Ranjana TN

Lessons from Beth March

I just had a good cry this afternoon. I am reading Little Women for the second time (the first time was more than a decade ago) and today I read the part where Beth dies. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that it’s about four sisters of the March family- Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Beth March is the sweetest of them all. She’s simple, loving, meek, and attends to homely tasks with sincerity. She willingly gives her time and attention to helping others with their chores. She is often generous to strangers and does acts of kindness to people both known and unknown. Of all the sisters, she leads the least scintillating life because her world is enveloped in her house amidst her parents, sisters, and the little town she lives in. Jo wishes to be a world-famous writer, Meg desires life’s luxuries for herself, and Amy longs to be a ‘lady’ and marry into a rich family. Beth’s greatest desire is to be amidst her loved ones. When she passes away, every single person who’s ever known her mourns.

On her deathbed, she comes across a note written by her sister Jo talking about the ways in which Beth has touched her and the lessons her selfless nature has unknowingly imparted.

“Have I been all that to you, Jo?”

“Oh, Beth, so much, so much!”

“Then I don’t feel as if I’d wasted my life. I’m not so good as you make me, but I have tried to do right. And now, when it’s too late to begin even to do better, it’s such a comfort to know that someone loves me so much, and feels as if I’d helped them.”

For some reason, this conversation touched my heart deeply. Beth’s low-key, unassuming, simple personality got me thinking about the people in my own life who work away in the background, making my life so easy, comfortable, and beautiful. Their energy is a steady, constant hum in the background that light’s up my life. Their presence is so loving, comforting, and enduring that it’s often easy to forget them and the role they play in my life. My paternal grandfather was one such person in my life. He passed away a couple of years ago. He died of cancer and it was only after he was gone that I realised the effect his presence in the house had on me…on the entire family. He had a steady, patient, happy air about him that gave me a lot of peace. He made home, home. No one was or has ever been as patient with me as him. I miss him direly. Who are the Beths in your life?

Beth’s personality also got me thinking about generosity and kindness. They seem to be the universal languages of bonding and human connection. You never, ever forget a helping hand or a kind deed. What about day-to-day generosity, though? For eg., my maternal grandmother is a kindly, patient soul who tirelessly cooks and takes care of household matters day-in and day-out. She’s been doing this for years and years. In the book, Beth worries that she’s not done anything that matters and has wasted her life. While grandiose accomplishments are wonderful and praise-worthy, there’s something deeply enduring about daily toil and selflessness that makes a person far more remembered. It’s what makes them so loved and missed long after they’re gone.

I’d like to be a Beth to someone one day. I think it would be a pity to live life without having played such a role to at least somebody. I’m a person with big plans and lofty goals. I’d like the world to know my name someday. Beth reminded me that it’s better to be deeply and intimately missed by a few people than being remembered fleetingly by millions of people. To be that eternal sunshine for someone…to love simply and purely. And to let that be enough.

One of the biggest regrets I have is that I never spent enough time with my paternal grandfather when he was on his deathbed. I never told him how much he meant to me. It was only after he passed away that I realised the role he’d played in my life on a daily basis. It was like having a beautiful tree in one’s backyard and to one day find that it was gone, leaving behind emptiness. I so wish I’d just held his hand and told him how much he meant to me. I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t happen with my maternal grandparents both of whom are alive.

Make sure that you recognise the Beths in your life and waste no time in telling them how much they mean to you. Don’t let their steadiness and constancy fool you into taking them for granted and believing that they’ll last forever. They won’t. Cherish them and love them with all your heart. And above all, tell them so.