One of the coolest (eerie – cool) phenoms of the human experience is the sensation of déjà vu. It comes out of nowhere, and it’s so incredibly personal (no one else can really grasp what you’re feeling) that – if you’ve experienced it – you know that it’s impossible to describe or explain to anyone else. Scientists and mystics have their ideas about what might trigger the déjà vu response, but it’s hard to pinpoint and label a mind-body reaction that is so random and so unique to each individual who feels it.
Like many words in conversation, we latch on to phrases and use them in broader contexts. Even if you’ve never had an actual déjà vu episode, you ‘get’ the phrase when it’s casually used to express “Been there, done that!” This was my Trigger today, when I read that the current film adaptation of the novel (written in two volumes, 1898 and 1899) “Little Women” has, so far, grossed the equivalent of $109.6 million dollars worldwide. This is pretty astonishing for a number of reasons. First, this story has been reproduced (on stage and on film) fourteen times, and still we haven’t had enough of it. I get that it’s a classic (like a good pair of basic black pants, the Little Black Dress, or Jackie O’s famously huge black-orb sunglasses). What’s remarkable is that the plot is a coming of age story – girls to women – that was written in what’s considered the Victorian era: a time of extreme repression for women, regardless of social status.
So why, when media companies have to work so hard to capture and hold our attention (so that we’ll spend our dollars to be entertained), are they looking-back to a time when women of all colors and classes were basically considered chattel ? And why have these companies apparently struck (literal) gold with this latest (Greta Gerwig) adaptation? Listening to Gerwig’s explanation, she describes fond memories of hearing her mother read the story aloud to her. For sure, “Little Women” is an inspiring tale about strong women and the solidarity they enjoy together. But strong female characters (human, superhuman, or alien) have been highlighted in films for decades now, without a single one enjoying fourteen iterations (not even Star Wars or Star Trek).
Women have always gained strength through the stories of other women: a tradition of shared words, emotions and nurturing ‘presence’ that began a long, long time ago. Despite having lived my own very full life as a highly independent and ‘accomplished’ woman, the words of my maternal grandmother (who lived until age 93) still linger in my memory and echo in my heart exactly when I need a refresher about how to approach a personal challenge. It wasn’t just the fact that my grandmother was a woman who’d lived over nine decades and knew a thing or two about how to do that courageously (she’d had a full career as a teacher, raised a family and cared for her ill, blind, widowed mother-in-law for twenty years, in her own home). The most poignant thing my grandmother did was actively share what she’d learned: the wisdom she’d gained as a result of some pretty tough times. I think of her stories as ‘breadcrumbs’ she left for me, hoping that as I followed my own destiny, I would feel guided, loved, supported and always safe.
Although I’m not anywhere near my grandmother’s Level (in terms of years on the planet or wealth of life-experience), I understand that women want something very specific from ancient stories. Not just entertaining and amusing films like “Little Women”, but any and all examples – past and present — that whisper to us how brave and capable, strong and loving, fierce and beautiful, independent and nurturing, creative and pragmatic we are. The mother in “Little Women”, Abigail March, is that reassuring voice: the Protectress; the nurturing Empress, and wise High Priestess of myths. We yearn to express ourselves fully and freely, but to also stay connected to our roots as women. This is something we can do for one another, every day, in whatever ways that our busy live allow.