Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. Though rejected 26 times before publication, this book (As Im sure you all know!) has become a beloved classic. I first encountered A Wrinkle In Time in Bright Ideas, my elementary gifted program, when our teacher played the audio to us as part of our end of day quite time over a period of some weeks. I've read it countless time since...along with it's two sequels. The following essay was written in the February of 1992, during my last semester of high school in AP English. The assignment was to write an essay placing the self into a cultural context. Forgive the sentimentality...I was only 18 at the time...and enjoy. I've refrained from editing in even the smallest way, and so all errors in grammer and spelling are original. Later this week, I'll give you a new essay on the 20 years since.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved to read. She spent every spare moment reading all of the books she could get her hands on. Her poor mother was kept extremely busy providing an endless supply of literature that her daughter devoured. Then one day, the little girl was given a copy of A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle. As she read, she became aware that this was no ordinary book. This was the story of an average girl who had her own share of problems. More importantly, the book could have almost been a portrait of its reader.
A short time later, the little girl was given A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tiltiling Planet. She eagerly read through the two books that completed the trilogy. She was dissapointed, though, because she no longer saw herself reflected in the pages. Several years passed before she touched the books again. When she finally reread them, she found that she had grown closer to them. Now she could again see herself in the story. Who was this girl? She was myself, and she had found herself in Margaret Murry-O'Keefe. As i have come to realize, Meg and I are the same person in many ways, and we have a unique place in society.
I guess I should tell you about Margare, or rather Meg. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Murry, both highly respected scientists. She is the eldest of four children, and she is the only daughter. Twins Sandy and Dennys follow her by a few years, and Charles Wallace comes next. Meg's family is very close-knit and loving. They are almost a model family in that respect. Within the family, Meg is closest to Charles Wllace. They share a special relationship that one doesn't find very often in siblings. The family lives on a small farm that is located on the out-skirts of a small town somewhere in New England. Their home is a cozy, old farmhouse that is always full of light and warmth. There are always a few kittens around as well as a dog that has found its way into the family circle. But those are just the basic facts.
Meg is really a very complex character. When I think of her, the first word that comes to mind is awkward because she just doesn't seem comfortable with her lot in life. Meg is one of those poor souls who went through a difficult adolescence. It started with a seemingly ugly appearance. She was frumpy, and her hair was mousy. Thick glasses and braces did not help the situation at all. As she grew older and her looks didn't get any better, she developed a low self-esteem. mrs. Murry tried to help her daughter cope because she too had been through the same thing. Unfortunately, Meg's self-image is so horrible that she can't (or won't) understand her beautiful mother.
In the midst ofher early teen years, Meg became self-conscious. She honestly believed that she was so ugly that people watched her on purpose. She became defensive to protect herself. She refused to let anyone outside of her family get to know her. Others would comment on how unpleasant she was. This was due to her frequent arguments and fights with her classmates and principle. She in turn thought everyone was out to get her. Trust is difficult for her, and she has isolated herself for lack of it.
I mirror Meg in many of these ways. I have also expereienced the low self-esteem that results from believing that I was not as pretty as the other girls. I have built protective barriers to shield me from the girl. These similarities began in early junior high. That is the time when people begin to form attitudes and cliques. I was so confused about where I belonged that I drew back form the world. I started to gain weight and I got braces. Then people began to pressure me about cutting my haiur. That criticism about the one part of myself that I liked was one of the crushing blows. I still bear the scars from my feelings of inadequacy and rejection.
One other thing that Meg and I share is our intelligence. We have both taken refuge from the world by seeking out information of all kinds. We are strong in virtually all areas of study. The difference comes in the fact that Meg never realized that she was gifted. Unfortunately, our "gift" has been a stumbling block at times. We sometimes intimidate people, and that frustrates us. The one thing that those people don't realize is that they intimidate us because they have achieved normality.
That isn't a completely correct picture of us because we are, of course, changing with different events that shape our lives. The personalities described above are only a horrible beginning. I am pleased to say that Meg and I were able to grow into much more confident individuals. The most dramatic improvement was physical. We lost our braces and Meg traded in her glasses for contacts. Then we both became skinnier. Our hair was the next to change as it subtly changed color and texture. One day we looked into the mirror and realized that we had become almost as pretty as our friends told us that we were. Sometimes we still are amazed.
Our emotional transformation was slower, and it was a direct result of events that shaped our lives. IN Meg's case the events were dramatic and highly unlikely. She has tessered, wrinkled, through time and the universe. She visited her brother's mitochondria. Her mind has learned to kythe, or share every thought and memory with others. With each experience, she learned to love and accept others. The end result was that she loved and respected herself. In my own case, I learned self-worth with the help fo a counselor. I had to learn to explore my reasons for feeling so bad about myself. I also had to learn to deal with stressful situations. Only then was I able to accept the place in society where Meg and I belong.
Meg and I are a strange lot. We don't fit in with today's picture of the average teen-ager. According t society, the average teenager should be close to physically perfect, should enjoy certain activities, and should always live as if each day were to be their last. This just isn't possible for Meg and I. we can't ever by physically perfect for two reasons. The first is that we will never be able to get rid of the adolescent image of ourselves. The second is that we have come to realize that there is no such thing despite what our mass mediums tell us. Where teen-activities are concerned, we could usually care less. We hate sports, avoid crowds, and prefer burying our noses in books rather than spend a night on the town. This isn't to say that we are impersonal. We just feel more comfortable in small groups. As far as living for the moment goes, we are too serious to ever be able to gain the freedom to live life to the fullest.
So we have become the silent observers of life around us. We sit back and watch life go on around us. We become support givers to those whom we allow into our lives It is a life that is both saddening and strangely wonderful. Meg and I have often been upset by the way in which we have isolated ourselves, but we are tough. We have learned to enjoy solitude and tranquility that accompanies it. We like the mental freedom we have found that frees us from being tied down to an image. Frequently we like to surprise people by showing them a new piece of ourselves.
OF course the transformation has not always been easy. We grew up too quickly. Then we tried to live within a world that we created for ourselves. Within that world we were children. At various times those children saw themselves as being enclosed in a glass bubble. They hated watching the world marching by on the outside, but were to afraid to break open the glass. As we grew older, we realized that we didn't want to lose ourselves in the crowd. That was when we started to realized that we liked being different. It was almost as if we had been walking the tightrope of sanity with chaos beneath us. With the realization that we actually liked ourselves, the tightrope became first a path and then a road. We were finally happy.