Is it true?

In my last post I said that I wanted to add this little bit of autobiographical fiction to give more depth to my post.  Here it is.  When I started writing these little “Evida” stories, I was playing with combining Hesse’s story of the Buddha, Siddhartha learning about the world outside his family for the first time and Voltaire’s character, Candide, who goes in search of the best of all possible worlds.  Both of those stories affected me in deep ways, so here is a cut from my own version.  This piece is several chapters into the story.

Evida discovers the truth

One day, something happened to bring Evida out of her soft, uterine world with sudden, unexpected force.  Having left behind the little school of her youth, she entered the high school and gained admittance, for the first time, to the new school library.  Evida stood before the double glass doors and saw before her a giant cavern of books.  Row upon row upon row, the books leaned against one another like comrades.  Overwhelmed by the abundance of this place, she could only stare, opened-mouthed.  Evida had long grown bored with the elementary library of her former school or the town library tucked beneath the police station like a mistake.

A kind, young librarian just out of college saw the transparent girl wandering the glass enclosed library in the school and came up behind her and said innocently, “Maybe I can help?”

Evida looked at her and said, “Yes, maybe you can.”  Evida had come to the end of every series book written for young people.  She’d read them dutifully, like a small soldier marching through a village, looking briefly into every window on his way to somewhere else.  Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, even the long line of science fiction and other lightweight stories had crossed her path.  The scenery had grown bland.  Evida explained all of this to the young librarian, who nodded and smiled.
Later that night, after small boy brothers had found bath and bed and left this world for another realm of sleep and dreams, after all the endless chores of the busy household had been completed for the day and quiet began to move into the spaces, Evida retreated to her room.  She opened the book and read.  Without knowing it, she stood like the Buddha about to wander outside his castle and the sphere of his royal family for the very first time.  Losing all track of time that night, Evida traveled into unknown worlds with her new friend, Eva. The librarian began walking down a long row of shelves touching each book with a single fingertip as if sensing (from some greater source) what would be just the right book for this right moment in the young girl’s life.  Finally, she stopped, pulled a single volume out of the anonymous row, and handed it to Evida.  The librarian was suddenly serious, almost somber, as if wondering herself at the book that had slid magnetically off the shelf and into Evida’s hands.  “Here, try this one.  She shares a part of your name.”  The book was called simply, Eva.  Evida nodded, turned, walked to the counter, and checked out the book.

Only Eva’s world, so unlike her own, was a dark universe, full of death, despair, and brokenness.  In the deep silence of that night, with the book tucked against her pillow, and Evida’s head tucked up on one elbow until the whole arm tingled and burned, she read every dreaded word.

The next day Evida carried the book that now seemed to weigh so very much back into the school library in search of the young librarian who had done this too her.  She found her in the stacks with a pushcart full of materials which the librarian was diligently returning to the shelves.  Evida stood before her and said simply, “Is it true?  These things that happened?”

The librarian stood still a moment in the space between reality and fantasy as if deciding which tale to tell and then said, “Yes, my dear.  It’s true.”

Evida left the library again that day with three books detailing the events of the Jewish Holocaust.  She had Mila 18, Treblinka, and a history book on the Third Reich.  Some small voice within told her to go, leave the books behind and run, run like hell, get out of there, never look back, go back to the forest and the blue, silk sky and stay there.  But she couldn’t get another sky out of her mind, a sky clouded with the soot and smoke and the suffering souls fleeing the scene of a million bodies burning.

Evida became a pale ghost of a girl, unsure if she wanted to stay in a world that contained this ugliness.  She took the books to others known to be wiser than she and asked the same question she’d asked the librarian.  She went to her priest in his heavy robes of black, the white-collar showing only in the edges of all that black and asked, “Is it true?”  He glanced at the titles of the books, shook his head wearily, and said, “Yes, my child, it is true.  But it is God’s will, not ours”.

His answer stirred a restless thing in her soul and so she took her question to the professor of World History that lived on her street and asked him, “Is it true?”  He looked at her, wagged his head and gave her a gruesome smile filled with teeth broken and stained with tobacco from a long love affair with Pall Mall Cigarettes.  He said, “Yes, history says it is so, and that it has happened before, will happen again and, in fact, is happening now.”

She went finally to her mother and asked, her question changing at this point to “How can this be true?”  Her mother patted Evida’s head gently and said only, “I don’t know of such things, dear.  If it says it is so, it must be so.  Now, can you peel the potatoes and get the water boiling, and . . . .”

Finally, she went to her father, showed him the books, and asked once again, “Father, how can this be?”  Her father, who shared her soul and held her heart, just shook his head sadly and said, “I don’t know, my darling girl.  I don’t know.”  The best he could do was wrap her up in a warm embrace, and hold her while she cried.  Truth be known, he cried a little himself.  No longer could he shelter his darling girl from the ugly truths she must discover.

Evida didn’t stand at attention all night waiting for her father’s blessings like Siddhartha.  No, she simply accepted his tears on the soil of her own soul and began to prepare for the day when she must leave this place of safety to discover more about the world out there and what it contained.

The death of her sweet childhood was painful.  All that she’d known and loved as the comfortable confines of her own tidy world became suddenly strange and unfamiliar; as if one pair of eyeglasses had suddenly been replaced with another.  Her awareness of the world now spiraled out to include much, much more.  The world was all around her and up close, and she could no longer retreat into the blue silk sky of her childhood.  A few dark clouds had formed.  A storm of life was brewing.


How Evida Lost Her Faith That the World is a Kind Place

Evida was discouraged.  No one, it seemed, could tell her why the world out there was a cruel and uneasy place.  It made no sense to her.  She could find no sign of cruelty within her own body.  She longed for an answer.

One day at dusk, when the world was caught in the violet veil of the setting sun, she went to the silent, empty church and sat in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary.  She sat in a front pew, hands folded in prayer, and asked, “Please, sweet Mother Mary, can you tell me how six million Jews could be killed and we not stop it?  She thought being specific would, perhaps, help the virgin to form an answer.  “I really need to know.”

Evida sat in the silent church with the scent of incense lingering in the cavernous space, the votive candles flickering their little soul-lights into the dark.  She fixed her eyes on Mary’s serene and pretty face and listened.  It wasn’t clear what she expected or hoped would happen, but certainly something.  Wasn’t she sincere in her query?  Hadn’t she brought heart and soul, her very breath, to this place of answers to big questions?  Hadn’t she been told again and again to trust God in his might and great mercy to care for them all?  She waited.  She repeated her timid request.  An hour went by . . . and then two.  Her hands grew cold and her feet tingled.  Now she truly was sitting in the dark with nothing but childish hopes and whimsy.  No promises, no reassurance, no comfort.

When she walked back into her house that night her mother said only, “Where have you been, my girl?  Supper was over an hour ago and the dishes are still on the table and the boys are in the tub and, and, and . . . .”

Her mother didn’t see the slight, pale cast of her daughter’s face or the trembling fingers held so long in prayer that they hurt now, as if the hurt had traveled up from some deep inner hole, traced a path down each arm, and landed in her finger tips.  Her mother didn’t see that God had been silent on an issue of great importance to the young girl.  Her mother didn’t see that her daughter now wore a shaded cloak of sadness and silence and that it would be a decade, maybe two, before she could throw off the cloak.


This was just an extra–I’ll still be posting at my regular time this next week.  Stay warm.  Stay well.

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