When I was a little girl in the ’80s, we lived overseas for many years. Among the many things I missed was American television. In Korea we had one English-language television station, and it aired a peculiar mix of programming, none of it appealing to an angsty tween. In particular, every day in the early evening I had quite a visceral negative reaction to that blaring trumpet that announced it was time for Masterpiece Theatre. Ugh.
Fast forward quite a few years to what’s now my current obsession – Masterpiece’s beautiful Downton Abbey. Around here it airs on PBS and if you aren’t watching it now, you must set it to record by whatever digital means necessary so that you can see it, even on those nights when the kids won’t stay in bed, the refrigerator is leaking, you have a million things to do, whatever. Downton Abbey should be your mommy “me time.”
The first reason I say that is because it’s so beautiful to look at. Gorgeous – like sit up straighter gorgeous. But as we know, one cannot live on looks alone. The show is full of great story lines and heroes and villains, plus those lovely, truly amazing sets and costumes. But having worked in media, I can say that those things can be accomplished technically by talented production people. No, the reason Downton Abbey changed my life is because it’s connected with something I’ve been working through.
The show is set in England in the early 1900s. Ooh, how very Masterpiece, right? But all of the characters, from sweet Daisy and Lady Sybil,* to the Butler Mr. Carson and the Dowager Countess (I hang on her every word) are as vibrant and alive as you and me.
Here’s the thing – maybe more alive.
I have a particular interest in fashion history and interior design. But while I’ve always loved looking at images from the Edwardian era and the Jazz Age, I’ve often felt a quiet sorrow from them. Even when I got butterflies from seeing a stunning Boué Soeurs dress, I would know that the woman who wore it in her time and place is gone and the moment is over.
Now it’s a little different. With Downton Abbey, it’s come to me that in the time when those characters lived, there were the same ups and downs, the same large and small life moments, as I live through. Ok, but not in a castle with servants downstairs and dressing for dinner and all that, but stay with me. The characters on Downton Abbey aren’t waiting for 2013 to happen, because it’s not going to – for them. So maybe I have to do less waiting for things to happen and a lot more “dressing for dinner” too?
I am teaching myself to enjoy the time and space where I’m at, even when it’s just me and PBS. I enjoy writing, so I’m doing it here. I enjoy fashion, so I’m not giving in to the athletic shoes and lip balm uniform that I could slip into. I enjoy connecting with friends, so I’m seeking them out. And I enjoy volunteering, so I’m finding groups that need and appreciate my available time and talents.
Downton Abbey changed my life because it reminded me that I’m not watching a story, I’m living one. It will all be my past some day, but for now it’s my present. And I intend to be fully aware of that.
*SPOILER ALERT: So sad for the loss of Lady Sybil. How moving was it watching Lady Violet: “Our darling Sybil has died during childbirth, like too many women before her. And what we can do now is cherish her memory and her child.” Excellent prenatal care is important for all women now as ever. Let’s insist on it, moms.