“I am angry nearly every day of my life.” Marmee tells Jo this in one of my most favorite moments from one of my most favorite books. I remember reading this when I was just shy of ten years old, sitting under a big tree in my backyard, still living in our quiet suburban neighborhood in Massachusetts. I remember reading it, because even at nine years old, I could relate to Jo and her quick temper, and I took great comfort in the fact that sweet, calm, and patient Marmee also felt that anger, but had somehow learned to let it out in ways that weren’t destructive.
Twenty years later I still look to these words from Marmee and take great comfort in them, because I still feel that anger every day, and because I’m still learning (and often stumbling) how to be angry and not let it destroy me from the inside out and to not let it poison my relationship with my children and husband.
I’ve read some about Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s real Marmee, and know that so much of her true character is reflected in Jo’s Marmee. My grandfather, descended from Mays in Massachusetts, used to joke, with perhaps with some truth, that we were related to Louisa, and therefore her mother, and that’s why I loved to write so much. I feel a kinship with Marmee beyond the (very unlikely) blood tie. Abigail battled depression and anger for much of her life, just like me. She cared deeply for the oppressed, and did her best to raise children who were aware of the plight of others, who wanted to give of themselves to improve the world, something I aspire toward as well. And she wrote, prolifically, and given a different track in life, she might have been the famous writer, not Louisa. I might not become a famous writer, or the mother to one, but I too draw comfort from putting pen to paper.
What I haven’t figured out yet, as Abigail (and Marmee in Little Women) did, was how to take the power of my anger and use it productively, how to battle those demons of depression and to not let it show to those who need my emotional strength the most. I don’t mean to say that I should not ever feel angry, should not acknowledge my very real issues with mental health, but that I want to better shield my loved ones from the negative energy I sometimes release. I want to learn how to keep calm and be like Marmee.
From everything I’ve read, everything I understand about the transcendentalist movement in 19th century New England, from everything I know about my own family’s faith system, stretching back to those same New England roots and the Congregationalist and Unitarian and Catholic churches, I know that part of Abigail’s (and Marmee’s) secret was her faith. Abigail had a strong and enthusiastic belief in God that guided how she lived much of her life. As I’ve begun to explore my new faith, I am reminded of Marmee’s faith and her belief that doing right in the world was God’s plan for her and that if she put her trust in Him, he would help temper her anger and use that energy to do good.