It is March and with the change in daylight and the daffodils also comes the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time. Full disclosure: I would watch a detergent commercial if it starred Oprah, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, but this film is special. Just as The Handmaid’s Tale marched in at the appropriate hour, A Wrinkle in Time twirls into the collective conscience just when we need it.
It was 1992 when my brother passed down his copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s book with his named doodled on the front. It was yellow-edged, the one with the centaur flying under a rainbow in the airbrushed 80s style. In my room with peach walls, I sat on the shag carpet, also peach, and read it from start to finish. That’s what you do at 10-years-old when you like something—you dive headlong into the book/bracelet braiding/sticker collecting until it is finished.
This tale was everything magic should be: a mysterious quest that bends the rules of the natural world, making heroes out of mere mortals. As a most ordinary kid in glasses and stirrup pants from The Limited, I needed the seed L’Engle planted. I needed to believe I could look up one day and see the world shimmer and reveal my purpose. I did not know at the time that every fifth grader feels like she doesn’t belong. To me, the world was shifting from within and it seemed like the rest of the population had already figured out where to sit in the cafeteria and not to eat the tacos on mile day in gym and how to hold yourself just slightly aloft from the opposite sex. I was Gumby rolling along in a crowd of Jem and the Rockers.
But A Wrinkle in Time made different good. It magicked my life into a story of potentially epic proportions so that the glasses and the budding acne weren’t so bad. L’Engle took three kids on the outskirts: a girl angry at her plainness, her brilliant but misunderstood younger brother, and a basketball star who would rather be reading, and she gave them a home. In Meg and Charles and Calvin, she created the out-of-place feeling we all know so deeply and then turned it into strength. And now as a parent 25 years later, I see the need for this kind of magic all the more.
My children will need this strength. My oldest, also named Charles, rolls into school each day in his wheelchair and fights to make himself ordinary, because to be different in any way is to expose the soft underside of all your insecurities. He fights the cerebral palsy because it makes him stand out. He is the kid at the edge of the stage for the holiday shows. He is the one at the head of the table at lunch because his wheels and his tray fit nowhere else. And I see him cringe a little at all this and lean in toward the huddle of other little bodies. But to walk and talk like everyone else is not, and should not be his quest or anyone’s. L’Engle knew this. Sameness is exactly what the kids in A Wrinkle in Time must fight. Different is both good and necessary.
And that right there is the message I can only tell my children in hindsight. Sometimes the world will feel “dark and stormy” much like the beginning of this story. But all the most important things must begin this way. We have to start in the dark to notice the light. There is a scene just as Meg is about to face the most difficult part of her trial, when Mrs. Whatsit gives her a gift. Meg, of course expects a magical weapon, a sword or spell or something tangible at least, but instead, Mrs. Whatsit says, “I give you your faults.”
This is why A Wrinkle in Time could not come at a better time. Though this story is timeless, I see now more than the need to embrace the weaknesses we have been given, because when seen through a new light, they can become our strengths. Mrs. Whatsit is an old lady when we first see her. And then she is a centaur. And once she was a star. This is the magic of the story. Every kid wants the power to transform, to let their differences be known and accepted so that others can see them as they see themselves. Both my 10- and 35-year-old selves would agree.