Thursday, September 13, 2012

The oldest of friends

I've been in a bit of a tizzy lately, my life full of the unpleasant soundtrack of resistance winning. I keep making excuses - too busy, too much work, too tired to write or tell or create. (Keep going, I promise this isn't a whine.)

This afternoon, in my busy-ness, I decided to put off my real work of writing and thinking and dreaming to take a box of donation books to the library. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a tendency to collect books and my shelves, they run over. When I can't stand it anymore I give some to the library.

Once I dropped off the box I was drawn in by that wonderful scent, the paper and binding and patient smell of the library. As a child some of my happiest times were there. In the library, no one cared that I was a bookworm, no one cared that I lived in imagination more than the real world, no one cared that I was often a little bit different.

So I wandered the stacks this afternoon, listening to school kids pretend to work and really flirt, admiring the dusty sunlight and running my fingers across my old friend, the Dewey decimal numbers. And then I stopped.

I was in the young adult section, fiction, in front of the L's.

Now, like many of you, some of my best friends have been books. They have carried me through some of the hardest times in my life, reassured me, kept me from being alone. My fingers had stopped on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I hadn't read it in at least 20 years. This was an old friend I'd long abandoned.

Those of you who have read this book may skip this paragraph. For the rest of you, it's young adult sci-fi and so much more. Published in the early 1960s, it tells the story of Meg Murray, who doesn't fit in school or really anywhere else, and her family. She, her youngest brother, Charles Wallace and their friend, Calvin, go on a universe-wide quest to rescue her father and the world from a great darkness, with some unusual allies. It's spiritual, political, passionate and a gem. Read it.

As I hunkered on my sofa this afternoon and consumed the book in one sitting, I wasn't just this 44 year old woman who is too busy and too tired. I was again my 10 and 12 and 15 year old self, the one who didn't fit in, the one who thought she would never find her place, the one who was lost and wanted to be on another planet more than anything else. I was my 26 year old self who had cancer. I was my 31 year old self, both heart-broken and in love. And again, I am my 44 year old self, wondering who I will be next and if I am brave enough to leap.

I curled up and wept as I read. I cried for all the selves I had been and all those I will be, for the way time is maleable. I cried for the lonely girl and scared young woman and confused adult. I cried with relief that all of these people co-exist in this one body. I cried with joy that this old friend, these pages, these words, were waiting for me, to remind me of who I had been, who I am and who I might yet be.

I am so grateful to Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin and Mrs. Whatsis and Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Aunt Beast and especially Madeleine L'Engle. Thank you for waiting for me all of these years. Thank you for welcoming me back and reminding me of who I was and of the possibility before me.

All of this leaves me wondering what other books might be worth revisiting, what other lessons my 5 or 15 year old self might have in store for me now. And what books you've re-read lately. I'd love to hear about it. And who knows, maybe we will find each other, in the library, checking out our old favorites at the beginning of a new aventure.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. oh, Laura! That was my favorite book, reread so often all the way into my twenties. Like you, I think it may be time again. I think I'll also revisit Ursula K LeGuinn's Wizard of Earthsea Trilogy as well. All these books as full of love and wisdome and guideposts and reminders and ..... you've sparked something in me! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. I LOVED the Earthsea trilogy! Maybe I'll reread that one once I'm done with the time books... Thank you for the reminder.

  2. My childhood copy of A Wrinkle In Time was laying my library floor on Monday evening after my 15 yo daughter pulled it out while bored, to revisit it herself. I was overjoyed, although she could have re-shelved it. :-)

  3. For me the Magical book was a first edition Secret Garden,by Frances Hodgsen Burnett, written in Yorkshire dialect. It had been my mothers before me, I won't let it go! I was in fifth grade, my teacher saw it on my desk and looked at it and laughed at me,"You'll never finish it". She never did understand me, I never did like her. I finished the book that weekend. If I couldn't have a garden to escape into at least I could escape into a book. Thanks Laura, think I'll take a trip to the living room bookcase and say Hello to an old friend!

  4. I have a few favorite books from childhood that I repurchased and they just stay on the shelves for days when I need them!

  5. When my dad passed, I took as many of the old books from his/my mother's/my/my brother's book shelves. Some of them I just look at, luxuriating in the look of the old dust-engrained leather and paper covers. A couple of them I leaf through, wondering if I ever read them and who I could share them with. A chosen few of them I read, and that is when I go back in time to that place where nothing moved except in sideways, where time stood still in reality but travelled far and long in the special dimension of books.

    Yesterday I saw my old copy of "The LIght Princess", by George MacDonald. It is a beautiful soft blue edition, with an ethereal princess etched in black on the cover. She always seemed more fey than royal. I used to read it at night, and would wake up with it, open, by my side. I wondered if I could ever be so weightless. And would I want to trade places. I would have liked to be more weightless, but be a princess with so many problems? No, I would decide, then go back to reading the book again.

    Next to "The Light Princess" is "Silver Pennies", a collection of poems. I used to trace the silver circles engraved on its cover. And the Dr. Doolittle books, and the Bobbsey Twins and of course my heroine Nancy Drew (though today she seems obsessed with her appearance and her clothes. When did she have time to solve mysteries?) And my personal favorite was any of the Mary Poppins' books. Such a tough lady with such a heart of magic and gold!


  6. Oh yes, A Wrinkle in Time was one of my faves too.
    I have several other favorites:
    Pippi Longstocking who inspired me to be me, whether or not I fit in (never did, still don't :))
    The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson, about a foster child and her quest to feel love.
    Are You There God It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume (anything by Judy Blume!)
    Mr Pudgins about a magical, middle-aged, male baby sitter who could make soda pop emit from the facets and bath tubs fly.
    I found most of these and own them once again, they comfort me in times of sadness or overwhelm, just like an old friend should.

  7. That is one of my favorite books, too! I first read it when I was FIVE after hearing a radio dramatization. It was scary, but I got through all of it. I got a lot more out of it with each reading. I've probably read it 20-30 times now, including reading it aloud to my son when he was 6.

    You might enjoy these thoughts about time that I wrote recently.

  8. A Wrinkle in Time! Now that I am middle aged........... I will revisit Starhawk's "Fifth Sacred Thing" and Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time".....two books I highly recommend!!! Wonderful blog entry!! Thank YOU!


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