Of Madeleine and Me

Happy Birthday, Madeleine L’Engle!

What a treasure it has been to grow up with her in my life. From my first experience with her—first reading A Wrinkle in Time as a youngster—to enjoying the Austins’ and O’Keefes’ lives with them—then moving on to an assortment of her adult novels (A Severed Wasp is my favorite) and the Crosswicks journals. One thing Ms. L’Engle never did was sanitize life. She presented as it is: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the excruciatingly beautiful. She also expanded my mind in ways it most definitely needed expanding, often through multiple rereads (having an addiction for reliving my favorite authors’ books).

One of my favorite of her quotes is:

“We are homesick not so much for something that was, and was lost, as for something that will be, and is to be found.”

Her words on writing are of enormous encouragement to someone who has always wanted to be a writer–starting in childhood through journal writing (which has never completely stopped, but there have been seasons of life which seemed to painful to write down) and the rare short story, the occasional poem that continued through adulthood, then a short article and book review in a small circulation magazine in my 20s. My 30s were when I had our son and was totally across the country so most of my writing was in email, although around 40 I began to wonder if maybe I could write for publication at some point, but probably not until The Teen was grown and we had finished home education.

But several years ago I realized I didn’t have to wait until an empty nester–Madeleine didn’t–and began reading writers on writing and occasionally starting a short story or collecting ideas for possible writing projects, usually non-fiction. Then I began my blog, which has been more off than on due to my health issues and family priorities and eventually, once my health got really bad, I started binge watching TV or movies because reading was too hard and writing was inconceivable. As my next birthday will be the 50th, I want to make the most of whatever’s in me, so that I can be a conduit of grace to others as she and Elizabeth Goudge, Jan Karon, Judy Christie, Patricia Sprinkle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie have been to me. It most likely won’t be via fiction writing but whatever I’m supposed to do I’m committing here, on the vigil of the first Sunday of Advent–and our very last day of this liturgical year–to a new outlook.

Recently, the most affirming words I’ve read in a long time came from her journal on her 40th birthday, at a time when she was experiencing piercing pain from publisher after publisher with their rejection letters and she had fallen into such great despondency that she decided she was meant to renounce her writing. But after a day of tears and a typewriter ensconced in a shroud, she finally came to a place where she realized something profound about herself.

I have to write. That’s the gift I’ve been given. And even if I am never, ever published again it is still what I have to do…I’m glad I made that decision about myself as writer in the moment of utter darkness in the pits, because it’s very real…It was a very real decision. And it is a decision we all have to make.

Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase, from the chapter “The Discovery of the Vocation.”

In the response to the question, “What book changed your life?” writer Annie Dillard says:

“A Wrinkle in Time” saved me because it so captured the grief and sense of isolation I felt as a child. I was 8 years old when it came out, in third grade, and I believed in it–in the plot, the people and the emotional truth of their experience. This place was never a good match for me, but the book greatly diminished my sense of isolation as great books have done ever since. I must have read it a dozen times.

From: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/books/review/anne-lamott-by-the-book.html?ref=books&_r=0

For those interested in learning more, the best website is
http://www.madeleinelengle.com/
where you can find Twitter and Facebook feeds, and a blog with unique and informative posts.

By the way, the day I found a hardcover copy of Wrinkle signed “Tesser well!” by the author was one of the most eerily joyful days of my life, as if I had connected with a writer whose books had helped me and whose words on writing always inspire me to just do it…or as Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And so now I’m doing just that. Thank you, Madeleine, for your honest revelations about the writing life but also thank you for writing, your contributions to your family, community, and the world at large. I look forward to meeting you one day when time has wrinkled for me and I’m no longer bound by chronos time but exist in complete kairos time.

P.S. I find it interesting that today is also C.S. Lewis’ birthday as well, another favorite author…”Coincidence? I think not!”

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