“Thanks an awful lot.”
There have already been previews and reviews, a deep-dive segment on Studio 1A, and a bump in book sales, but there’s a lot more than nostalgic value for me in the movie “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Based on the book by Judy Blume and including her among its producers, R. and I watched it last night in a theater, sitting in the cushy, reclining center seats of the front-center row, a thunderstorm raging outside, just one other viewer besides us in the audience. I cried through much of the movie, holding my man’s hand, watching onscreen a story both timeless in its issues and very particular to its place in the arc of American history and geography and my own life. There on the screen was Margaret, to whom I was first introduced and became friends with when I was a few years younger than she is portrayed, the same age my own granddaughter is now; there was her mother, whom I have also been; there was her grandmother, whom I am now, defining this stage of life, finding my way through what it means to be an aging American woman.
When Margaret’s story was first published in 1970, I was four years old, but I read it maybe four years later (along with many others then and since, my reading skills outpacing age-relevant/appropriate material), and followed Margaret’s story of a girl’s adolescent and spiritual awakening with the boy Tony’s, in Blume’s Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. I saw more clearly last night how profoundly a central part of my worldview was informed by Blume’s persistent tone throughout her books and her treatment of all her characters, from primary to peripheral, dynamic to flat, younger to older, girl to boy: a deep sympathy for what it is to be a human being in a messy, changing, complicated body among a society of dis/similar others. Blume doesn’t make fun of or dismiss her characters and their most tender issues; instead, she attends to their hearts and minds and social selves with compassion and clarity. Because of Blume, adolescence and other developmental wrenching—in myself, in others—didn’t embarrass me or serve as a source of mockery; she offers me the same grace now.
I was struck by what hasn’t changed since 1970 about the processes of forming social structures: What personal discomforts are we willing to endure to fit in and get along with others? In what ways are we willing to suspend or modify our own values or tastes to accommodate those of the group? What prompts us to have the courage to assert what we know to be right, even if it creates disruption? I was struck by the societal changes between 1970 and 2023 that the story reveals: The positioning of developing self within strong gender binaries; the assumption of heterosexual attraction; the prominence and ubiquity of religious identity and practice. I was struck by the demographic changes since then: When I was 11 years old, Margaret’s age at the beginning of the story, my mother was also young, just 32; now, the averages are older—mothers are more likely to be going through peri-menopausal changes along with their daughter’s puberties than are grandmothers.
Most poignantly, Margaret’s private, authentic, sincere connection with God, her assumption of and reliance on God’s interest in and attendance to the minutest details of her life—her developing body, her wide-ranging thoughts and mercurial feelings, her sticky and dear relationships, her every waking moment holding personal and cosmic meaning— modeled for me what might be possible, what has become decades of a treasure of an abiding spiritual life.