I confess that I am a Downton Abbey fan. We look forward to watching each episode on Sunday nights on PBS. (I am already sad that this Sunday is the season finale.) The most interesting character in the show is Countess Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith. She is known for her memorable quotes.
Near the end of the last episode, Violet was sitting with Edith, who is in the midst of another crisis – which is typical for all the characters in the show. Sometimes I think Downton is nothing more than a meticulously costumed soap opera for highbrows.
Bemoaning her present plight, Edith says to the countess, “Sometimes I feel that God doesn’t want me to be happy.” Violet replies, “My dear, all life is a series of problems that we must try to solve. First one, then the next, and the next, until at last we die.” Then she adds, “Why don’t you get us an ice cream.”
I have known a lot of Ediths. Good people who believe they have gotten a bad shake. Things do not seem to go their way in life. Trying to make theological sense of it, they decide that God must have it out for them. God does not want them to be happy.
Let me suggest another solution to this theodical conundrum. Perhaps one’s happiness is not dependent on what happens to us. Perhaps it is about what we do with what happens - our attitude to what happens to us in life.
The countess of Grantham has a healthy view on life. Some people will hear Violet’s philosophy - seeing life as one problem after another until we die - as horribly depressing. But it is depressing only if you view problems as depressing … or death as depressing.
Violet never seems depressed. In fact she seems to be one of the most resilient and stalwartly characters. She relishes each crisis as a new challenge to be tackled. Solving problems is her life’s joy, even though there is a part of her that wishes that modernization would cease.
Problems are not bad. They are just life. You can’t have life without them. To think God owes us a smooth ride is a recipe for unhappiness. Problems do not have to interfere with joy. Problems do not mean that God is conspiring against us. It is just the way life is. Happiness is found in the midst of problems, not in the absence of them.
“My dear, all life is a series of problems that we must try to solve. First one, then the next, and the next, until at last we die.” And let us not forget the most important part of the dowager’s wisdom: “Why don’t you get us an ice cream.” It is important to break out the ice cream in the midst of life’s problems. Life without ice cream – now that would be depressing!