While I have blogged about our grander excursions in Rhode Island, much of our trip has been quiet. Some days our big adventure is simply walking down to the small beach by the river in our neighborhood or driving to a nearby ocean beach. We might stop by our local ice cream shop or find a Del's lemonade stand. Most nights we grill chicken or burgers on our deck. Occasionally, we gather around our fire pit and make s'mores.
Our extended, quiet stay by the ocean has repeatedly reminded me of Madeleine L'Engle's book A Ring of Endless Light. Growing up, my mom introduced me to the Austin family series by Madeleine L'Engle. That doesn't quite capture how much these books were a quintessential part of my life. My mom read them to me. I would repeatedly check them out of the library and read them. Each Christmas (well into my college years), my mom would read aloud The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas (a short story about the Austin Family). On the night before my wedding, my mom read to me from Meet the Austins until I fell asleep because I was afraid my nerves would keep me awake.
Of all the Austin family books, A Ring of Endless Light is my favorite. I read it repeatedly as a child and I've read it repeatedly as an adult. The book is set on an East coast island, where the family is staying at their grandfather's house (a converted stable) because their grandfather is dying. In the midst of this sadness, Vicky, the protagonist, is recruited by a marine biology student to work with dolphins. While her other siblings are the scientists in the family, it is her artistic nature that allows her to connect with these beautiful animals.
A few days ago, I became overwhelmed with the need to read A Ring of Endless Light. My only question was whether I would read it by myself or with the girls. Meg prefers to read on her own and, much to my dismay, rarely joins us for read-alouds. The themes of A Ring of Endless Light are just too mature for Anne. That left Clare, who absolutely loves dolphins (you can read here about how she discovered this love during our overnight trip to the Baltimore Aquarium). She also loves being read to. She was thrilled when I suggested reading it.
The first thing I realized about reading this book aloud is that the chapters are VERY long. We've been reading for over an hour each night. But Clare loves every second of it and, as long as I keep sipping water, my voice can hold out.
The second thing I realized is how relevant this book is for right now. To be fair, some of the slang and descriptions in the book are very dated. But, if you can push that aside, you will find a beautiful discussion of how those who obsessively avoid death fail to truly live their life. Sadly, that fact has become far too evident this year. To be clear, I am not in any way attacking cautious and prudent measures people have taken to avoid COVID. But it has become very evident that there is a psychological impact to limiting our normal social interactions. Children are suffering panic attacks and no longer know how to behave when they are with friends. The CDC is now reporting that nearly a quarter of young adults considered suicide during the pandemic. The grandfather in A Ring of Endless Light says, "When one tries to avoid death, it's impossible to affirm life."
Though we are spending huge chunks of time with the Austin Family while reading A Ring of Endless Light, it wasn't enough for Clare. She has read Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas many times (both on her own as well as having it read to to her), but she wanted to read again...immediately. Our copies are packed away with our Christmas books at home, so I found her a e-book copy that she could read here. I wonder if some day she will be reading Austin family books to her children.