“If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant; it’s the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.”
from A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
The Christmas I was sixteen I wrote a letter to Madeleine L’Engle.
Like most people, I encountered L’Engle’s writing first in A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels as a child, but I went on to read almost her entire bibliography of more than fifty books my junior year of high school.
My favorite was A Ring of Endless Light. I considered it the most important book I had ever read; the intensity of my feelings about it defied articulation. I considered it almost another Gospel. It conveyed the essentials of everything I believed to be true about life, death, God, and the soul with beautiful imagery and simple, transparent language. Madeleine L’Engle was the writer I most aspired to emulate, and her characters were the people I most wanted to be like. The first book I published I intended to dedicate to her.
On July 8th, 2000–fifteen years ago today–I stopped believing in God. I didn’t think I was going to write about this. I’ve neglected the blog lately, and there were so many things I could have written about instead–much nicer things to dwell on after a long hiatus. But writers don’t always get to choose what they write about. And a damaged writer probably has less choice than most.
(This may or may not be an actual photo of my camp, stolen from a stranger’s Myspace.)
My most embarrassing memory of college is of something that didn’t embarrass me at all while it was happening. Which is the worst kind of embarrassing memory, in my opinion. When you feel some degree of shame or self-consciousness while the thing is happening, you’re probably exercising at least little self-control. It’s much, much worse when you’re completely confident that you’re right, because then there’s no check whatsoever on your obnoxious behavior.
Neither of my parents went to college. Neither did any of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or older cousins. My going to college occasioned both pride and suspicion among the adults in my family. While my friends’ parents were giving advice (or making demands) concerning what they should major in and what classes they should take, the only piece of advice my family gave me was to be on my guard against those well known liberal predators harbored by every institution of higher learning, whose goal in life is to brainwash well brought up students from conservative homes into turning their backs on everything that is right and decent. “Don’t let anyone change your thinking” was what my family told me, unaware that when it came to things like abortion, homosexuality, and the unquestioned wisdom of the Republican agenda, I had changed my own mind already.