By Elizabeth Howard
If you haven't read the classic novel, written by Eleanor H. Porter and published in 1913, you may have seen the Walt Disney film, released in 1960, and featuring Hayley Mills in the title role. The movie was a box office success and catapulted Hayley Mills to stardom. You have probably not seen the silent movie that was made in 1920 and featured Mary Pickford.
Eleanor Porter was born in Littleton, New Hampshire in December of 1868, grew up there and attended Littleton High School. In 1990 the National Organization of Women recognized her as "A Notable Woman of New Hampshire".
There is a bronze statue of Pollyanna on the lawn in front of the stately Carnegie Library on the Main Street in Littleton. She is sporting a bonnet and wearing a long full skirt, her arms outstretched in a gesture of pure happiness. If you haven't visited Littleton recently, you will love the Main Street, which received The National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Center Award in 2003. Stop at the Littleton Diner for a stack of pancakes, walk past the Pollyanna statue and then enjoy cafes, a music emporium, probably the world's largest penny candy store and tempting mid-Century modern furniture and antique shops.
Pollyanna came into my mind late last Friday afternoon. I had spent the morning trying to sort through the events of last week. One shooting. Two shootings. Five policemen killed during a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, Texas. According to a report published by the Council on Foreign Relations "the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, has about 35–50 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns, according to a 2007 report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita. The United States also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world's most developed nations".
Gun control is almost meaningless at this point. Our country is filled with not only guns, but military assault weapons. Now we must figure out what has gone so terribly wrong and work to restore basic civility.
On Friday morning I felt sadness and hopelessness. I have been fortunate enough to travel across the globe and to many remote communities in developing countries. People admire the United States. They look to us, as a democracy, as an example of how people from diverse backgrounds can live together, peacefully. I am not certain what they think now.
Pollyanna was an orphan who helped people find goodness in every situation. She brought joy to individuals, however curmudgeonly, and looked at the world through a crystal prism. In true Disney fashion, she sprinkled wonder dust where-ever she went. That is until she was in an accident and lost the use of her legs. Then she was unable to find anything to be glad about. The community rallies around Pollyanna and as the novel ends she regains the use of her legs and has an appreciation for walking.
It sounds trite but perhaps the week of violence we have just come through will help us realize that something must change. Perhaps in our despair we can find the goodness and will that is required to move forward.
Poverty, homelessness, job instability, the divide between the haves and the have-nots, religious intolerance, too many firearms, veterans returning after spending years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, too many young men being incarcerated, then ignored in overcrowded prisons, racial tension, drug problems, obesity that leads to health issues... it isn't just one problem that must be solved and these problems cannot be solved by one political party or a few individuals. We are at a point where we must all work together as individuals, within our communities, in our states and nationally and let go of our fear and intransient positions.
When a word becomes part of the lexicon, through popular usage, the individuals editing and writing dictionaries begin reading and tracking it. I thought that "Pollyanna" would be in the Oxford Dictionary. It is.
There are two definitions: One is a "person who is able to find apparent cause for happiness in the most disastrous situation." The second is "a person who is unduly optimistic or achieves spurious happiness through self-delusion."
I hope I am not self-delusional about what we can achieve working together after reflecting on the events of last week.
"...Fear could not be cast out, but by love. ..." writes Alan Paton in Cry the Beloved Country.