Sunday, March 24, 2013

Searching for Quiet

This week, I was forced to read in a hurry. I'd read most of Game of Thrones, but never finished it because it made me tired and sad. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was metaphorically put in the cone of shame for still having it (I was borrowing it from a coworker who wanted to loan it to another coworker). So I finished An Unexpected Light and then repicked up Game of Thrones and finished it on Tuesday. Which meant that between dance class and work and choir, I really didn't start this week's book until Saturday afternoon.

Somehow I wound up once again on non-fiction, opting to read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. I have long loved L'Engle's work. A Wrinkle in Time was one of the books that led me toward sci-fi/fantasy, and the whole series has had a profound impact on how I view the universe. Plus I wanted to be Meg, awkward smart Meg who turned into a beauty in A Swiftly Tilting Planet and who found a cute nerdy boy.  Sigh. If only I could meet a Calvin...

Besides that, I mainly picked it because the back had a blurb on how it would make you understand why you got out of bed every morning. And I've been stressed and unhappy and angry and feeling unappreciated because of work, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning sounded appealing. Maybe it would make me feel marginally better, maybe I wouldn't so frequently read emails and literally yell in frustration (which is bad for multiple reasons, including the fact that the writers of these emails could walk by at any moment).

It was exactly what I needed. There have been several moments like that recently, mostly around religion. I'm not particularly comfortable being overtly religious. I don't hide it; my coworkers, for example, all know that I have given up drinking for Lent and that I am in my church choir. But I don't like spontaneous talking about my faith. It feels mushy somehow, and pushy. I'm not a proselytizer, I'm indifferent toward converting those of different faiths, mostly because I question the existence of hell, and I have a hard time believing in a God who would send good people to it just because they grew up in a family with a different religion.

And L'Engle addresses that. The book is nominally about writing, but is actually about life and religion. And she was apparently a religious agnostic. She suffered from the same questions I have, she dealt with some of the same issues. She says things that I have been thinking. She addresses the need for community, something I've been working on, finding it mostly in my church groups, and with my coworkers.

Clearly we would have been best friends, since she also had the same mentality about birthdays I do, which involves reminding people often until they want to smack you, but they will never forget and they will make it special. She talks about some key decades for her, something that hits close to home given my rapidly approaching decade change. It was interesting to read about her challenges; apparently no one wanted to publish A Wrinkle in Time, in part because it didn't neatly fit into any genres. It seemed like most people who read it knew that it was really good, that it was worth publishing. But the fact that it was unusual, and hard to define. That was more of a battle than they were willing to take on.

While L'Engle doesn't really address this, this fits into many of the lessons of her books. After all, look at Meg, and Charles Wallace. Neither fit in. Both are rejected by their society because they don't fit into easy definitions, and both have so much to offer. What are we missing out on by ignoring things that don't fit into our own conceptions? Are we turning down great opportunities because we don't have the energy to fight for them? (This also hit close to home, since I have very little energy to fight for anything right now.)

Given my stress levels and my need for calm, perhaps the strongest reaction I had is not so strange. L'Engle mentions the fun she and her daughters had sitting on the star-watching rock, feeling the warmth it had absorbed during the day, and staring at the sky. And I had this intense reaction of familiarity. All of a sudden, I was shot into my mental image of the star-watching rock from A Wrinkle in Time, the quiet expectancy of the space. The calm serenity. And I wanted nothing more than to have a rock like that to go lie on.

I long for the sanctuary she built for herself and I love her for the awkwardness she describes. And I'm re-adding all of her books to my "must read again" list. Because these books show me who I am and who I want to be.

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