Thanks to the prompting of a friend, I recently read Johanna Spyri’s, Heidi. I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far in life without having read this most delightful tale. My life will forever be changed because of a child that lives only on the pages of a book.
While reading Heidi, I often found myself stopping mid-sentence, resting the open book on my chest and getting lost, deep in thought. I found myself thinking thoughts like, “If Heidi were real, I would very much like to take her by the hand and stroll through tall grasses, admiring God’s wondrous creation.”
If you aren’t familiar with Heidi, I highly suggest you order the book today! But, in the mean time I’ll tell you a little about it. Heidi is a young girl who, after the early death of her parents, has been raised in Switzerland by her aunt, Detie. Detie brings 5-year-old Heidi to her paternal grandfather’s house, up the mountain from Dörfli. Grandfather has been at odds with the villagers and embittered against God for years and lives in seclusion on the alm. At first, he resents Heidi’s arrival, but her cheerful demeanor quickly wins his affection. Heidi enthusiastically befriends her new mountain-dwelling neighbors, who also become lovingly attached to her.
For the next three years Heidi spends her days softening her grandfather, loving on her elderly neighbor and nestling herself in the heart of a young shepherd boy, Peter. On each page you experience Heidi’s joy in every new experience and her pleasure in revisiting daily chores and occurrences. Heidi falls in love with life high on the mountain; with the trees, grasses and flowers, the goats that graze there and the fresh air that seems to bring her more enjoyment with every breath. For three years, Heidi lives in her own little piece of paradise and the reader is privileged to look on as she leaps and giggles and basks in all the blessings she has been given.
At the end of these three years, Detie returns to the grandfather’s house, but not to visit – she is there to fetch Heidi and take her to Frankfurt where she will be a hired companion to a wealthy, invalid girl named Clara. Like everyone else, Clara is charmed by Heidi’s simple ways, her friendliness and cheerful disposition. However, Heidi doesn’t stay cheerful for long. She becomes dreadfully homesick and grows alarmingly pale and thin. Heidi confides in Clara’s grandmother who teaches Heidi that she can always seek relief from misery by praying to God.
Heidi grows weaker by the day as she is too homesick to eat. You see, after envisioning the colorful, wide open spaces on the alm, we understand why Heidi begins to wither in the dreary confinement of her new home in Frankfurt. After a visit from the family’s doctor, it is determined that Heidi should return home to her grandfather at once. It is believed, and later proven true, that once Heidi returns home to the fresh mountain air, she will be revived and will once again have color in her cheeks. Heidi longed for the love of her grandfather, the friendships of her mountain neighbors and the unique relationship she had built with her very surroundings. Dear, sweet Heidi.
I don’t live on a mountain top, but I do live in the country. Unlike Heidi and her love of connection, what I love about country life is the solitude. (Remember, I’m a writer, we tend to thrive when left alone in a dimly lit corner.) Because of where I live, depending on which direction I go from my driveway, I could potentially drive miles without passing another vehicle. Now is when I tell you that while I love the innocence and beauty of stories like Heidi, I also love the guts and gore of all things Zombie. So, I admit that while I’m driving down my country roads, passing corn field after corn field, I often imagine myself being one of the few known survivors after the zombie apocalypse. I picture the undead slowly making their way through the overgrown fields while I zoom by in my SUV looking for supplies. I scope out all the houses I pass, wondering which one might have the best stash of canned food, medicine, chocolate and books. When I finally do see another vehicle, I’m faced with a most disturbing dilemma. Do I keep driving towards them? Assume they’re kindhearted like me? Or, do I assume they’re out to kill anything that moves (it’s all about survival at this point, you know), making it imperative that I turn as soon as possible and get out of their line of sight. After all, I must protect the chocolate and books I’ve collected. Oh, the decisions you’re faced with when your homeland is riddled with zombies!
But, this is when I go back to Heidi. You see, I know that my homeland will never be overrun with the undead. But, I have no doubt that at some point, my homeland will be overrun with people who want to kill me because of my faith. This might not happen in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my children…but I’m convinced it will happen. Should it happen in my lifetime, I expect to either be forced from my home and taken to a place resembling Auschwitz, or forced from my home but executed before leaving my property.
Whether it’s biding my time in holding, like Heidi in Frankfurt, or the split second before I take my last breath, I see myself closing my eyes and dreaming of wide open spaces, fresh air, and solitude. In my mind’s eye I’d see the grasshoppers jumping knee high to avoid being crushed as my children and I stroll along. I would see the pond water gently moving with the breeze; a coy popping up here and there to feed. I would hear the faint churning of the tractor in the distance; harvesting crops, kicking up dust that will settle on our property like the morning due. I’d see my husband splitting wood, preparing for winter; our two boys stacking the wood, watching their dad; becoming men before my very eyes. Like Heidi, I will long for the home that brings me peace and solitude.
I’ll be honest though, I’m certain that in the last moment – that last thought – I’ll be reminded that the fresh air isn’t always fresh, the solitude isn’t always healthy and the harvest dust makes me sneeze. I love country living and like Heidi with her mountain top retreat, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But, even on the best of days, I know this world is not my home. The sunsets I see in my back yard – the ones that take my breath way – they don’t hold a candle to what’s in store for me. The wildlife we enjoy here, everything from snapping turtles to wild turkey, and deer and bald eagles…it’s only a glimpse of what’s to come.
As my heart is softened by stories like Heidi, while my imagination runs wild with rotting zombies, while my faith makes me a target for the persecution to come, I look on to a better place. A place more beautiful than anything I’ve seen, imagined, or read about. A place where I will no longer desire to be alone in a dimly lit corner, where the introvert in me will disappear as I kneel before the throne and worship my risen Savior surrounded by my brothers and sisters. The thought of this home revives my soul and brings color to my cheeks.