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, 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.
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.
the strange timelessness, matterlessness,
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
—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,
the eternal convivium.
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.