It was on that month-long trip around Europe last year where I first instituted that annoying habit of punctuating conversation with an exaggerated, "Story of my life!" And while this "witticism" presumably got way old way fast for everyone else, it came upon me when I first read these lines at the start of George Macdonald's novel Lilith: "Then first I knew what an awful thing it was to be awake in the universe: I was, and could not help it!" And how very like this I felt, a spectator to history in these places so traversed over hundreds of years. Story of my life.
And so Lilith proved to be a fantastic literary backdrop to a jaunt around Europe, the adventures of Mr. Vane as he abandons his library and enters a new, mysterious world. (With lots of cats.) A read-aloud put everyone else to sleep as we drove through foggy Luxembourg, but in the car rides and quiet times I was captivated by the hero's confusion and cowardice. I remember sitting at the top of the third floor stairs in the cute house near Roubaix, reading by the light in the sitting area, dead to the world around me and blinking back tears while I read of Lilith's plight. “'Yes,' he answered; 'and you will be dead, so long as you refuse to die.'” Chilled by the thought of the hand she could not open in surrender.
It grew a bit too tattered to give back to Michael, after nearly getting washed away at Praia Grande and living in my purse for four weeks. But it traveled with me, and gave me a piece of the trip that was not shared in common by anyone but was wholly my own. Standing at the foot of so many crosses in grand cathedrals, "Those are not the tears of repentance! Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father's arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates.” And that blessed book gave me something to do on that very first day when a poor breakfast choice kept me confined to my room and retching for hours. (TMI?)
There were times on that trip I was bewildered beyond belief, made sick to my stomach over what I didn't understand and couldn't address. There is the amusement of fiddler crabs and squid-huntings, and there is the slow death of an innocent beetle. There is the charming and insolent graffiti, and there is the uncomfortable acceptance of clipped responses. Many happy moments are slightly colored with shades of begrudgment. And so it is not always pleasant to look through pictures and swap stories, because sometimes my memory chooses to recall the clouds and not the sun above them.
But when I think of Lilith, these are the memories untinged. Sitting on the wharf full of Nutella and crepe. “Annihilation itself is no death to evil." Happy music wailing as the Eiffel Tower sparkled at midnight. "Only good where evil was, is evil dead." The moon so small but so bright against the twinkling lights of Paris. "An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.” And choosing the good memories, to think the best, because "A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom freer." This time last year, I can hardly believe I sat right there. It seems a blessing to magnanimous to be real.
Sorry. No one really likes hearing about someone else's vacation. But read Lilith, 'kay?