I know my memory is probably off and I’m sure I received books as a child at Christmas more than once but I can recall only one time. I was in fifth grade and my parents gave me a two volume hardback set. They had prettily illustrated dust jackets and when you took the jackets off, the author’s names were done in big, old English, fancy, gold lettering on the spines. One was a collection of novels by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. The other was Louisa May Alcott. It contained the novels Little Women, Good Wives, and Little Men.
I still have the books. They are laying on the table beside of me as I write this. They are faded and dusty and held together with spit and hope. When I first received them, they seemed the most special and magical things I had ever owned. Over the remainder of school vacation, I read both volumes. Twain went quickly because it did not interest me much and I skimmed quite a bit. Alcott, on the other hand, I read every word and I read for hours without moving from my bed or my chair. I read it the way a desert traveler drinks from an oasis, with vigor and enthusiasm, as if it were the last book I would ever read.
I could not get enough of the story, especially of Jo. Jo was a writer! She was bookish. She was adventurous. I wanted to be Jo. I started writing in a diary. Those novels were a very big deal for me.
I read aloud to my daughter just about every day of her life until she told me she no longer wanted to be tucked in at night. And still, we had read aloud time during summer breaks. One of the many novels I read to her was Little Women.
Jo was still my hero. Jo will always be my hero. But Beth? Beth is a problem. She is so damned noble and long-suffering, so niiiiiiice. I am never going to be that nice. I don’t want to be that nice. But I felt like a failure for much of my adulthood because I did not measure up to the Beth March ideal. I felt less than. Nobody is that perfect. They can’t be.
I am not Beth March. I get flak for not being more grateful for help which was not helpful. Because what I’m supposed to do is be a Beacon of Light and Hope, like Beth March, and make everyone else feel good about themselves because they bought a pink curling iron or put a bumper sticker on their car. I’m supposed to post inspirational quotes to Facebook with pictures of sunsets and ocean waves and angels. I’m supposed to be a blank canvas, an IMAX screen for others to project their own assumptions, their own fears, their own ideas, about death and dying and disease and femininity and the randomness of the universe. I’m supposed to do all of this, like Beth March, until I pass gracefully on to my Eternal Reward and then everyone can stand around the funeral home and remark on how brave and wonderful I was right up to the end and what a fine Christian example I set.
Fuck Beth March. I’m not going to sit by, smile sweetly, die pretty. I have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing my fiftieth birthday. That makes me mad. It ought to make you mad, too. It ought to piss you off, the way breast cancer rates are going through the roof. It ought to piss you off there is very little research being done on Stage IV disease because until we lick the problems of metastatic disease, there is no cure.
It ought to really, really, steam your shorts to see so many companies co-opting the good will and determination of others to fight breast cancer for their own means. And it ought to make you fucking outraged that companies who are making products that contain known cancer-causing materials are slapping pink ribbons on their products.
Pink washing is a thing. It is a marketing tool. It is not a force for good. It should piss you off. It should piss you off a lot. Businesses do it because they think you aren’t paying attention. Show them they are wrong.
Beth March may have been, may still be, the ideal of perfect womanhood to many. Beth March died. She died young. She died without much complaint. She died of something it took medicine decades to figure out. Don’t be Beth.
Visit The Breast Cancer Action site to learn more:
April 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm
April 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm
Amen! I am not sure there are any real Beth March’s out there. But if they are waiting for some pink fried chicken to save them, they’ll have a long wait.
April 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm
You are spectacular. You are awesome. You deserve many more years of Telling People Things.
April 3, 2014 at 9:35 pm
Beth March would have died worried that her whimpers of pain may have disturbed Laurie, while Jo would have been bringing down the house with her outrage and grief. Go with Jo. She’s the fighter. You’re living with her inspiration, no less noble. Keep writing, Kelly!
April 4, 2014 at 8:53 am
I actually knew a “Beth March.” She was one of my dearest friends for 42 years, a role model and eventually my supervisor at a mid-sized daily newspaper. She was always hopeful and generous and “long-suffering” was her middle name. I never once saw her get angry. She contracted ovarian cancer back in 1989 and suffered through it for the next 20 years — 20 fucking years! — until it ate out her guts and she bled to death internally in 2009. She was 64 when she died, and she had one of the biggest funerals I’ve ever seen.
And it all made me mad as hell, so mad that I blubbered through my eulogy for her. I’m probably a hypercritical, cantankerous old bitch, but I refuse to silently let the injustice and insanity of the world go on without a fight. So you go, girl; we need every she-warrior we can get.
April 21, 2014 at 10:49 am
Watch the doc ‘Pink Ribbons Inc. by the National Film Board of Canada. It says all this and more. She is right.
April 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm
I have seen that documentary and it is well worth the time. Thank you for reading and responding.