Monday, September 10, 2007

Tesseract

Madeleine L'Engle died last week. She is best known for the book, A Wrinkle In Time, which won a Newberry award the year it was published. But I read her book, Two Part Invention, before I read any of the others.

I enjoyed the fiction she wrote for children. It is straightforward and does not talk down to them, it tackles difficult ideas and doesn't shy away from complex theological themes.

I love her personal journal writing best. I've read "Two Part Invention", the story of her marriage, several times, read parts of it out loud to my husband and other friends, quoted it in cards I gave to young people for their weddings. This is the real stuff, not emotional, happy-ever-after drivel. It includes her husband's battle with cancer and what it meant to care for him throughout that holy ordeal.

"The Summer of the Great Grandmother" is the story of the summer her mother came to live with her while facing the end of her life. Madeleine's home was a place of constant hospitality and she shared this long good-bye with her grandchildren and with her close friends, who moved in and helped care for this aging great-grandmother.

When Madeleine wrote her own stories she was at her best. I've grown from reading her and I'm sad that she is silent. But I'm glad for her too. She had so much depth to her faith. She had so much curiosity about time and space and moving beyond the limits of time and space.

I heard an interview with a woman astronaut who works for NASA. She was inspired by L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time". In the interview she wept as she spoke of what that book had meant to her. She'd written L'Engle before going into space and Madeleine had sent a copy of the book for her to take up with her. When she finished her trip she returned the book. In return for doing this, Madeleine sent the astronaut copies of several others of her books.

The last book of her that I received was a gift from Andrea, "Walking on Water; Reflections on Faith and Art". It is excellent, as always, and written from her life.

'Tesseract' was the term L'Engle gave to time travel. As I get older I wonder if there won't someday be a time when we are somehow present in all the moments of our lives. This evening I had a moment when it seemed I was simultaneously in two parts of my life.

Laura and Ben were here for supper and a movie. Both their spouses had to be away from home for the night and the rain made it less inviting to bike home through the mud to an empty house for Ben. So I decided to invite Laura too for a 'spaghetti from a jar' supper and a movie while I canned the tomatoes. During the evening I happened to glance into a mirror and my face (it's age) caught me off guard. I'd been enjoying the conversation and the help in the kitchen and the friendship with these grown up kids of mine. My face in the mirror reminded me---I used to be their mommy. It is such a strange feeling. My arms can still feel the way the kids fit into them, it seems so near...and yet here they are in the second half of their twenties. It feels like being two ages at once. No, not two, but many ages at once.

Yesterday I met someone I had known in grade school and I could feel the way I felt then, awkward, unsure of myself, inept at making friends, self-conscious. When did I grow up? He seemed to feel those childhood feelings too and spoke of how he remembered me from those days.

I wonder if there isn't some unimaginable change from the way we experience time now to the way we will experience it after this life. If I meet Madeleine in heaven, how old will she be? How old will I be?