“Did you know Gilbert Blythe is dying?”
Those words were among the most tragic of my childhood. I grew up on Anne of Green Gables. Televised the year I was born, Anne was who I most wanted to be when I grew up, although my hair was the color of Diana’s, and like Diana, I was born in February. Anne was my role model. I borrowed her expressions, talked about needing scope for my imagination, and wished for puffed sleeves with all my might. But most of all, I wanted Gilbert Blythe.
Gilbert Blythe was the male character who most defined my childhood. With a father uninterested in anything to do with me, Gilbert Blythe was the one who survived my man hating era after my mom finally divorced my dad, being the one remaining male paper doll to survive the Danae-enacted-eviction of all the other male paper dolls.
Gilbert was kind. No, he wasn’t dashing. He didn’t go overseas and have daring adventures. He wasn’t rich or titled. He worked hard, went to college, and became a doctor. He wasn’t brooding. He wasn’t emotionally unavailable. He wasn’t like Mr. Darcy, or Mr. Rochester, or any of the other literary crushes I would later have, but he was Gilbert, patient, kind, and always set on Anne.
Love, we are often told, is a passionate affair, filled with fire and sparks. Think of Scarlett and Rhett. Think of Daisy and Gatsby. But Gilbert and Anne are the ones who taught us that sometimes, oftentimes, love comes in the form of a kindly friend, one who we can’t imagine life without.
Life gets in the way, and we forget this, because we are busy, and trying to have it all, leaning in and leaning out until we forget which way we’re supposed to go, much less what we are supposed to look for in another.
Then a generation of women like me were dashed back into reality when we heard that Jonathan Crombie died at age 48.
I had no idea that so many knew who he was, until I finally capitulated tonight and went online to order the DVDs from Amazon. They’re out of stock. They are out of stock at all my local Barnes and Noble stores. Even the complete collection of DVDs which adds up to over a hundred dollars and probably contains more discs than I am comfortable with switching in a three hour Annefest is out of stock until the end of the month.
For a generation of us, Gilbert Blythe was the one. We have all been reminded that he did mean something to us, something that no other childhood crush meant, and something that’s hard to express to our current significant others and even to ourselves. He meant that it’s okay to settle down into a comfortable life, and that kindness is perhaps the most important virtue to look for in other people, for Gilbert Blythe was kindness personified.