All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Secret Wisdom of Nancy Drew: How the Teenage Sleuth Reminds Us of Important Life Truths

Have you ever noticed that re-visiting favorite childhood stories as adults allows us to pick up on so much that is easily overlooked as children in the sheer enjoyment of the plot’s action? Pearls of wisdom we may have missed or ways of thinking and talking that are now considered passé or politically incorrect.  This was the case for me when I recently re-read a couple books in the Nancy Drew mystery series. 

Written by multiple authors under the pen name Carolyn Keene, the books began to be published in the 1930s and have been popular reading material for generations of school-age girls ever since.  Penguin Random House’s website describes the books as “a cherished part of our cultural landscape” and “a noted inspiration for generations of women.”  The books have generated movie adaptations of the teenage sleuth as well as computer games and other items. One year, I even had a Nancy Drew wall calendar!

Though I haven’t come close to reading all of books, I periodically like to return to some of the older stories.  While outmoded elements can be found in descriptions of and references to characters, I also found myself recognizing positive messages that this perennial series subtly conveys.

There are many hallmark features of these books: descriptions of Nancy’s and her friends’ various outfits on different occasions, plentiful meals and snacks supplied by Nancy’s housekeeper Hannah Gruen, and mention of the title of the previous mystery Nancy solved as well as an anticipatory mention of the next mystery Nancy will tackle after she has wrapped up the current one.  And who can forget those classic cliffhanger chapter endings that made you read just a little bit more to see who had screamed or what would happen to Nancy after she was struck in the head and blacked out?

However, beneath the light-hearted fun and page-turning thrills, a few deeper messages emerge that are valuable reminders for readers of any age.

1.) The importance of family relationships. Nancy’s relationship with her attorney father Carson Drew is one of openness, respect, and confidence.  Nancy always discusses her mysteries and problems with her Dad, asking for his advice and help when needed.  In return, Carson Drew unfailingly tries to assist her.  He also just as unfailingly encourages Nancy and puts his trust in her abilities and judgment.  He has confidence in her, and she has the utmost respect for him.

Though it’s hard to imagine many real-life fathers agreeing to allow their 18-year-old daughters to attempt many of the things Nancy ventured to do in pursuit of clues and criminals, their relationship is a good example of a father-daughter bond.  Moreover, it underscores the importance of parents and mentors in the lives of young adults not only to advise and to warn but to encourage and to instill self-confidence.  Especially in the ‘30s when the books were first published, Carson Drew’s support of Nancy’s intelligent and adventuresome spirit is noteworthy and empowering. 

Meanwhile, Nancy’s rapport with the Drews’ housekeeper Hannah Gruen is just as endearing in different ways.  As we are reminded in each book, Nancy’s mother died when Nancy was a little girl and Hannah became a mother-figure to her.  Always fretful over the danger Nancy might be facing on her adventures and ready with revivifying food any time of the day or night, Hannah’s tender love and concern for Nancy exemplify the importance of always being there for family (blood-related or not) and of not being afraid to show you care.

2.) The need for loyal, supportive friends. Though our sometimes seemingly perfect heroine Nancy is clever, brave, and self-reliant, she could never have solved her many mysteries without the aid of her best girlfriends Bess and George and frequently her “favorite date” Ned Nickerson as well as Dave and Burt, Bess’ and George’s boyfriends, respectively. And Nancy would likely be the first to acknowledge that fact.  They were the ones alongside Nancy, “in the trenches,” so to speak, braving danger, contriving narrow escapes, and outwitting bad guys.  Bold George always jumped at the chance to assist however she could.  Bess, though usually more timid at the start, continually came through for her friend.  Of course, the boys always did their best not only to protect their girlfriends but also to help solve the case.

These friends’ willingness to help their pal Nancy through thick and thin reminds us not only of the need to have people in our corner to assist us in reaching our goals and overcoming our challenges but also of the need to be that kind of supportive person for our loves ones.  Everyone needs help along the way and the Nancy Drew books provide concrete examples of this truth through the lens of a group of friends teaming up to solve a mystery.

3.) Compassion for others.  In the series’ first book, The Secret of the Old Clock, Carson Drew states that Nancy loves to help people.  Nancy’s intelligence, affinity for mystery and her sense of adventure aren’t used for frivolous or selfish motives.  Instead, she puts them at the service of others.  She’s not hesitant to become involved in the problems of other people, even people she just met.  She utilizes her talents to help them.  While we obviously must exercise prudence in determining how much we insert ourselves into other people’s problems, these stories show us that good, old-fashioned love of neighbor can come in many forms.  We sometimes might think that charity only consists in volunteering with or donating money to a designated charitable organization.  However, Nancy demonstrates that serving others can be as simple and as creative as using our talents and interests to help those we meet, and she always makes new friends in process. This is certainly a message that is both timely and timeless.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” The truth is that quality children’s literature, seemingly simple as it may be, frequently contains a wealth of wisdom while also providing an entertaining tale.  Initially, the Nancy Drew mystery series may not seem like a candidate for such edifying literature, but a closer look at this famous teenage sleuth with her kindness, smarts, spunk, and respect for others, may just show that she is a worthy girlhood role model who will continue to stand the test of time.

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All, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

A Lesson from the Little Drummer Boy

This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.

One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.

Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boyexemplifies this message.

The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.

I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:

“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

-Leo Buscaglia

The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17

I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.

The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.

And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.

But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.

We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.

In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.

That is a really cool idea to ponder.

Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.

As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.

It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.

As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.

All, Art, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Gift of Dance

In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”

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The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them.  This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.

After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks!  What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have a platform to upliftothers!

In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.

Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.

I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids.  They really do say the darndest things!

But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving.  Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.

Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed.  Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls.  In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their own involvement with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.

It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way.  Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment.  These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.

Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two.  Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me).  In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.

But that is not the point.

Of course, from a business angle, we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows.  However, from a human and personal angle, I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances. Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes, is to uplift hearts and to spread joy.

Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated.  One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults.  Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.

Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost.  One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.”  She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!”  Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!

These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person.  They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.

I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.

“Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.

Beautiful Ballet Pic
Image credit to Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine