Monday, September 10, 2007

Beauty walked among us

The artist, if he is not to forget how to listen, must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only.
--Madeleine L'Engle, from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

In my life I've only burst into tears upon hearing the deaths of three celebrities. The first was Senator Paul Wellstone, the second was Barbaro.

The third was one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle, who died Thursday of natural causes at the age of 88. She was best known for her Time Quartet, which began with the classic A Wrinkle in Time.

Unlike most sf/fantasy writers, I didn't grow up reading the genre. We were assigned A Wrinkle in Time in my gifted kiddie class in third or fourth grade; I couldn't finish it. I wanted to read about dogs and horses (and not talking dogs and horses--puh-lease) and little houses on the prairie.

Then a few winters ago, I read The Time Quartet in less than a week (my favorite, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, in one evening). Until Harry Potter, it was the only series I've ever read in its entirety. It was every bit as profound and passionate as it was famed to be.

But what brought me closest to the real beauty of L'Engle were her essays on writing and living: Walking on Water, Glimpses of Grace, Herself. She saw the act of artistic creation as sacred. She taught me to honor this thing we do, turning little black marks on paper into worlds and people that could change lives or give comfort or bring humanity a wee bit closer to a deeper understanding.

Enough of my words, which can't come close to honoring such a great mind and warm spirit. Maybe I'll make this a "Madeleine's Greatest Hits" week and pull out some of my favorite quotes on writing from her books. But I'll end with this today, again from the final chapter of Walking on Water:

Art is an affirmation of life, a rebuttal of death.

And here we blunder into paradox again, for during the creation of any form of art, art which affirms the value and the holiness of life, the artist must die.

To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self. If an artist is to be able to listen to the work, he must get out of the way...And if we die willingly, no matter how frightened we may be, we will be found and born anew into life, and life more abundant...

I am mortal, flawed, trapped in my own skin, my own barely used brain. I do not understand this death, but I am learning to trust it.

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