Dignity and Downton Abbey

Dignity and Downton Abbey

Dignity and Downton Abbey

I search the pantry, looking for the perfect snack.  The babies are in bed, so I take my time.  What I really want is a Canadian maple cookie, imported personally by my husband back from his stay in Ontario.  I stare at the orange Mr. Maple box…no, it’s probably sinful at this point to have any more sugar. An image of the Sacred Heart comes to mind, as well as a story I had read a month or two ago about some babies after birth needing an insulin drip after experiencing sugar withdrawal symptoms, and I close the door.   My husband prepares a cheese platter and finds a bottle of wine.

Satisfied with our treats, we race to the couch, my husband’s laptop open in front of us.  He right-clicks and the beautifully dramatic and intense music starts.  A gorgeous estate appears on screen, and it begins—Downton Abbey.

I watch as the beautifully dressed, perfectly-coifed head family tends to their daily business.  I get distracted trying to decide what the ladies’ dresses are made of.  I envy the gorgeous fabric and tailoring and matching jewels and gloves and hats, glancing down at my own now mannish-looking “outfit” of jeans and maxed-out maternity top.  Too depressing to behold, my eyes return to the screen and I wonder how they get their hair to curl and stay up like that.

I smile as the mother refers to her husband as “his lordship”, who is every bit a lord, inside and out.  Gallant and handsome, virtuous and principled, he runs the estate with great care, aware that his inheritance is the fruit of the labor of generations ahead of him, determined to  preserve this great gift to the best of his ability.

And then the camera cuts to the also beautifully-dressed staff moving quickly about the house, deftly completing their chores with equal care and concern.  I fantasize about them coming to my house, fluffing the pillows, making the beds with clean linens, creasing the sheets, leaving a jar of biscuits next to our beds.  Mr. Carson, the head of staff, doles out reminders to the staff that they and their work must always reflect the dignity of the family of whom they serve.  I am immediately struck by both the truth of his words, how we as Christians would do well to remember the same as we daily strive to serve our Lordship, and with what a foreign ring they resonate in my modern ears.

All verbal exchanges—pleasant or not– in the house between the family, the servants, or between the two are marked with extraordinary politeness and decorum and the whole scene unfolds with great dignity.

At the end of the episode, my husband closes his laptop, if a little reluctantly and we head upstairs to bed.  I kick my daughter’s pink nightie to the side of the hallway with my toe, and I watch as my lordship brushes his teeth.  My life feels so casual compared to what we’ve been watching the past forty-five minutes.  I wonder if a wait staff, gorgeous dresses, and a clearer cultural code of decorum would help.  Maybe, I think.  But I suppose I already have a Lord, and those extra things simply point to the reality that I already ought to know—that our serving Him, Infinite Love, is the most dignified work there is.  I simply need faith to remember that.  Not maids…but faith and maids would be awesome.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer


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  1. bobbi @ revolution of love on

    As a lover of Downton Abbey I could really relate to your post, particularly as you compare your own household to it. Thanks for the reminder that Faith is the key. 🙂

    • Meg Matenaer on

      Oh, isn’t it so good? And I should’ve mentioned that I’ve only seen the first season–I hope the subsequent seasons are as good as the first! Thanks for writing–I’m happy you’ve been enjoying it as well!

  2. Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit on

    Meg – I will never watch Downton Abbey the same again. What a wonderful perspective. Thank you for sharing!

    • Meg Matenaer on

      Thanks for your kind comment, Lisa! I’ve just found the first season, at least, to be so helpful in my work at home. Sometimes I imagine myself as one of the maids and I think when I do, I clean the bathroom better! lol..God bless!

  3. Love this! I too watch Downton with my husband…I thought I was the only one…
    We do serve a wonderful Lord…
    (And it is always wine and chocolate… 🙂

    • Meg Matenaer on

      A solid choice! You just can’t eat Cheetos or something like that while watching, it wouldn’t be right!

      • Amen to all of the above! When will the next season start on PBS? I know it’s playing in the UK… but what about the US? Or do I need to watch it on-line?

        • Meg Matenaer on

          Hi, Kathleen! I tried to look up the answer for you but found that I couldn’t get too far without uncovering future plots, so I had to stop, but I hope the next season comes your way quickly!

  4. Beautifully written! I’m not sure I can adequately express my response, but I’m going to try:

    The cultural element seems key, to me. Lord God, lordship husband, or whatever you will, we in our American homes are NOT going to be able to recreate the decorum and grace of these times. And it really is sad to me. We are no longer in an age with culture — there is no thick thread of “should” flowing through society. Think of a ballet: everyone knows what motions are allowed and which are not; everyone knows when to move in this or that way; and it is beautiful! But it is carefully choreographed!! Our culture is so proud of being “freestyle” (to keep the dance analogy going). Even if you dance a ballet in terms of the etiquette in your own home, your kids will need to adapt to the freestyle allowances of life outside their home. Again, I think its too bad. In past times, people could RELAX because they knew what others expected of them, what they could expect from themselves, and how it would all fit together in a larger whole of family and society. Not anymore, and I think the casual-ness you describe is a NECESSITY as we deal with the stress of navigating through a less-well-defined culture (in which we are each making up our own parenting philosophies, our own how-to-fight-fair rules with our spouse, our own traiditons (Halloween, anyone?!), etc. That’s stress these people in olden times did not have on their plate. Their manners were a luxury. We don’t have that luxury.

    Sure, I think we should all do what we can. But it must and will be sloppier. A sign (in my opinion) of the scattered-ness of we adults, who do not have a uniform culture to hand on to our children. (Even when I make my kids call adults “Mr.” and “Mrs.” my friends sometimes contradict me and say, “Oh, no! They can call us John and Lizette!” It is just one tiny example of the lack of uniform cultural expectations which FREE people up to feel relaxed in social situations and (as a consequence) graceful.

    I’d love to know if this made any sense or if anyone agrees/disagrees.

    • Meg Matenaer on

      Oh, I agree, absolutely. I find the lack of cultural decorum super stressful and spend far too much time trying to decide if I’m getting it right with my children. It is so tiring having to make it all up as we go along. Thanks for writing!

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