Discovering Emily

I have just discovered Emily of New Moon.

Those of you who are familiar with her are probably shaking your heads, saying “It took you long enough!” Doubtless there are countless blogs and stories written by fans of Emily. But this is all new to me, and I am captured by the wonder of this enchanting literary figure.

It all happened a couple of nights ago. As often happens after major surgery, the patient (me, but it feels much safer to speak of myself as ‘the patient’) can’t sleep. Insomnia is a side effect and a most unwelcome one. Everything feels more difficult once the lights go out and the moon is up. Tossing and turning, you try to find a comfortable way to lie, and every bone and muscle feels tender. Your emotions go off the charts, starting with sighing, then with anger often followed by tears of both pain and self-pity. You’re quite sure in the history of surgeries, no one has ever felt as badly as you. Finally, resignation floods over you and you decide to either turn on the light and read or in this modern-day age of electronic readers, pull out your choice of reader and scroll through your library.

In minutes, I was immersed in the story of Emily, orphaned at a young age, taken to live with relatives who drew lots to see who must be burdened with her, and who ended up in a place of beauty where her imagination and literary skills could explode. My pain diminished, I didn’t think about trying to find a comfortable position, I just read, and I read, and I read.

There was another reason that I began to read Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known for her Anne of Green Gables series. An article in Plough Magazine called “Into the Wind,” acquainted me for the first time with something that Emily calls “the flash.” The author of the article, Maureen Swinger, writes this:

I had never found words to describe that jolt of beauty so piercing that it hurts, when everything turns silver for the briefest of instants, as if heaven overlaid the earth for a moment and then lifted before I could take a breath.

It was Lucy Maud Montgomery who defined it, as I discovered some months later on a winter evening spent curled up on the sofa with Emily of New Moon

Into the Wind by Maureen Swinger

Despite the article, I did not expect to confront “the flash” so early in the book, but there in the first chapter is the description of something beyond the curtain of reality that came “rarely – went swiftly leaving [Emily] breathless with the inexpressible delight of it.”

Like Swinger and Emily of New Moon, I too have come across the “jolt of beauty” or “flash,” where for just an instant, I lose my breath in the wonder of how the world can contain such extraordinary beauty. Emily talks about how this “flash” comes unexpectedly, and Swinger emphasizes this in her article as well. Though they may be beautiful, “the flash” is not found in every sunset, storm, or encounter. Part of “the flash” seems to be in the holiness of the unexpected.

How many others must know this feeling of walking away wordless, with your soul lifted to the sky?

Into the Wind by Maureen Swinger

For of this I am sure – God is in “the flash.” Maybe that’s why we want to hold on to it, willing the wonder to stay forever. Indeed, my new literary friend Emily believes the same. Later in the book as she is writing in her diary, she says “I think God is just like my flash, only it lasts only a second and He lasts always.”

As the sun began to rise over Boston, it’s red-gold beauty visible through the upstairs window, I finally sighed and put down the book. While I didn’t experience “the flash,” I felt an extraordinary sense of calm and healing that came with the beauty of the words I had read and the benediction to my reading flooding toward me through the colors of the sunrise.