Today’s quote comes from perhaps my all-time favorite book, Rilla of Ingleside. Beautiful, sensitive Walter has just told his baby sister that he’s decided to join the war efforts. She’s devastated, and he says they should just look to the years beyond the war when the boys will all be marching home, and they’ll all be happy again. She responds that they won’t be happy in the same way, and he says this.
No, not in the same way. Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness I think, little sister – a happiness we’ve earned. We were happy before the war, weren’t we? With a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn’t help being happy. But that happiness was a gift from life and love; it wasn’t really ours – life could take it back at any time. It can never take away the happiness we win for ourselves in the way of duty.
This is a sentiment in Rilla that always stayed with me, and I feel I’ve learned it now for myself. In almost every life, there is war. Bitterness struggles with the desire to move forward. Hatred tries to squelch forgiveness. Selfishness overshadows love. When we rise above our sickness, our sorrows, our trouble – and by rise above, I mean only that we don’t let these things make us hateful or cynical – it’s a victory no one can take from us. When the sorrow fades or the sickness is healed, our relief mingles with the joy of having realized we were stronger than we thought. Now it’s a new kind of happiness, and in my experience, a much better one.
When it comes to wording, another part of Rilla that I love is the way the narrator distinguishes between the three brothers. The eldest, who signed up immediately when Canada entered the war, went “radiantly, as to a high adventure”. The youngest went in a “cool, business-like mood” as if something disagreeable simply had to be done. Walter, so afraid at first that it ate him up inside, finally went in “the white flame of sacrifice”. I love that sentiment too, because it shows we can all face our private wars differently and the happiness can still be earned the same. It’s facing the war that matters, not how long it took us to build up the courage or how cheerfully we said yes.
And no matter how we face it, once we have, the things we earned within it can never be taken away.