When I was a little girl, I used to read and dream. I read everything that I could get my hands on, but my favorites stories were fairy tales, especially the kind with brave, strong heroines. I imagined myself as Ella from Ella Enchanted, as Enna from The Goose Girl, as Marigold from Once Upon a Marigold, as the beautiful and wise fairy from The Velveteen Rabbit. I wanted to be a princess that went undercover as a knight; when asked who I would choose to eat dinner with out of everyone who had ever lived, I always picked Queen Elizabeth I.
As a little girl venturing into the world of mysterious forests, jousting matches, and magic, I remember that my reading was colored with a bit of sadness. I remember thinking that I never wanted to grow up, because I didn’t want to read grown-up books. Grown-ups read boring books, I thought. Their books had none of the glittering characters and the body-tingling adventures that mine did. Grown-ups didn’t read books about magic, and they certainly didn’t get lost in them like I got lost in Bayern, Narnia, and various other kingdoms and queendoms. I was afraid of becoming the kind of person that was immune to enchantment and to dazzling stories. I was afraid that someday, stories would lose their power to bewitch me, or perhaps that I would lose the quality that allowed me to be bewitched.
As I trudged along High Street in the rain, I realized that I’ve grown up, and that growing up isn’t quite as scary as I once thought. I realized that stories haven’t lost their power to bewitch, and I haven’t lost the desire for enchantment at all. Instead, as I’ve grown up, stories have unfolded. Not only in the sense that my own story unfolds, moment by moment, as all of ours do, but that stories themselves have unfolded as I’ve oldened; they strike me differently and reveal different things now than they did when I was a little girl. They tell me more secrets now than they once did. They tell me that the world is foggier and more mysterious than I ever thought. They tell me other secrets; they tell me that each of our individual griefs, those griefs that we carry so close to us and hold within us like bags of stones, are to be shared around; that we should grieve together because that is why we are here together. We are cripples all of us, as Frederick Buechner says, but maybe we’re here together because we’re meant to carry each other.
I haven’t forgotten any of what I learned as a child – that the world is dazzling sometimes and hopeless other times, that sometimes desperate times call for sneaking out of the enemy camp by outsmarting your guards, that sometimes you need to leave your jewelry at home and grab the nearest sword. I haven’t forgotten that sometimes the people that love you the most are the ones that you most overlook, and that sometimes the people that look perfect have more secrets and more pain than you know. That sometimes underneath the lust for power, there is a yearning for love. That at the end of a journey, you return home.
Don’t ever forget that there is something very good about America. Brother Wendell can help preserve that memory. Hilary Term 2010.
I read the note, scrawled in black ink. Then I read it again. And a third time. It’s been almost five years since the note was written. I close the book and glance at the cover: That Distant Land by Wendell Berry. Who is Crick? Who wrote this note, and gave this book away, intending for Crick to read it and to understand something important? I wonder what conversation took place between Crick and the note-writer that compelled the writer to give him this book, and to assure him that there are things to be loved in America just as there are things to be loved here.
I put the book back on one of the many bookshelves in the living room of the Vines and look around. The house is empty; some people have already left, and others decided to visit a museum today. All these books, all these stories that could whisper to me if I let them; many of them won’t because of the limitations of time and interest, of responsibilities, duties. A week’s worth of image echoes return to me: whirling around the dance floor with the people that have come to mean so much to me, words that meant something, words about John Donne and George Herbert that I actually thought were beautiful, candles held aloft, laughing over dinner with wonderful friends at a tiny French bistro on Little Clarendon Street, the haunting chant of Compline. I will miss this.
Tomorrow I leave Oxford. Tomorrow this adventure, this chapter, comes to a close, and I begin a new one. An ache sits heavy in my chest, and my heart is full to bursting of stories, memories, images, and echoes. And I’m so thankful. Thankful beyond measure, beyond explanation.
|Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,|