When Anne Shirley Saved Me by Tracy Murphy
I often tell people that Anne of Green Gables saved my life, and I don’t use these words lightly. Anne Shirley showed up in my life exactly when I needed her. We were like two misfits, Anne and I, and kindred spirits we became. L.M. Montgomery’s words brought me a warm comfort that I had never felt before. She gave me a world that I had never seen. Perhaps this is why so many readers fall in love with Prince Edward Island; so quaint it’s almost like a fairy tale land. Green Gables became the land I would call home.
A lot of girls first read Anne of Green Gables when they are somewhere in the eight to twelve bracket. Me? I was 22. My anxiety level was reaching new limits as I was working tirelessly to complete my undergraduate degree as I battled a dramatic spike in seizure activity, caused by Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. At the beginning of my culminating semester of college, I was having up to twenty-five seizures a month, my short-term memory was beginning to give me trouble, and I was severely exhausted. On top of all of this, my “normal” anxiety and PTSD symptoms were at an all time high, making it more and more difficult to get any sleep. I felt like a bomb — just waiting to have another seizure, another anxiety attack, another nightmare.
As part of a larger creative work for my B.A., I decided to read a classic work of children’s fiction. Through some random Amazon searches and Goodreads browsing, I came across the title Anne of Green Gables. I had heard of it, of course, but all I knew was that it was an older book starring a red headed girl named Anne. It hadn’t been on my radar prior to that year, really. I didn’t even know who L.M. Montgomery was. Unlike many bibliophiles, I didn’t read very much as a child. I was never that kid (you know, the one under the blanket, flashlight in one hand, book in the other? Yeah. Not me.) So I did a search online from my iPhone for “Anne of Green Gables PDF” and found a free version through Project Gutenberg. I read the first few pages and decided right then I would need a hard copy; it was simply too small of text to read on a little rectangle of a phone. The next day I popped down to my local bookstore, Everyone’s Books, and grabbed a copy that was on a clear twirling display among other classic children’s literature. I thought the girl on the cover looked quite bizarre, perhaps even a little mischievous.
I was hungry for this book. I took about a week to read it, savoring every word, every delicious scene. I would open up the book, read a few pages, and put it down not wanting it to end. I laughed with Anne — certainly, green hair was worse than red. I cried. Oh, Matthew, buying our girl a new dress. Puffed sleeves! I had a new friend. A home. A sanctuary. I had a book that I loved and it loved me. I felt as if Anne of Green Gables was somehow written just for me. It found me and understood me when nobody else did.
The magic of my story is here: During the week I spent getting to know Anne and the rest of the gang, I had all of the normal stuff going on. I felt anxiety pulsing through my bones. I had seizures. But there was something different, something quite changed. In that reading week, I could feel all of those things – anxiety, fear, exhaustion, the pressure to finish my degree — and be in Avonlea, with Anne. I could “go” to Prince Edward Island. I could see into the kind eyes of Matthew, the beauty on The Lake of Shining Waters, the charm of the old one-room schoolhouse. I felt a sense of belonging like I never had before. When I finally finished the book at the end of the week I wept. I remember slowly placing the book down, taking time to sit with it for a few more moments. I took a picture of it, sitting there in the mid-afternoon sunlight. Even though I had only owned the book for a week, it looked well loved. And it was, truly.
Anne of Green Gables was my compass. It directed me to a new understanding of how reading helps navigate the anxieties of everyday life. It gave me the comforts of home I didn’t know in my own traumatic upbringing. It continuously heals and transforms, showing me new ways of being. Above all things, it gave me a place I could always return to, no matter what. A bosom buddy for all times.
Tracy Murphy is currently pursuing an individualized M.A. at Goddard College where she is concentrating in Transformative Language Arts with an emphasis on the power of books. When she is not reading, Tracy enjoys playing the french horn, knitting, and spinning yarn. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two cats.