For Gilbert, With Love
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Jonathan was the actor who played Gilbert Blythe to Megan Follows’ Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.
After I found out, I spent the rest of that day, and the next few, in a haze of sadness. All lives are worth mourning, of course, but as an artist, Jonathan did something particularly special for me: he brought to life a character who was one of my first introductions to romantic love.
I was seven when I first started sneaking Anne of Green Gables (in book form) into my room to read. My mother thought it was a little mature for me, so I hid it under my desk (somehow, she always found it and put it away).
When I finally did read it, identifying with Anne’s character all the way, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be wanted by someone the way Anne was wanted by Gilbert. There was safety in knowing that though she continued to say no and walk away from him, pursuing her dreams, writing and teaching and moving away, he was always there. He never gave up on her.
Those movies became my go-to fare for when I was sick, and many other times besides. I have seen them many times, and the lines come to me by memory. They ring in my ears and echo in the far reaches of my mind. It is significant that my first boyfriend felt the need to purchase them for me on DVD. I reference these movies often in conversation.
It’s Jonathan’s voice I hear when I think about Gilbert trying to find a way to meet the new girl (who wanted nothing to do with him). That whispered, insistent “carrots.” It’s his critique of Anne’s writing (which was needed, if not appreciated), it’s the way he tells her that there won’t be diamond sunbursts or marble halls, and finally hears the words we’ve all been waiting for her to say: “I don’t want sunbursts, or marble halls, I just want you.”
There are few on-screen kisses as satisfying as that one, for me.
I have grown up and pursued my writing, and my dreams. I have taught, and I have moved away. I don’t have a Gilbert in my life, but the hope was always there. I never let go of the idea that there might be someone in the world who would be delighted by who I was, over years and time and space. That was a gift Gilbert gave me. That was a gift Jonathan gave me.
There is a part in one of the movies that kept playing in my mind after I heard the news of Jonathan’s death. It is close to the time that Anne realizes how important Gilbert is to her, and that she doesn’t want to lose him. As Anne is meeting Diana’s baby, Minnie May says: “Did you know Gilbert Blythe was dying?” As I walked through the hours, sitting with the news, these words kept repeating, as if on a loop.
In the movie, they are a catalyst for change, as difficult things so often are. Anne rushes to Gilbert’s bedside, and he does recover. Minnie May’s words are dire, but they are not true.
Jonathan Crombie did pass from this world, but he left behind Gilbert Blythe. For so many of us, because of Jonathan, Gilbert Blythe will never die.
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