I can’t remember when I wasn’t an introverted bookworm. Can’t remember a time I didn’t love books.
Once I discovered libraries, it was always a joy to find a new author, a new set of books to read and love.
Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Fiction
I didn’t discover Madeleine L’Engle at a library but at a friend’s house. I was spending a week with friends in Sacramento and happened upon A Wrinkle in Time. I sped through it. My friend had a big family and some cousins visiting at the same time. It was easier to bury my introverted self in a book than to interact with so many people in that household.
I loved the tale of introverted Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, whose name always seemed too big for him. Of Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit and Meg’s fantastic journey that took her to the end of herself where all she had left was love, and it was enough.
That same week, I also read the next book in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic Time Quintet: A Wind in the Door. At the time, some aspects of the story went over my head as I fell headfirst into the microscopic yet immense world of quantum physics merged with supernaturalism.
My friends didn’t have a copy of A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but I found that one at our local library after returning home. After reading it, I began scouring the library for everything written by Madeleine L’Engle.
I found And Both Were Young, a coming-of-age story about a girl at a Swiss boarding school who falls in love with a French boy and begins a secret relationship with him. I loved the character Flip, an introverted girl who never quite fit in with her classmates and preferred wandering among nature and sketching the sights of the great Swiss outdoors.
Then I read The Young Unicorns, which I found slightly confusing. Although I was familiar with the way that Madeleine L’Engle merged normal-seeming characters with supernatural events, something unnerved me about the darkness of this story. It has been over 20 years since I read it and I remember little (a sign that I should read it again) but I still remember the way I felt when I learned about the source of a young girl’s blindness … as though my own life could easily suffer that same upheaval, as though I could easily face that same darkness.
Much later I realized that The Young Unicorns was the third book in a series written by Madeleine L’Engle: The Austin Family Series. No wonder I felt like I was jumping into the middle of something I didn’t quite understand; I hadn’t read books one and two.
Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Nonfiction
The next book of Madeleine L’Engle’s I found at the library was The Summer of the Great Grandmother. I also found this confusing, but for a different reason: all I had read so far by Madeleine L’Engle was her fiction. And not just Madeleine L’Engle; fiction was pretty much all I read up to that point, period.
I didn’t know what to think of this work of nonfiction. I can’t even remember if I finished the book, though I must have. My life revolved around books as an introverted tween.
A decade passed. Possibly two. I revisited Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, but not her nonfiction.
Then at a used book sale, I happened upon several of her Crosswicks Journals, including The Summer of the Great Grandmother. Of course, I picked them up.
During this 40-Day journey toward healthier living, I decided to begin reading the book once more. I wanted to immerse myself in good literature and refamiliarize myself with this introverted female author with whom I felt a kinship since I was a child.
The book chronicles her summer caring for her aging mother who was suffering from dementia, and also journals other aspects of that summer, including a scare that her husband might have a brain tumor (it turned out to be diabetes).
Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Introversion
This introverted author journals with such care and precision, following philosophical tangents and reflecting on matters weighted with truth and meaning. She writes:
I used to feel guilty about spending morning hours working on a book: about fleeing to the brook in the afternoon. It took several summers of being totally frazzled by September to make me realize that this was a false guilt. I’m much more use to family and friends when I’m not physically and spiritually depleted than when I spend my energies as though they were unlimited.
The observation felt so true, especially at this time when I’m seeking out healthier living amidst the stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to spend and spend and spend, to pour out into family and work, forgetting that we have limited resources.
Part of healthy living comprises carving out time for oneself, especially when we have jobs or situations where much is expected of us – emotionally, mentally, or physically.
For years, I worked at a job that exhausted me – mentally more than anything else. It wasn’t a good fit but because the job opening came through a friend, I felt guilty at the thought of letting go of the position.
Finally, after weeks of insomnia and numerous occasions of heading home in tears at the end of a challenging day, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I just didn’t have what it took to keep that job over the long term; it took me far longer to let go of the guilt of quitting the job.
I feared that I would be thought of as “too weak” and “too sensitive.” It took a while to recognize that this job was simply a bad fit for me due to the kind of person I was: a highly sensitive person who thrives in other environments.
Madeleine L’Engle observes this about guilt:
When I try to be the perfect daughter, to be in control of the situation, I become impaled on false guilt and become overtired and irritable.
I intimately know this overtiredness and irritability. I think many introverts and HSPs do. But when we let go of this guilt by embracing who we are and not allowing ourselves to be ashamed by it, we can find freedom.
Madeleine L’Engle found freedom as a mother, wife, daughter, grandmother, and introverted author by allowing herself those times to disconnect from everything else as she wandered among peaceful, quiet places in the woods near Crosswicks.
While dealing with the stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, my task is to discover and embrace what is healthy living for me as an HSP and introvert.
Perhaps something like this is your task too in your own journey toward healthier and mindful living.