what our surroundings looked like.  I recently looked up my hometown, Middletown, NY, on Google Earth and what I saw so depressed me.  We were a post-industrial society in my youth, but the towns and villages in the Eastern US had not totally disintegrated yet and "Urban Renewal", that blight of good architecture" had not yet occurred.  There were still jobs and locally owned stores and the malls weren't invented until the late 60's and early 70's in my area of upstate NY. I remember my mother taking me to buy Buster Brown shoes at a locally owned store and there was a lavish display of the Buster Brown character and his dog and I wanted to climb right into it and play, it was so clever.  I also remember Tompkins, a locally owned upper crust department store on Main Street in Middletown.  There was no air conditioning and all the displays were tables and drawers underneath.  There were ladies and even men to wait on customers in far greater numbers than today, and they were all grown men and women with families who earned their living this way and didn't live in poverty.  In other words, when i was young a man could be a shoe store salesman or a woman could work at a counter - just one counter selling one type of thing - in a department store, and make a survivable living, one that would support them.  For men, this living could even support a home and family with a wife that did not work.  To work in a shoe store today, one must have 2 or 3 other jobs to make ends meet and there aren't enough hours in a day for the money needed to be made, let alone to support a family in a house.  We have all shopped in places these days where it is impossible to find anyone to help you if you need it, and when you do find someone, they are usually teenagers and don't know a thing about what you ask and couldn't care less.  In any case, Middletown was a mass of crumbling old buildings, ratty looking homes and empty, garbage filled lots where buildings once were.  The look of degradation, defeat and old age is awful.  I remembered when my father was a teacher at the high school in Middletown - for some 30 years, and how things looked and people acted back then.  When I look over the local paper I recognize no names and the crime log?  It is growing by leaps and bounds. 

Take a look at http://www.shorpy.com one of these days and look at some of the pictures of towns in America like Detroit and Cleveland and Newburgh, NY in the early 1900's.  How clean and new looking all the buildings are, how busy the streets with well dressed, hatted women and men in business attire.  Yes, there are workers and more poorly dressed, but the majority is middle class.  The streets are quite busy and the shops are numerous, whereas city pictures today are almost solely parked cars and if there is activity on the sidewalk, it is people dressed practically in their underwear or pajamas at best. 

We are moving toward the wrap-up of history, I do believe.  

In any case, Downton Abby is a wonderful series and I will now be keeping up with the weekly showing on Sunday nights like everyone else.

Since I am a Dispensationalist and believe in the End Times and the Rapture, it has always seemed to me that history has a recognizable crescendo and upcoming end - at least this Dispensation will end and another one begin.  The Church Age will end and the Tribulation will begin.  I can so see the progression of how this will occur in the 20th century.  That century started with the sureness and arrogance of the 19th, that all would go on as before, only better. And then hell broke loose and toppled the form and shape of Western society and governments. 


Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

In England, the episode we had Sunday night was the last of Season 2 and they had to wait for the Christmas special to wrap it all up.

I was SO relieved to see that PBS is showing the Christmas episode this next Sunday night so we don't have to wait to see what happens.

I have enjoyed this so much. I was just talking to a friend in New Mexico today who hasn't watched it but she was talking about plagues and how they could happen (such happy talk but we met on an emergency preparedness forum, hehehe).

I told her about Sunday night's episode and how it was so realistic from what I had been told about the Spanish flu.

My father-in-law had it as an infant and ended up dying almost 70 years later because of the way it left scars on his heart (and an infection settled in them).

Susan Humeston said...

Hi, Brenda - I read a book called "The Flu" a few years ago about how scientists traveled to Alaska and found some frozen tissue of someone who had died of the Spanish Influenza and were able to get the gene configuration of the virus - I read about how deadly it was and how it was almost a bit like Ebola with the slushing of the lung tissues. What a horrible thing!!