Light like Dolphins

I love the beach.

There’s something about crashing surf, the pungent scent of saltwater marshes, and constant wind tangling my hair that feels more like home to me than any other place on earth.  I am alive here in a way that eludes me during ordinary life, and I am grateful the shore has always been such a sweet place for me.  This week I am on vacation with my parents and most of my siblings, and I am in my favorite place on earth.

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This island holds many wonderful memories: my first time behind the wheel (of a car), my first time at the helm (of a sailboat), the worst sunburns I’ve had in my life, jumping waves and getting mouthfuls of sand and saltwater when I got tumbled by waves, late night games of Cancellation Hearts or Tripoley, feeling ravenously hungry for my Mom’s meat sauce on spaghetti after a long day on the beach, and a few epic sand castles.  But most of all, when I think of the beach, I think of Granddad.

Granddad was my rock growing up.  A brilliant scientist with degrees in engineering from Drexel and MIT, Granddad’s life was one of problem-solving.  During my lifetime (his retirement), he was fascinated by the potential of personal computing – and is solely responsible for my lifelong attachment to all things Apple.

Among many other things, Granddad taught me to love the beach.  When he died – suddenly, at the age of 80 – I was devastated.  I decided that loving people cost too much.  I was 18, and I resolved to never again feel such anguish.  So I bottled my emotions and determined not to feel.  It was an act of self-preservation, or so I thought.

Last summer, I began to wonder what life would have been like if I’d had Madeleine L’Engle beside me – at least in spirit – as I learned about grief.  I’d read her Wrinkle in Time quintet and decided to keep going with Meet the Austins and subsequent books.  I have enjoyed L’Engle’s writing quite a bit, and often found certain passages to be particularly moving.  However, I was totally unprepared for the emotions that would be unleashed by the fourth book in the Austin Chronicles: A Ring of Endless Light.

It’s summertime on an island in New England, and the entire Austin family knows this will be their last summer with their beloved, wise Grandfather.  In addition to quoting John Donne, Henry Vaughan, and Elie Wiesel, L’Engle skillfully deals with the myriad emotions surrounding death.  How do you love someone you know you’re going to lose?  How do you continue living when you’ve lost someone you love?  Why are love and pain so very intermixed?!

Grandfather summarizes the message of the book in one simple sentence: “When one tries to avoid death, it’s impossible to affirm life.”  I finally recognized that in my own life, I had taken to avoiding anything that seemed painful – which meant that I was living a life affirming nothing. I was living a life of negatives instead of a life of positives.  And I was reaping the consequences; life was heaviness and darkness to me.

Gradually I have begun allowing life to illumine my emotions – my hopes, dreams, and desires.  It is a frightening but exhilarating process to admit that life has been lived in fear rather than faith.  My pastor regularly encourages faith as the antidote to fear – a new experience for me.  I had been taught to fear nearly everything in my life, and to come out the other side and find the brightness of faith is a little unnerving at times.

That first crack of light was the hardest.  Medication helped, as did good friends and a wonderful counselor.  A year has passed since I first read about the dolphins and Grandfather and sorting out mixed-up emotions.  A pod of dolphins swam by our beach early in this vacation, reminding me that my own sorting-out has actually progressed quite a bit since last reading L’Engle.  So I have spent my spare moments this week re-reading A Ring of Endless Light – grateful for grace that has shown me that light.  I think I will always need reminders that personal transformation comes about slowly.

Let the light continue growing!

Living a Sonnet

I’ll never forget my first encounter with the sonnet.  While adequate, my schooling was not typical, and as I have settled into adulthood I have decided to fill in some of the blanks on my own.  Poetry as a whole was rather overlooked, unless one was reading the Psalms or Old Testament Prophets.  I didn’t know what a sonnet was until I was 28, and it took me another year to learn the distinction between English, Italian, and Spenserian sonnets.

That first glimpse of 14 lines of iambic pentameter was entirely by accident.

I was catching up in another arena of literature altogether: children’s fiction.  Throughout my childhood, reading fiction was discouraged.  Though I read Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Marguerite Henry by the time I was 10 without much fuss, beyond that my reading tastes were directed more towards the “reality” of history, biographies, and non-fiction.  Fortunately, the realization that I was in control of my own reading diet came when I was surrounded by serious bibliophile friends.  Their suggested reading lists in the form of off-hand recommendations and group excursions to used book stores have opened my eyes to delights heretofore unknown.

So it was that I found myself reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Award-Winning classic, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

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A single afternoon was all the time I needed to devour the grace I found in that book.  My journal entry from that day says “my eyes weren’t dry at all” as I drank deeply of the beauty I found.  Fear had kept me away from L’Engle for a long time, but as I read I encountered only grace and beauty.

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace, or that you do without understanding,” Mrs Whatsit says to Meg, the young heroine of this sci-fi/fantasy series for children.  It was theology and physics mixed up in a way that made sense to me, though I had never studied either.  And then a glimpse of something I could have never guessed: perfect freedom within strict form, free will within predestination, art illustrating life.  The Sonnet.  “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you write is completely up to you,” Mrs Whatsit says.  She’s talking about living life well without knowing how things turn out.  Somehow, the words got through to my heart.

And so I began to live my sonnet.

I don’t know what it says yet.  I’m not even sure I know the theme.  But I am listening, and I am writing, and I am learning to rest and wait and pause until the right words come.