My favorite book and I haven't been able to open it's covers for a few years now. It has only been a few years because an old roommate saw me with it and teased me about reading it at least three times in the nine months we lived together. I used to be able to recite whole passages by heart - I can now only remember a phrase here and there.
It is odd for such a book to be my favorite. For a girl who struggles to bring herself to pin herself down to a favorite anything, choosing only one out of all the literature she has encountered and standing by that decision for 15 years is nothing short of remarkable. Especially a book bearing a cover that makes people think I'm reading a harlequin romance and a title that will never appear on any bestseller or best written list.
Imagine though a fifteen year old girl, curled up in a chair, idly reading a copy of it, borrowed secretly from her older sister. The book is about a woman who finds herself in circumstances she would never have chosen for herself - unmarried, unloved and oft forgotten. She lives a life that is strictly structured, but is mostly hampered in by her fears - fear of saying what she really means, fear of doing what she really wants, fear of being who she really is, fear of the repercussions of truly being herself. Suddenly this woman who has yet to live is given a diagnosis: angina pectoris in its final stages. One year, at most. Even a fifteen year old imagination has trouble conceiving how any of that would feel - except the fear. I'd spent most of my childhood and life creating rules about how to conduct myself in society - do not look popular people in the eye but keep your head down to show due respect, never let anyone see you cry, and never share anything that really matters with you. I spent a lot of my childhood being myself around my family and following everyone blindly around outside it. I had created rules to keep myself safe but they only trapped me and strengthened my fears. So a book about a person who casts aside her fears and lives, really LIVES for herself was freeing. (Especially since this woman decided 'living for herself' meant serving in the community, reading good literature and spending significant time in nature)
The book changed me profoundly. For the next ten years, whenever I felt my courage waver, I would pull out that book and remind myself that I do not want to live a life characterized by fear. Despite the laughs I got from friends judging it by its cover or confused looks from others who expected that my favorite book would be some book worth considering a classic, I remained with that decision. Any re-read reminded me once again how lasting and true a friend that book was to me.
But for the past few years, I put it aside. Suddenly, I was starting to understand the other parts of the book. I knew what it felt like to be unmarried at 29. (At fifteen, I simply laughed at such an absurdity.) Fears, questions all bubbled up. I couldn't bear to face the book. What if, after all, I was still simply a coward, coiled about with fear?
With research frustrations and family concerns ever before my eyes, I went to bed the other night, seeking for a book to put me to sleep. Nothing else would do. I pulled down The Blue Castle, flipped it open to a well worn section and settled in. As I doze off, a figure comes out of the woods and draws closer and closer until I can make out who it is and draws nearer yet so I can make out his face. He reaches me, laying down, dreaming quietly, and smiles before extending a hand. I find myself smiling back while carefully memorizing once again every line and mark of his face. "My dear friend, it's been too long."
"Everyone has a Blue Castle, I think," said Cissy softly. "Only every one [has] a different name for it." (p. 89)
Here's hoping you all have your castles in the sky and that they uphold you through your trials and lift you above your fears.
P.S. If I had my druthers, the cover of this book would actually be Woodland Solitude, painted by Charles Curran at BYU's Museum of Art. You can view the painting here.