A Tale of Two Sisters

by: Gail Tunnell

Lizzy was introverted, almost reclusive.  A young woman in her twenties, Lizzy still lived at home and, in fact, rarely left the house, except to pick up some grocery items or go to church with her family.  Her parents reluctantly allowed her to leave school as an adolescent because the experience was simply too painful for her.  As busy, working, social people themselves, they did their best to gently encourage her to continue her education at home while still trying to win ground in her battle against social anxiety.

In one of life’s ironies, Lizzy’s sister Lu was her exact opposite.  Where Lizzy was quiet, meek, and diffident, Lu was loud, boisterous, and outspoken.  Lu jumped in where angels—and Lizzy—feared to tread.  She held strong opinions and voiced them vehemently, sometimes offending others; Lizzy’s personality was sweet and inoffensive.  Despite this, Lizzy and Lu were incredibly close.  Their very opposite natures created mutual respect, admiration, and love.  Lizzy longed to be bold and sure like Lu; Lu wished to be content and gentle like Lizzy.  They could not imagine life without one another.  They shared secrets, hopes, dreams, and fears.  Sadly, these two sisters were destined to part too soon.  Lizzy became ill and died at the age of 27.  Lu was inconsolable. Her sister, who loved her, supported her, understood her, always thought the best of her, was irreplaceable in her life.

It is a sad story….but it is a story that most of us already know.  In fact, many of us “know” these two sisters fairly well.  Louisa May Alcott (Lu) was an author of a famous novel called Little Women, writing herself as the character “Jo.”  In the book, the death of the third sister “Beth” (Lizzy) is one of the most poignant, heartbreaking, and beautiful sections.  Generations of young women—including myself—have cried, despaired, and felt inspired by the passage.
Elizabeth Alcott, by most standards, accomplished little in her short life.  She did not complete a formal education, never married, had children, held a job, or traveled the world. Very few people who lived near and around the Alcotts would have even recognized her by sight.  However, within her own family, especially with her sister Louisa, she made herself essential, valued, precious and necessary.  Her influence and life inspired Louisa Alcott to write one of the most well-read and influential novels of all time.

The Alcotts were Christians.  They believed that their lives mattered, that God had a purpose for each of them.  In Little Women, Beth thinks it is her purpose to serve her family, to help make home a sweet and pleasant place for the parents and sisters who went out in the world to work, teach, learn, etc. Would Lizzy—could she—ever have imagined that over a 150-year period, the story of her simple life would inspire millions of readers, that thousands of young actresses would vie to play her character on stage and screen, that “Beth” would become a popular name for baby girls…all because of her?  Elizabeth Alcott submitted herself to God’s will and followed the teachings of Christ, making herself irreplaceable to her sister Louisa.  Then, Louisa, also following God’s purpose, made Lizzy’s life’s story immortal, a story for all of us.

Everyone’s life matters. God has a purpose and plan for every human.  We may not fully know, but He knows. We may plant seeds that we do not see grow to maturity; we may never on this earth know exactly how our “life’s work” reaches others, but each of us is irreplaceable.

1 Comment

Natalie Jourdan - April 3rd, 2023 at 10:07am

I love this post Gail! We love Little Women at our house, I’m sure that comes as no surprise! We have our house full of little women. 💛

Your thoughts made the story much more sweet. Sadly, I didn’t know the story behind the sorry and I now appreciate Beth’s character much more and even Jo’s because I see the love between sisters and the value of their important place in the family. Taking this out a step further, it makes me appreciate our place in the Kindgom, our strengths, weaknesses, victories and struggles. We all need one another!