Monday, June 9, 2014

he told me everything I've ever done

It's mystifying and delightful how words and pictures and moments come into your life, and transform it so deeply that you never knew a time when those fragments of words or that glorious moment was not a part of your vocabulary.
Just as it is impossible to remember how you thought before you had the language in which to think, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine how you encountered the world before you had that moment to include in your imaginative parlance.
Thus, a life that is lived in the light of a particular vision becomes nearly impossible to render without that scope of vision.
I remember once, several summers ago, picking up A Ring of Endless Light. Prompted by the stormy winds of time and college, I decided it was time to return to the anchor that is Madeleine L'Engle's lucid writing. I had read The Irrational Season that semester, and its clarity had tasted familiar and was at the same time completely novel and refreshing.
I had decided that I liked L'Engle once more.
Many Waters is the culprit responsible for my exile from L'Engle's lovely prose for so long. Misguidedly, I read Many Waters at that unfortunate adolescent stage when any mention of nudity or of a human's more delicate regions is met with great embarrassment and uncomfortableness. Obviously, this embarrassment rises because the images are far more vivid for you, the wide-eyed and adolescent, dazed by hormones and the adult world rapidly swallowing up your childish horizon, than they are intended to be by the author, an enlightened and sophisticated adult, whose mind is blessedly unaffected by the tsunami of hormones that daily engulf the teenage brain. (Sadly, Perelandra was victim to the same phenomena at roughly the same time. Thus, if you had asked me before the age of twenty to summarize that volume, I would have told you: Oh, it's a bunch of naked people running around on floating islands on Venus, slitting the backs of fogs. Dreadfully unpleasant. Thankfully, my perennial crush on C.S. Lewis impelled me to revisit the gentle and stern beauty of Perelandra. As I do not harbor the same feelings for L'Engle, Many Waters has not benefitted from the same treatment. Perhaps it is time to revisit that book. But also, something whispers to me I may not find a world as lush as Perelandra inside the covers of this novel about story of the nephilim and the Murrays. But that is another discussion for another time.)

Anyhow. Now that you have an overly involved and highly unnecessary history of my relationship with the writing of Ms. L'Engle, we will return to the point.
 I decided I liked Madeleine L'Engle once more.
Thus, I began to read A Ring of Endless Light at a time when I was:
a. halfway through my college career
b. seeking some answers. 
(This strikes me as a rather obnoxious and clichéd thing to say [although to say something is both obnoxious and clichéd may be a bit redundant]. For it seems to me that all humans are in a constant state of seeking answers. So, what I suppose we mean when we say that "so and so is seeking some answers" or "it was a time in my life when I was seeking the answers" what I really mean is that I currently had a lot of angst about finding the answers. It is not to say that usually at the end of this period, we find answers, usually we don't, but we've achieved some sort of zen about it. Either because we've read enough Rilke, and we've embraced the command to "live the questions now" or because we've had a twin encounter to Orual's, and we've found the one "before whose face the questions die away". The one who "Himself is the answer."
And then after that, I don't have angst about finding the answers. Partially because I suppose I trust they the answers are indeed provided for in some way [in the words of my father: I am what I am and I have what I need], but mostly because I have a good book to read or a play to write, and I really haven't time to fret over luxuries like answers.)

I only got far enough in this new L'Engle book about this new family known as the Austins to know that this book was about dolphins (promising, but not tantalizing), and it contained the enchanting and wonderful phrase: "hair-colored hair." For the next two years, I couldn't have told you anything about that book. But I knew I would have gone to my grave remembering the delightfully accurate and beautiful phrase: "hair-colored hair."
I didn't get very far in the book, and the reasons why are shrouded in the misty non-remembrances of the past.
I think I was interrupted by Moby Dick (a rather obtrusive character, you know).
In turn, Moby Dick was interrupted by Life, and so, in the process of writing my own story, I sadly had to toss both Melville and L'Engle overboard on that particular voyage.

Eventually, however, I came back. Of all the L'Engle books to choose, I chose A Ring of Endless Light, because the quote that had lodged itself so firmly into my mind, my heart, my outlook on life and my identity was Grandfather's charge in Vicky, near the denouement of  A Ring of Endless Light.
"You are to be a lightbearer, Vicky, you are to choose the light."
There will come along people in your life who are messengers, usually without meaning to be.
This quote was a gift to me from one of these.
Thus, I read A Ring of Endless Light, hoping to find something in this book something that would elucidate that charge.
Something that would perhaps add to the weight that those simple sentences bore in my heart.

And what I found was such a sweet surprise.
I have never read a book whose phrases, whose lessons, whose words seemed as if they were plucked from my heart.
I have never encountered a story that seemed to parallel so utterly with my own.
(Not that my life is full of telepathically communicating with dolphins, as Vicky's happens to be that fateful summer. But we're talking about substances here, friends, not accidentals.)
Although wildly different from me, the heroine, Vicky Austin, seemed to be experiencing so many of the lessons of life: the sweet ones and the sour ones that I have learnt (both willingly or in spite of my self) over the past four years.
From the hair-colored hair to her discussions with Grandfather about evil.
The wrestling with death, the deepening love for her family, staying home to nurse a loved one--even when it really only means being present to them, mothers reading out loud at bedtime, the stars, angst about boys, navigating younger siblings' new selves.
But, really, at the heart of it all is Vicky's journey to discover her voice in her writing, discover that inside of herself is this budding poet--a poet whose voice shines through most clearly when she empties herself. 
Vicky's journey is to find those moments where she is free--no longer a self replete with self--but an empty shell, waiting to be picked up by Someone who will say: This is not dead, and can then fill it with Himself.
If I could pick a book that summed up the past four years, I would choose A Ring of Endless Light.

It's funny how you can find yourself in stories.
Or, to find a moment that you, too, have witnessed manifest itself inside a tale.
To read a story about a place you love, or about a time of day you thought only you had ever noticed or fallen for.
To find out that a love you have felt inside of you has been felt by many others, all over the world--from the dawn of time until even now.
It is incredible, awe-inducing, terrifying, and enchanting to discover that shimmering underneath all our stories is The Story--
A ring of endless light that cuts through the dazzling dark.

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