R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

I started this post on September 7, the day after the grand lady moved on to find out what’s next. I find myself certain that she wasn’t afraid, that she looked forward to a reunion with her husband Hugh and others who had gone before. And yet I, who never even met her in person, was too upset to finish the post or even look at it again for two months.

Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L’Engle at home in New York in 2001

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut.

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

This is the first time I’ve ever cried about the death of a celebrity, someone I never even met. Losing Mrs. L’Engle, who first became part of my life about 30 years ago, doesn’t feel like the loss of a stranger.

Madeleine L'Engle and Hugh Franklin

Madeleine L’Engle and Hugh Franklin shortly after their marriage in 1946.

She died of natural causes, and after all, she was 88. Her husband, Hugh Franklin, died in 1986. The depth of their connection was no surprise to anyone who has ever read her poetry, but reading Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, was an inspiration all of its own. The idea that a couple could have such rich lives, continue their separate passions, and freely express anger and love and grief to each other was earthshaking. It was the first time I ever glimpsed the kind of relationship I wanted.

Tonight, I find that I must reach back for her own words as comfort.

Star Light

     after death
the strange timelessness, matterlessness,
   absolute differentness
     of eternity
will be shot through
like a starry night
with islands of familiar and beautiful

For I should like
to spend a star
sitting beside Grandpapa Bach
at the organ, learning, at last, to play
   the C minor fugue as he, essentially
   heard it burst into creation.

and another star
   of moor and mist, and through the shadows
   the cold muzzle of the dog againt my hand,
   and walk with Emily. We would not need to
   talk, nor ever go back to the damp of
   Haworth parsonage for tea.

I should like to eat a golden meal
   with my brothers Gregory and Basil,
   and my sister Macrina. We would raise
   our voices and laugh and be a little drunk
   with love and joy.

I should like a theatre star,
   and Will yelling, “No! No! that’s no
   how I wrote it! but perhaps it’s better
   that way: ‘To be or not to be:’ All
   right, then! Let it stand!”

And I should like
   another table
   —Yes, Plato, please come, and you, too,
   Socrates, for this is the essential table
   of which all other tables are only
   flickering shadows on the wall.
   This is the heavenly banquet,
   (Oh, come!)
   the eternal convivium.

The sky blazes with stars!1From The The Weather of the Heart, Copyright © 1978 Crosswicks, published by Harold Shaw Publishers

I hope you found your lovely stars of kindred souls, Ms. L’engle! I’m sure they are as enriched by your presence as you are by theirs.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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3 thoughts on “R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

  1. What a beautiful post! I’ve just gone and reserved Two-Part Invention from the library. I suspect that, right now, it’ll make me cry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. I think TPI is considered the fourth volume of the Crosswicks Chronicles. They’re all fairly short and autobiographical. I don’t think there’s any need to read them in order, though. I just started re-reading the first volume, A Circle of Quiet.

  3. Madeleine L’Engle is my absolute favorite writer, and I, too, was saddened by her death. Although I did not know her in person and I can still converse with her as I always have through her writing, I still somehow miss her. My condolenses go out to her family, friends, and loved ones. The world lost a great artist this year.

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