LySaundra Janeé

The Gospel. Black Music. Justice. Resilience.



Lessons from Downton Abbey

I’ve been fighting tears of denial for the past few months, but the time has come. We are living in the final weeks of the last season of Downton Abbey, and while I’d prefer the number of completion, seven, and just one more season with the Crawley family (please, PBS?), I will take in these last few weeks joyfully.

The season finale will air on Sunday, March 6th at 9pm ET. Until then, I’m taking time to remember all the quirks, sentiments and memories of the Downton estate as life lessons. Here’s a list of some of the best moments from Downton Abbey and what they taught me.

1. It is possible for a woman to be unconventionally traditional

The experiences of the women at Downton were anything less than scandalous, even for our generation. However, I’ve learned through Downton that as a woman, I can be as fearless, shocking and oxymoronic as I may choose. The Dowager Countess is both refined and full of wit that may be dropped at the least expected moment; Sybil Crawley was innovative, revolutionary and charismatic; and even Daisy, who works in the kitchen, blossoms from being simple-minded and unsure to inquisitive and daring.

Memorable line: “I’m a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose”. – Dowager Countess

2. It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all

Daisy and William; Tom and Sybil; Mary and Matthew. Many people loved and lost throughout the 6 seasons of Downton, but the moments shared between each of these couples through their short-lived marriages taught me that the best relationships don’t have to come from years of time spent together, but being intentional and purposeful with every small moment you get to spend together.

Memorable line: “I’m not a romantic, but even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose to pump blood.” – Dowager Countess

3. Girl Power!

I can’t count how many times something revolutionary took place for a woman on Downton Abbey, or how many times I sipped my cup of Earl Grey tea and yelled, “Damn right!” at the tv screen. Mary took over the estate, Edith owned a magazine company and Sybil wore pants, worked as a nurse and raised her voice on political issues. Who says being a woman in the early 1900’s meant sitting all day drinking tea and smelling flowers? Seeing these world-changing moments on screen reminded me that if women could do it then, we can do so now.

Memorable line:“He’s a man. Men don’t have rights.” – Dowager Countess

4. …but boys are allowed, too

Each of the Crawley sisters had their moments of defying societal norms, but each also managed to do so with supportive men by their side, showing that feminism and the modern woman does not mean the exclusion or hatred of men – it just shows that as women, we can…and we will.

Memorable moment: Edith gets a helping hand from Bertie, the man she’d had previous plans for drinks with, after her editor walks out on the magazine to finish her print deadline. Once the task is complete Bertie states, “You inspire me.” to Edith.

5. Change is uncomfortable, but necessary

From highly-loved characters being killed off, to despised ones finding work elsewhere (Mrs. O’Brien) so much change happened at Downton Abbey in addition to societal changes during the turn of the century. I learned from Downton, in the middle of my very own major life changes, that while it’s extremely uncomfortable, change is necessary; because caterpillars who love their cocoons too much, lose.

Memorable line: “What would be the point of living if we didn’t let life change us?” – Mr. Carson

6. You don’t have to look forward to the weekend if you live it everyday

Downton Abbey taught me that work can be about a lot more than just earning a paycheck. You don’t have to go on in life dreading Mondays and living for Friday – if you do what you’re passionate about and seek daily inspiration, you’ll begin to see every moment at “work” as a Friday.

Memorable line: “What is a weekend?” – Dowager Countess

7. Fight for loyalty and stand beside those you love

No two people have taught me more about pushing through trials on Downton Abbey than the Bates’. From murder accusations, sexual assault, disabilities and miscarriages, the Bates’ have taught me that marriage is not easy, because love isn’t some butterfly feeling with goosebumps, it’s selfless sacrifice and a choice to see the good in someone even when others are calling them a crook.

Memorable line: “You are not spoiled. You’re made higher to me, and holier because of the suffering you’ve been put through. You are my wife, and I have never been prouder, nor loved you more than I love you now at this moment.” – John Bates to Anna

8. Think big, but don’t think you’re immune to failure

Many ventures happen at Downton Abbey – they are still fresh into the turn of the century where we see women taking on new roles, and cultural norms in society ever changing. From the aristocrats to the servant’s hall, I’ve learned that no one is safe from failure, but everyone has the opportunity to venture out and try something new.

Memorable line: “Every mountain is unclimbable until someone climbs it. So every ship is unsinkable until it sinks” – Robert Crawley

9. It’s never too late to love

We’re wired for relationship as humans – whether romantic or platonic – so it’s no wonder why many of my favorite Downton Abbey moments have been focused on relationships. Mr. Bates thought that his chances for love had sailed away until he met Anna, The same goes for Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, and for the underdog of the Crawley sisters, Edith. I’ve learned that there’s always hope and love will truly find you when you least expect it, and it could be where you’d never think to look.

Memorable line: “You’ve lived your life, and I’ve lived mine. Now it’s time we live them together.” – Matthew Crawley

10. There’s joy to be found in simplicity

I’ve loved the interactions seen in the servant’s hall, especially during times of setbacks. Two of my favorite couples have been from the servant’s hall – Mr. Bates and Anna, and Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Many of the workers in the servant’s hall, at least in later seasons, understand the social ranks, but do not necessarily covet the experiences of the upstairs. There’s this sort of joy that comes from living a simple life; almost a relief.

Memorable line: “I’d rather have the right man than the right wedding” – Anna Bates

11. Be assertive, but stay classy

Another reason I loved Downton Abbey so much is because it showed me that it’s possible to be assertive while remaining poised. You don’t have to be belligerent, arrogant or belittle others to get your views heard at the table.

Memorable line: “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit” – Dowager Countess

12. Through joy and pain, live life on purpose

We can’t conquer perfectly, that which we’ve never done before. No, that wasn’t a Downton Abbey quote, but another major lesson I learned. Someone once told me, in the midst of one of many college breakdowns, that we “don’t come to school to know, but to learn”. Why live life or go to school or take a job because you know everything? The point is to make memories, learn and live purposefully – through the mistakes and all.

Memorable line: “The business of life is the acquisition of memories.” – Mr. Carson

13. Life comes with surprises. Keep your composure.

They call it the poker face. You aren’t supposed to let anyone know that you don’t know what you’re doing. I learned this also as a musician – make every mistake look like it was on purpose; it’s called improv. So many scandals occurred over the past 6 seasons of Downton; it was a test, surely, to see who could stand the fire. Stoicism is what I’ve learned from the Downton house.

Memorable line: “Never look as if you disapprove” – Dowager Countess

14. Love without expectations. You never fully know someone.

There’s always much more to a person’s story; and this goes for more than just romance. I don’t believe people are to be viewed as projects to master or understand completely. We’d drive ourselves crazy and hinder the possibility of a beautiful relationship.

Memorable line: “Everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden” – Dowager Countess

This may be the final season of Downton Abbey, but the Crawley family and all the people of Downton will forever have a special place in my heart. The lessons and stories, though fictitious, were captivating and inspiring.