Mac Musings

A Wrinkle in Life: Difference and Divorce

Dan Knight - 2004.05.14 - Tip Jar

It was a real treat watching A Wrinkle in Time on TV Monday evening. Based on the 1963 Newbery Medal winning book by Madeleine L'Engle, the Disney production did the story justice in many respects.

Wrinkle is the story of Meg Murray, Charles Wallace Murray, and Calvin O'Keefe, three unusual schoolchildren who play a startling role in the cosmic struggle between good and evil on Earth and on Camazotz, a planet controlled by the darkness.

Life on Camazotz makes Big Brother look benign and the "dark side" in Star Wars look less than ambitious. It is in some ways reminiscent of Apple's legendary 1984 ad. I think Apple missed a real opportunity by not advertising during this three-hour event.

Madeleine L'Engle thinks different, and it's evident from her protagonists, the amazingly diverse supporting cast, and the life-affirming imagery (which has been waiting for modern CGI since the book debuted over 40 years ago) that diversity, love, and knowledge are key values in the universe.

If you haven't read the book, pick up a copy at your local bookstore - and consider grabbing A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Wrinkle's sequels, at the same time. Read them, enjoy them, and plan on rereading over the coming years. They're that good.

L'Engle's World

Although Wrinkle and its sequels are generally considered children's books and often categorized as science fiction or fantasy, they are only the best known books in the L'Engle corpus. Just as C.S. Lewis wrote a lot more than children's fantasy (his Chronicles of Narnia are justly famous, but so are his science fiction Perelandra Trilogy and practical theological works such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Great Divorce.), L'Engle also has a broader fictional universe including books on a variety of topics.

Reading her fiction, it's obvious that L'Engle loves her characters - even the Murray's dog. And if you read both the Wrinkle series and the Austin Family series, you'll discover that these quite different stories take place in the same universe. I remember the fun I had helping my wife create a coherent timeline for both series as part of a college paper she wrote - and L'Engle has since published stories where characters from both series meet.

The Austin stories are more down to earth, less epic, more practical, and work on a less cosmic scale than Wrinkle, but they celebrate family, love, identity, and difference in much the same way. These tales go beyond the individuality, diversity, tolerance, and nonconformity valued in the modern world, looking at community, uniqueness, acceptance, and passion.

Reading them can be a transforming experience in a lot of little ways. Rereading them makes it easier to live in a broken world.

My World

I live in a broken world, something I've known since childhood. Like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, I just don't quite fit in. I loved learning, but I lacked social skills and found it difficult to form close friendships. Whatever the reason, I was different. For the most part I withdrew to my own small, safe, understandable world.

Like Rudolph and Hermey, the elf who wanted to be a dentist instead of a toy maker, I felt like a misfit. My grade school principal told my parents I would probably come into my own in college. He was right. Going to college and being surrounded by people who chose to go to school, wanted to learn, and believed in making a difference made my two years at Trinity Christian College one of the best periods of my life.

It's not that I wasn't a bit of a misfit there as well, since the bulk of students came from the same religious and ethnic background, didn't question much, and seemed to be high school students who had just moved to the next level of education. It was a circle of friends who valued uniqueness, dreams, and friendship that made all the difference.

I don't know how we came together - some white, some black, one Chinese; some with goals and some unsure what God wanted them to do; all unique and each special. We ate meals together, sometimes went on picnics together, often attended chapel together, and hung out as friends. We talked about our lives, our homes, our dreams, our struggles. We were family.

Best of all, I was comfortable being myself with others for the first time in my life. I fit in because we valued each other as people, not for our successes, conformity, or career goals.

None was closer than Char. We became good friends and shared our lives - we talked about my girlfriend back home, her relationships, the loss of my grandfather, her years touring with Covenant Players, and a lot more.

My People

My parents and grandparents were part of the Dutch immigration to Canada circa 1950. They build immigrant churches, moved in immigrant circles, and built church-related schools to educate their children in their ways - strangers in a strange land who brought a lot of their ways from the old country.

My family immigrated to the States circa 1963, where we attended the same brand of church, but founded by immigrants nearly a century earlier. We attended older, inner-city Christian schools filled mostly with other Dutch Christian Reformed kids. We knew the "true faith" and tended to live lives dominated by our religious and ethnic identity.

It wasn't easy being a misfit. While everyone else wanted to socialize, act up, play games, and get out of the classroom, I wanted to read and learn. I wanted to understand the world I lived in. It was in that context that I discovered A Wrinkle in Time while in 5th or 6th grade. I identified.

I found people not unlike Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin at Trinity Christian College, and a few more like that when I switched to Calvin College for my junior year. Not rebels. Not nonconformists. Just people who God loved and who didn't fit into the mainstream.

None came to mean more to me than Linda. She wasn't Dutch, wasn't Christian Reformed, and in my book those were good things. She knew she was different, didn't view that as a bad thing, and over time we became close friends, soul mates, and spouses. We were different from each other, but we shared a lot of values - and most of all we shared love.

My Marriage

Linda meant the world to me, and we were married at Church of the Saviour in Coopersville, MI, on August 22, 1981.

For the most part, it was a comfortable relationship. We tried to work by consensus and walk together as friends. Her love and acceptance let me grow, and I believe that my love and encouragement did the same for her. I've never been closer to or felt more bonded with another person in my life.

We left college to get married. Linda later returned, completed her B.A., and encouraged me to do the same. She went to grad school, also with my support and encouragement, and I eventually did the same. When her last job came to an end, she had my encouragement and support while starting her own business doing something she loved and succeeding at it.

Later I did the same thing. Four years ago, Low End Mac had turning into enough of a success that I could attend Macworld, pay my writers, and make a living publishing the site full time. I was tired of my IT job, tired of solving the same computer problems for the same users time and again, tired of being told that we needed to switch to Windows to function in the business world.

I began planning for the future. Even if site growth slowed down by this much, if ad rates dropped by that much, and if hosting costs increased by so much - by my worst projections, all signs were good.

I incorporated Cobweb Publishing on January 1, 2001, and prepared to leave my job behind.

That January I attended Macworld San Francisco and was able to treat the family to a week-long vacation of trolley cars, museums, wharves, ethnic cuisine, and Macs. Little did I suspect that this would be our last big family vacation - or that the dot-com collapse was about to make my worst income projections look overly optimistic.

The End

We got by from month to month, thanks in no small part to the support of Low End Mac readers, but we had no extra money for home repairs, vacations, or keeping our vehicles in shape.

We'd tried to refinance the house a couple times last year, but the bankruptcy on our credit history left us stuck with a 9% mortgage. Linda had to replace her car last year (you don't want to know how many miles she puts on driving all over the state every year), and we had to take out a high-interest loan to pay for the used car she chose.

Last summer we found someone willing to refinance the home, which reduced our interest rate to 6-3/8%. It took months, but we eventually finished the process, paid off the car loan, and completed a lot of home repairs. The budget remained tight, but it was not as bad as it was before.

Last August, Linda decided the marriage was finished, began to look at apartments, and worked up some budgets. She determined that she could afford to rent an apartment and leave once we eliminated the car payment.

I didn't have a clue.

Just before she left on a two-week trip in early October (a short conference plus ten days to visit online friends in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Toronto, and points in between), she told me that she no longer loved me and considered the marriage dead. Then she left me alone to deal with it.

I was traumatized. We had loved each other, and until then I thought that neither of us considered divorce an option. Love was a commitment and a promise, not just an emotion. But now she wanted out, and I didn't understand it.

I loved Linda and was in love with her. We'd built a life together, she was a part of me, and our family and marriage formed a big part of my identity. I couldn't imagine life without her.

I couldn't believe how deeply her rejection hurt. I had trusted her, she had stopped loving me, and then she pushed me into the most traumatic experience of my life.

My world was collapsing. I did everything I could to understand what was happening and try to make things better. I knew I would be lost without her. I needed to find out what had gone wrong and try to fix our relationship.

Seven months later I'm still trying to understand. I feel cheated because Linda didn't bring her problems to me until she'd decided it was too late. I feel cheated because she didn't seem to see and understand me through the process, instead reacting against a caricature she had created in her mind based on her assumptions about my motivations.

From flawed premises come flawed conclusions, but in the end it seems like she decided that I wasn't worth the effort, the marriage wasn't worth salvaging, and it was time for her to move on.

We had a lot of long talks over the months, some more productive than others. I tried to understand her. I let her know that I loved her, but she seemed adamant about separation. We talked, we looked at possibilities, and part of me died. I started therapy, and when I finally agreed to a separation, I moved into an apartment, leaving her at home with our four sons.

We each had therapy with the same therapist, and he told us that we couldn't afford to postpone joint sessions. He was right, but it was probably too late by then. All therapy could do was help us understand ourselves, get another perspective on what was happening, and try to figure out how to survive it. It brought some understanding, but it didn't bring us to the point where we could work together and continue as husband and wife.

I felt powerless through most of the process, although when I began therapy I thought that I might be able to make some changes that would matter. I was powerless - no matter what I did, a relationship requires two people, and nothing I could do satisfied her.

It took month, and the anxiety took its toll. The uncertainty was destroying me, and by the end of January I found that my feelings of love were gone. I still wanted to work things out, still wanted what was best for her, but I began protecting myself by reducing my investment in her and the marriage.

I've been on an emotional roller coaster since last summer. Long talks. Arguments. Therapy. Medication. Anxiety. Depression. Frustration. Glimmers of hope. Losing trust. Loneliness. Dying inside.

I still don't understand it, but I do see that the marriage was doomed when Linda chose to share her frustrations with her friends instead of with me. When she finally talked, she was prepared. I wasn't. It devastated me and overwhelmed me, and I haven't found my balance since.

If she wants divorce, if she believes she can't be happy with me, I'll give it to her. We'll make it the best divorce we can. Losing her won't hurt any less, but we may heal faster if we're not at each other's throats. And shared custody in the family home will make this as easy on the boys as possible.

The whole process taught me what an enigma another human being becomes when she stops sharing herself. Linda once loved me, and I once trusted her. She stopped talking with me and let the love fade away. I eventually stopped trusting and loving her.

She was a good friend - arousing, enchanting, insightful, fun loving, a joy to be with. That seems like ancient history, yet it was only a year ago. I hope she can find that person again, because I see too much pain and bitterness to believe that she hasn't lost a lot of herself through this difficult process.

I know I've lost myself, and it will be a long, slow process finding myself again. I know that I fell in love all over again a year ago, and that gave me the strength to throw myself into trying to work things out. That's another reason this hurts so much.

If ever there was a window of opportunity for working through our problems and building a stronger relationship, the past year was it. Now it looks like that window is shut tight.

Linda filed the divorce petition last week.

I'm still on that emotional roller coaster, and I hope the ride comes to an end soon. I need to get off this roller coaster soon.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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