The Day I Met Madeleine L’Engle

“Flare”

This word was idly tossed my way by a writing teacher whose name I have forgotten.  He was referring to a poem I had written – the subject of which I have also forgotten.

But I internalized this casual observation.  I wasn’t exactly sure what “flare” meant, but I took it as high praise.

So when I heard that the author of A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favorite childhood books) was coming to Wheaton College and you could sign up for a one on one meeting with her.  Well, surely this would be amazing — surely she too would be awed by my flare poems and essays I would thoughtfully prepare for her perusal.

That’s how I found myself sitting across a desk from the revered Madeleine L’Engle.

I remember wishing I had changed out of my tennis team outfit.  I wanted her to think of me as Meg Murry, the brain-y girl hero from A Wrinkle in Time  Instead, I imagined Ms. L’Engle doing what my mom often did.  A quick once-over glance and then a tongue-click of disapproval.   I rather doubted that Ms. L’Engle was a tennis player.

She was sensibly dressed, tall, a bit imposing.

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She was gracious though. She actually asked to see a writing sample.  Of mine.

But then all at once my self-imposed flare image was put to rest. (Let’s just say Ms. L’Engle would not have made a good coach on the Voice.)

After reading one of my “works” – I recall Ms. L’Engle sharing some of her own poems –   the content of which had immense weight – childbirth, war, the universe.  How childish my silly poems were in comparison.  This was true FLARE.  My paltry poetry was immature, underdeveloped, and based on shallow life experiences.

When I caught Ms. L’Engle glancing at her watch, I scurried out of the room, mumbling my thanks and vowing to never compose another poem as long as I lived.

Now years past I understand where this great woman was coming from.  And the tongue click was no doubt all in my imagination.

For at 19 years old I needed perspective and a dose of humility.

Flare is something you earn after arduous devotion to a craft – and yes, a humble, questioning heart.

I had many more books to read. And more life to experience. Writing they say is rewriting.   And I had done little of each.

I wish I had written back to Madeleine L’Engle to thank her for her kindness in taking time with a silly teenager.

And to tell her that I did not hold to that vow.

Over the years I tried to earn back that elusive flare status. And along the way I relished both the joys and frustrations of this craft – available to anyone at anytime -in the form or private journaling, poems that never see the light of day, or letters to loved ones that take residence in hearts and bedside table drawers.

I wish I had thanked Ms. L’Engle for creating a Meg Murry that girls and women could emulate.

And for sharing her craft with a girl in a tennis skirt.

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What the Bible has to say about humility.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  1 Peter 5:4

4 thoughts on “The Day I Met Madeleine L’Engle

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  1. Beautifully written from the perspective of your childhood memories. Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable moment in time. Very special.

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  2. Wow! What an experience to have a one to one conversation with an amazing author. How true with life’s experiences, we gain different perspectives and expectations. If you could go back, what would be the question you would ask Madeleine Le Engle? By the way, you have a lovely flare in your writing!

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    1. Such a great question! I would love to have known about her writing process – the daily discipline, how ideas came to her, how she imagined such characters and settings. Did you read a Wrinkle in Time when you were a young girl? Meg Murry was surely a character ahead of her time! xo

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