Saturday, June 26, 2010

Go Ask Alice

Like every self-respecting girl of my generation, and probably every other kind of girl too, I loved the Brady Bunch. Every Friday evening for five years (decades in little-girl-time) centered around it. Like every other little girl I knew, I wanted to be Marsha, the oh-so-cool and beautiful older sister, or at the very least to be as cute as little Cindy, who everyone adored. Even to be Jan, the relatively plain middle daughter, would be better than the knobby-jointed, crooked-haired, four-eyed, bad-toothed, unpopular child I saw looking back at me from every mirror. Raised an only child (my siblings having grown up and moved away before my earliest memories), I envied those sibling relationships. I wanted cute brothers to fight with but who would secretly really love me, and would defend me when kids picked on me at school. I wanted a family name that would escort me immediately into the attention of every teacher and student who heard it. And, of course, I wished for such parents: in equal parts kind, respectful, fair, caring, young, hip, and wealthy.

Ah, the Brady's! They had it all. No wonder they smiled! No wonder we loved them.

But there was one smile in the Brady household that puzzled me even in childhood - Alice's. This was a smile I could never account for. She had neither youth, nor beauty, nor husband, nor child, nor car, nor home of her own. Oh, sure, they threw her and Sam, that non-committal butcher, on an occasional date, but, so far as I was concerned, she had no life. She lived her every waking moment smilingly serving this family - every one of them - as if she were a slave, and smiling as if they were her own flesh and blood, which they weren't. In my mind there was just no accounting for it.  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a stupid child. I understood this was TV and these were actors. But even then I had some awareness that in the world there were and had been real slaves, and real servants who really lived their lives in that way. I knew that somehow they had to find their happiness within that structure, and I knew that those who did where finer humans than I could ever hope to be. I was awed to think such a thing was possible, and yet, admiration aside, I knew I did not want to be that fine of a human, not if that's what was required. I'd rather be numbered among the shallowly happy elite than the deeply happy humble.

Alice was a bridge to another time, a hold-over from a day who's sun was setting. I've heard our economy referred to as "service-based" and yet I've wondered again and again, "Where is the service?" Indeed, I've just as often sat on my end of a phone call wondering, "Where is the human?" Service, along with professionalism, are relics of by-gone days. There was a time when it was only the elite (and the men - but that's a discussion for another day) who expected to be served. Now, we all want to be served, but no one wants to be a servant. So it wasn't just homely little-girl-me. It's my whole generation; we all want to be the Brady's. The yearbook from my junior year of high school satirically depicts the two seniors voted "most likely to succeed" in the school custodian's closet holding his mop and bucket. Poor janitor, mocked by the children he served....

No one wants to be Alice.

But think of the poverty of a world without "service with a smile". Imagine how your soul would shrivel if you knew that every last person who served you did not care about you at all, not in the least, but did it only for selfish gain, or avarice, or desperation, or fear. What if every smile really covered a cold dark universe of swirling motives. Imagine a world without mother-love, father-love, the mutual admiration of lovers, without genuinely concerned employers and employees interested not just in making a buck, but in making the world a more lovely place. Imagine if the whole world was like the DMV.

It seems the longer I live, the less I need to use my imagination.

Yes, I've seen Gosford Park. I know Alice represented an ideal, and there never was a time when the world was full of people like her. But behind every ideal is a hope - a vision of a perfect world. She represents a yearning in us all - the tugging need to be cared for by someone devoted to us, deeply committed, loving us selflessly and unconditionally. If there is a picture of the humility and love of Christ in the Brady Bunch, Alice is it. She represented the secularized residuals of the Christian ideal, the dying legacy of the Protestant value of work as worship and self-sacrifice as love. Alice did have a life. Her life was consumed with love and spent loving. That may not have been her family by blood, but it was by choice, and it was by love. That is why Alice smiled. She knew the joy of love. In this she was rich. In this, she was beautiful. In this, she was better than all of them.

So why don't we see it? Why is it that everybody wants an Alice, but no one wants to be one?

Why does no little girl want to be Alice when she grows up...?

"The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:11-12

7 comments:

Miranda said...

Brilliant. Words to think on for sure. Thank you Laurie.

Prisy said...

We used to have household help when we lived in India. Our old cook reminds me of Alice. A friendly cheerful lady, who was always cracking jokes and served our family lovingly. Her life outside of work was terrible. Most people who live in the developed world can never understand. But she always had a smile for us.

thenface2face said...

oh, i want to be Alice when i grow up!

Karen

ny4jb said...

For a second I thought you meant Alice in Wonderland - the book is public domain now so I downloaded the text and I've been using it to practice morse code but that's another story. BTW - the DMV here is actually pretty good but I remember what it was like when I lived in NY...

Good words and it's tempting to think it's worse now then it ever was but I don't think the role of Alice has ever been filled very often - it's not a popular model.
God bless
-jim

Warren Baldwin said...

Linked here from Karin's site. Looked at a couple of your blogs.

This is a very creative post. In fact, most of them I have read are. I am of the generation that remembers the Brady Bunch, so I really enjoyed your Alice article.

If you get a chance, please visit Family Fountain.

Laurie M. said...

Thanks Warren. I'll pay you a visit.

Kelly said...

We were visiting someone when their housekeeper came over, our middle daughter was 6 or 7 at the time and she followed the housekeeper all over the house. The very sweet and hard-working Hispanic woman let our daughter watch her and even engaged her in conversation. When the housekeeper left, our daughter immediately announced she wanted to be a housekeeper when she grew up. Sadly, a grandfather spent several days afterwards talking her out of it :(