Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dear Madeleine

I've been wanting to do more of my Wrinkle in Time re-read posts, but alas, life keeps getting in the way. But I thought I would go on and post this journal entry I wrote the other day, in the form of a letter to Madeleine L'Engle. I had a very rare quiet morning to read when my family was out of town, and I found myself drawn to the final chapters of Wrinkle. Then I just needed to thank Madeleine one more time for this lovely book that has meant so much to me through the years.


Dear Madeleine,

I missed you today.

Despite your passing on to greater life almost five years ago, I often still have a sense of your presence. After all, your books have graced my life for decades. And they grace my shelves…two shelves, in fact, full of almost every book you ever wrote, all crowded together, sandwiched right in between Harper Lee and C.S. Lewis (who then crowds the next two shelves…I guess you can tell who the writers of my heart are).

But I both felt your presence more deeply than usual, and missed you more, while reading today. I’m having an extremely rare day alone, all to myself, and found myself picking up the 50th anniversary copy of A Wrinkle in Time that my sister bought for my recent birthday. Its lovely red jacket, an homage to the original cover, feels smooth in my hands. It’s a hardback, and I’m not used to holding such weight when I read Wrinkle – since for years the only copy I’ve ever read was my read-to-literal-tatters paperback, the same paperback copy I first read at the age of eleven.

I don’t know if it was reading a brand new copy (one with lovely pictures of you in the back, along with that draft chapter that shows your edits that just delight me to see) or because I was all alone with more space and time than usual to intently focus, but I fell into Wrinkle in ways I hadn’t in years. Oh, I’ve read it numerous times in the thirty-three years (wow, is that really possible?) since I first discovered it. But you know, perhaps, how it feels to read a well-loved and much-read story. It’s like visiting with an old friend, knowing the stories she delights in repeating, being able to finish her sentences for her. That’s usually how I feel when I go back to Wrinkle, and it’s a lovely, comforting thing.

Today it felt almost new. I had been re-reading my way at a leisurely pace, and suddenly I was in the final few chapters and couldn’t put them down. Again, a odd quirk of my life (an out of town funeral that my husband and daughter are attending, while I stayed here with work deadlines) enabled me to read with more attention and time than I can usually give these days. I was not rushing to get breakfast on the table or needing to dive into errands or starting my daughter’s school day. I was able to just fall head first into the story and keep reading. I took the book back to bed, curled up with my soft comforter, and kept reading…much as I would have…could have…did…read when I was eleven. By the time I finished the story, and finish it I did, I was crying.

To read with that young-girl intensity, and yet to read with this middle-aged woman’s heart – well, it was a powerful combination. I remember you saying once that we are all the ages we have ever been, and that’s so profoundly true. So I read with little girl freshness and grown-up eyes together – a little bit like wearing Mrs. Who’s glasses, I suppose, and marveling as I see the atoms re-arrange.

I found myself resonating with parts of the story I never had so fully before. Mr. Murry’s character – you did so much with him in such a little amount of space and time – especially spoke to my heart. My own almost ten year old is several states away today, experiencing her first funeral, and all her struggles and seasons lately – with anxieties and insecurities, hopes and dreams, independence and dependence – seemed to play into every scene I read between Mr. Murry and Meg. I understood Meg’s anger at her father for not being perfect and not taking care of everything in one heroic sweep. I understood Mr. Murry’s frustrations and helplessness as he realized that, as much as he would like to, he couldn’t do everything, couldn’t be the strong, perfect parent she wanted him to be. I had always thought, when I was a child, than nothing was more powerful than that final scene when Meg loves Charles Wallace out of the clutches of IT – and yet where does Meg learn to love like that? I found myself in awe of her father’s love for her. I love how you showed him as limited and flawed and yet willing to have a child-like trust in a love and power greater than his own. I love how he was willing to put his daughter in greater hands than his and let his daughter do what needed to be done. The last part of the story – it’s not just about Meg growing up and choosing the hard but right way. It’s about a father (who himself needed rescuing by a trio of young people) learning to let go of control, learning to trust. I suspect that lesson was a hard-won lesson for Mr. Murry, trapped in his dark column, his cloven pine.

And oh, Calvin. How I loved those small moments of potentially blooming romance between Calvin and Meg when I was closer to their age, and I still do. But it’s not just about a boy and a girl meeting and finding one another attractive. It’s about two young people shaped by the same call and helping each other find courage to do what needs to be done. That kiss Calvin gives Meg? The one that brightens her eyes? It’s not a prince waking up a princess kiss, or a kiss of adolescent ardor. It’s a let me kiss you before you go into battle kiss, a kiss of encouragement and strength.

I don’t think I’d ever realized how beautifully steeped in Pauline theology those final chapters were either. Yes, I recognized all the scriptural quotes, but they are so carefully chosen, so integrated into the story you’re telling. I love the way that all those gospel steeped elements are spoken by various characters – not just the three Mrs. Ws (who clearly stand in as angelic messengers) but by Aunt Beast. The God who shapes us for his purposes, who makes all things work together for good, who makes the foolish things of the world shame the wise – is the God of the universe. And so it’s so utterly right that the translation of the song of the winged creatures on Uriel comes through as a Psalm of praise.

And the disembodied brain – not just an homage to Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, not just a “heart defeats brain” moment.  It’s disembodied. As in non-incarnate. And only incarnated love – love willing to do what needs to be done to rescue the one in thrall to the darkness – only incarnated love can triumph. Meg’s act here is a Christ-like act, from the moment she pushes through the cold and darkness to the moment she catches Charles up in a tear-soaked embrace.

Oh Madeleine, I missed you today. And yet I also found myself feeling as though you’d come to visit. I’m so glad you did.



Erin said...

What a lovely letter. I think I'm overdue for a Wrinkle read myself...

Edna said...

Loved this post! And I'm gonna go get the book, too, I think!

Beth said...

I love that this post made you both want to read Wrinkle again. Yay!

It was such a lovely experience for me this time around. So rare I get to give any book that sort of attention these days...and it really spoke to my heart!