That Time You Saved the Universe--How Madeleine L’Engle had the answers all along
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
I ended my final seventh grade Reading exam essay with a thank you note. I usually gave my teachers wilted flowers from my mother’s garden when I was appreciative, but that time I found myself so overcome with gratitude that it needed to be put into words. So with the sunlight breaking through the blinds, warm and bright in the midday, hinting of summer freedom, I thanked Mrs. McGhay for introducing me to a particularly relatable heroine. Her name is Meg Murry, and her story is "A Wrinkle in Time."
Junior high is an acutely harsh time to be a girl. With visibility suddenly guiding us, what sets us apart becomes flawed and we find safety in blending in. So when I read about an unpopular stringy-haired girl with glasses and bad grades who “tessers” through time to save her father and ultimately her brother, I couldn’t not feel empowered. If Meg could face dark planets, I could face dark fears.
And then, nonchalantly, I opened the book again this year in anticipation of the motion picture release, and by chapter five I was dotting the pages with tears. Turns out, Meg wasn’t just 13. She was me at 18, 22, 38 — every age. My undeveloped preteen mind had retained what I needed then, but there was so much more within the pages. If only I knew that all along everything I needed to know in life I learned from Madeleine L’Engle and seventh grade reading class.
“Like and Equal are not the same thing at all!”
On the planet Camazotz, Meg sees what would happen in a society where every person is treated exactly alike. The evil mastermind there parades this as equality, and it occurs to Meg that a world zapped of differences isn’t worth living in. Sure, we’re built with the same basic mechanics, but when the universe poised itself in just the right way to see the miracle of us burst into the scene, along with our likeness came prized individuality. When we remove the value of others, we leave them empty. How often do I assume another’s wants based off of my own? It’s a tricky thought. We are taught the golden rule, but how often do we let the differences in another direct our use of it? We may be built alike, but we require different fuel. I’m only useful to you when I remember that our likeness isn’t equal.
“Oh child, your language is so utterly simple and limited that it has the affect of extreme complication.”
When darkness nearly kills Meg, she is rescued by a beast with no eyes who teaches her that what is seen is only temporary and what’s invisible is lasting. Meg’s inability to describe anything without noting its appearance is a barrier from deepening her relationship with the sightless beast.
How often do we cling to our senses? And even if we close our eyes and rely on everything else, can we interpret without vision? Are we missing the sensational visibility of others while we busy ourselves looking? Even a masterpiece sunset is limited if I lead with my eyes. I miss the peace of being still. I skip over the hope for tomorrow that comes with celebrating a day’s end. And when I look at you or myself and see first, do I ever see deep enough to admire what’s invisible?
“Meg, I give you your faults.”
Mrs. Whatsit, the quirkiest of the Mrs. trio who take Meg on her journey, tells Meg that her faults are necessary to fight her impending battle. There in the depths of the impatience that has plagued her, in the pit of the unyielding passion that blinds her, she defeats the enemy. Her faults save the day.
Can we triumph in our weaknesses? We are afflicted with faults, limitations that we brand as curses. But I wonder the outcome if we see them not as a curse, but as a challenge. Imagine if when we plummet to that very dark place where hopelessness resides, we resurrect by looking our faults in the eye, rising above them with the little might we have left. Through the very worst of ourselves we can be victorious.
I suppose Madeleine L’Engle knew enough to know that there’s a little bit of Meg Murry in all of us and that’s why her wrinkle is timeless and ageless. When I was 12, the wrinkle was fitting in. As an adult, preventing wrinkles, I’m consumed by the chore of being enough. Am I fit enough? Organized enough? Successful enough? Am I enough of a friend to my friends, wife to my husband, and mother to my children? In the end I just want to know that everything will be all right, much like that squirrelly girl scribbling away at her seventh grade exam.
“There’s nothing left except to try” is Meg’s resolve. So too should mine be each day should I challenge myself to see what I don’t see and find my grit – to be a warrior in my universe.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.