[See catapult magazine for a slightly different version: http://www.catapultmagazine.com/words-on-a-page/article/tesser-well]
The handwritten words quiver across the novel’s title page, and I imagine the woman, then in her 80s, whose trembling hand penned them.
“For Amanda” is written above the strange instruction, and below it, the name of my favorite childhood author, Madeleine L’Engle.
In 2004, I mailed my 1976 copy of A Wrinkle in Time to the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City where L’Engle was the writer in residence. In her children’s classic, L’Engle uses the mathematical concept of the “tesseract,” or wrinkle in time, to explain the characters’ ability to travel between dimensions and worlds.
Inside the manila envelope, I had also placed a letter containing an awkward “about me” page and a request that L’Engle sign my cherished book. Worded the way such letters to famous people often are, it conveyed how L’Engle was an inspiration to me; how I, too, was a storyteller; and how Wrinkle had become part of who I was as a person and a writer.
Since then, I often wondered why I chose that time in my life to send that letter. It was 2004, and there were no words to explain that I was in the middle of a divorce, that my children seemed lost to me, that I was lost…that this was not supposed to be my story.
“I do believe that we all have a share in the writing of our own story,” says L’Engle in Herself, a compilation of her thoughts on writing, creativity, and faith. “We do make a decision at the crossroads…It is in our responses that we are given the gift of helping God write our story.”
I haven’t always used that gift wisely. That year, during one “dark and stormy night,” as the first sentence of the book reads, I decided to let go of God and hold tightly to hopelessness. Now seven years and many decisions later, my story is much different, but I am once again pondering why I sent that letter.
So tonight I carefully turn the yellowed pages of that 1976 copy—now with a clipping of L’Engle’s obituary tucked inside—to Chapter 5, The Tesseract. Here, one of the book’s angelic-like creatures, Mrs. Whatsit, explains the concept of traveling through dimensions to an overwrought Meg Murray, the protagonist, who at this point in her story can only see “the dark Thing that blotted out the light of the stars.”
“Then she was enfolded in the great wings of Mrs. Whatsit and she felt comfort and strength pouring through her. Mrs. Whatsit was not speaking aloud, and yet through the wings Meg understood words. ‘My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope?’”
Before setting out on the dangerous quest to save their father from that dark Thing, Meg and her companions find their innate abilities and talents revealed and enhanced, with one character possessing the “great gift to communicate with all kinds of people.” I think about how writers are given such a gift, just as all of us are given the gift to help God write our stories.
L’Engle taught me something in 1976, responded when I unknowingly asked her to remind me in 2004, and revealed to me in a new way tonight…
As a Christian and a writer, I travel through this world required by God to allow the Holy Spirit to “reveal” and “enhance” my ability so that each work brings glory to him.
I am called to write in a way that edifies those who read my words.
And I am expected by my creator to “tesser well.”
Learn more about this amazing writer and woman here: www.madeleinelengle.com.