A lesson from Lady Sybil and Cousin Matthew


If you have talked with me in the last two months, seen my tweets in the last few weeks, or read my blog in the last few hours you probably know of my obsession with the PBS series Downton Abbey. My obsession began over winter break, a time that is best suited for catching up with friends, family, and of course, TV. My mother has been a devoted Downton viewer from the beginning, and she had insisted again and again that I would love it, even though I didn’t need much convincing. It’s a show filled with British accents, British history, British drama, British heartthrobs, British countryside, British castles, and Maggie Smith, also very British. Need I say more?

It will come as no surprise then that I was hooked from the very first episode. My intentions to watch just one episode a day quickly faded from mind as I became more attached. I needed to know what would happen next to this family that I could no longer remember not knowing. My days were spent at Downton, and my dreams were filled with its stories.

There is one particular episode that, until the current season began, I couldn’t escape. The finale of season three left me shocked, heartbroken, and angry. How could Matthew die when everything seemed so right? (For those of you who don’t watch the show, Matthew was one of the main characters from the first three seasons. To make a long story short, the closing scene was of Matthew dying in a car accident. As if killing off a character that everyone loved wasn’t bad enough, Matthew’s wife had just given birth to their son. Everyone was happy and then disaster struck, leaving me and every other Downton addict distraught.)

I couldn’t understand why the show’s writers would want this to happen. Matthew was a favorite, and in the span of two weeks, had become one of my favorites. I was shocked, but I really had no right to be. In fact, something similar had occurred before in the series. By similar I mean that a main character, a character that was given the most likable personality and storyline, was suddenly removed from the show by means of death. This character was Lady Sybil, the youngest of Lord Grantham’s daughters, who died while giving birth to her first child. It was a horrific scene, and I was distraught then, too.

My shock led me to do what any sensible twenty-something would do. I googled it. I searched for the answer as to why my new favorite show, and family, had let me down. I wanted to find an article that said the actors whose characters died were just as angry as I was, but, of course, I didn’t. Instead, I found them saying that they would miss the show, but were excited to move on with their careers. I watched an interview with one of the writers of the show that made it sound as if it wasn’t their fault for Matthew’s untimely death. Matthew had to die because Dan Stevens, the actor who played him, was ready to leave. How could he be ready to leave?

I was angry until I read an interview with Stevens, and his explanations for leaving the show changed my mind. Dan Stevens was ready to move on because he needed to see what else was out there. The man who says he wants to be in movies, theatre, and even directing positions is getting the opportunity to try them all. He has already seen so much success, but some say he still might one day regret his decision, and he admits that there is always that possibility. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to decide to leave a show that brought him so much fame without having any way of knowing what would happen if he did.

There is a lesson in this story, and it’s a lesson we have all heard a million times, but need to be reminded of often. Taking that leap of faith into the unknown is always scary, but if you never jump, you’ll never know what might’ve been. It’s so easy to stick with what is comfortable instead of chasing those difficult dreams. As someone who admits to overanalyzing every decision I’m asked to make, I struggle with trusting my instincts and jumping. It was just a few days ago that the woman who told me to watch Downton Abbey told me that making a decision is almost always better than not deciding at all. I think it was Emerson who said that all of life is just an experiment, and the “more experiments you make the better.”

Dan Stevens is just a good example of why we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, get out of our comfort zones, and jump. 

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