Lark Rise to Candleford
My favorite PBS show from the BBC this season is not Downton Abbey, but rather Lark Rise to Candleford, a costume drama set near the end of the 19th century in the Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise and neighboring town of Candleford. The BBC adapted the series from a trilogy of semi-autobiographic novels written by Flora Thompson, published between 1939 and 1943. What sets Lark Rise apart from other costume dramas, where sometimes the characters come across as self-centered and petty, the folks of Lark Rise seem genuine as they struggle to find the right path, even if their best attentions sometimes fall short. The program shows human frailty tenderly as the characters search for answers to their challenges in difficult times.
Because I am a big fan of EastEnders, the popular, gritty British soap opera, I laughed when I read this review of Lark Rise in The Guardian, “A rural Victorian EastEnders with telegram deliveries instead of murders.” Whereas EastEnders offers an intriguing and somewhat addicting storyline in an unending series of hopelessly agitated characters, unable to find one modicum of mindfulness in response to each other’s failings, Lark Rise characters offer philosophical insights to the latest crisis. Those insights often happen through the humblest character.
Shall We Assist?
In this recent episode, Season 4, Episode 1, the townsfolk accused Dorcas Lane, main character and post mistress, as meddling in everyone’s business, causing untold distress. Dorcas, who consistently affirms that she only has one weakness, whether it is banbury cakes, feather pillows or baths, decides that this weakness of meddling must be addressed, and she vows to no longer interfere in her neighbor’s lives. The problem she almost immediately faces is whether to step into a situation in which she could be genuinely helpful. Standing on the edge of disaster seems cowardly but backing off from her commitment also seems like a half-hearted effort to check her interference. I won’t give away how the rest of the story unfolds, but this theme gave me pause.
What factors do we measure when to step into a situation. Of course, if someone asks us to help, we can without hesitation. What about if someone cannot see their situation objectively, overcome with emotion? After careful thought, can we offer assistance in form of advice, money or help? How do we assess how any of our generous offers might affect outcomes? We might ask ourselves if somehow this offering of advice plays into our own ego. Are we giving advice to sound important or because we feel we have the authority to do so? Are we responding to a dangerous situation that needs immediate attention? It takes courage to speak up in unjust situations where our input may not be welcome.
Offering advice is a difficult negotiation with only a few guidelines. Like Dorcas, best not to make hard and fast rules but rather carefully evaluate the factors in each situation. We may not always get it right, but a thoughtful response might offer folks in our times some comfort and help.