A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
- Madeleine L’Engle
Every once in a while, I’ll read a novel that just absolutely floors me – a story that pierces through the confusion of what it means anymore to be an authentic human being. Phenomenally written narratives that slap me awake are hardly a dime a dozen. I’m still treasuring and pondering the most recent of these literary gems I was fortunate enough to stumble onto. It’s called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and man is it good. I’ve been fixating the last few days on a specific character from the novel who really grew on me by the end. Her name is Roxanna, and I wish I could meet her.
Roxanna is not attractive in the Hollywood dictated sense of the term – not thin, plucked, highlighted – not one to stand out in a crowd by any means. Roxanna is a survivor; she’s industrious and scrappy. Roxanna is rough around the edges with a core of solid gold. To two motherless children and their father, she becomes a rock, selflessly providing structure and nourishment where before there was drifting and sickness. Without fanfare or any expectation of gratitude for her efforts, Roxanna stitches together a sense of wholeness for the broken family in front of her out of order, tenacity and homemade cinnamon rolls.
At one point in the book, the children’s eyes become opened to a beauty in Roxanna they hadn’t noticed at the start. This passage makes me all fired up about the power a woman holds in her heart and hands to become a healing presence – to find utmost contentment in being a healing presence – once she drop kicks the ridiculous expectations placed upon her by a society obsessed with a plasticized, formulaic and unoriginal definition of femininity, that is:
“Children,” Roxanna replied, turning to us. Though her eyes glittered she was not crying; in fact she pulled a smile from somewhere. Her hair was roped back in a french braid from which it was very winningly coming loose, and she held before her a picnic basket with a clasped lid. For heartening sights nothing beats a well-packed picnic basket. One so full it creaks. One carried by a lady you would walk on tacks for. Does all this make her sound beautiful to you? Because she was – oh, yes. Though she hadn’t seemed so to me a week before, when she turned and faced us I was confused at her beauty and could only scratch and look down at my shoetops, as the dumbfounded have done through the centuries. Swede was wordless too, though later in an epic fervor she would render into verse Roxanna’s moment of transfiguration. I like the phrase, which hasn’t been thrown around that much since the High Renaissance, but truly I suppose that moment had been gaining on us, secretly, like a new piece of music played while you sleep. One day you hear it – a strange song, yet one you know by heart.
Am I really going to rob myself, and loved ones, of my potential for sucking the marrow out of this day, out of every day I’ve got, because my jeans feel tight, or the skin around my eyes is wrinkling, or my van is old, or I’m overly concerned about others’ opinions of me, or because it’s easier to procrastinate and day-dream about a facade of an existence void of hardships and inconvenience than becoming refined by plain old sacrifice and hard work?
Oh mercy me… I hope not.