I cannot believe this is my last clay article ever! It feels like yesterday that I submitted my application, anxiously awaiting word from the senior editors. Since then, nine articles, nine months, and nine hundred or so ideas, inspirations, and words have floated through my head. It has been such a joy to share my heart with you on clay. Writing has always been a way for me to process life – it is my outlet.
So when it came time to choose a final book, I wanted to leave you all with something inspirational and encouraging. It was difficult for me to choose, and my wonderful editor received quite a distressing email, but we came to a decision – Virgil Wander by Leif Enger.
Virgil Wander is a story of redemption. A story of new beginnings. A story of finding the beauty and hope in the unlikely – something we all could use right about now.
Leif Enger is my all-time favorite contemporary author. His way with words is inexplicably gorgeous. He is the master of stringing graceful sentences that wrap themselves around your heart, making you audibly giggle or bawl your eyes out or simply relate with a reflective nod. That is what makes his stories so fantastic. You may have absolutely nothing in common with the character and may even gravely dislike them, but you still, somehow resonate with them. Enger has authored three novels, but Virgil Wander’s themes and quotes are most applicable to this season of new beginnings and venturing off into the next stage of many of our lives.
Virgil Wander was cruising by Michigan’s Lake Superior on his way to photograph an approaching winter storm when he veered off the road and plunged straight into the ice water, car flipping, and airbags deploying. He wakes at the local hospital with terrible vertigo and temporary memory loss, to learn that he would have died if it wasn’t for Marcus Jetty, a local salvage tinker, rummaging in the vicinity and calling for help. He has a new lease on life, but a faulty memory.
Virgil owns a movie theater in town and lives in a small apartment. He returns home, desperately trying to rediscover language and his way of life. Suffering through vertigo and daily toils, each day is a challenge, but as time goes on, he gets better, and he discovers the beauty of above.
He steps outside for a walk, wanting to relieve his stress, when he looks up and sees a kite. Yes – a kite! But this kite fascinates his regenerating brain. He is awestruck. The flyer of the kite is interesting too. Rune. Rune is a man looking for his missing son, who disappeared after he took off in a small plane many years ago, leaving behind his wife, Nadine, and son Bjorn. Rune, in need of a place to stay, is offered a room of Virgil’s. Rune’s kites take refuge in the apartment as well, where Virgil is captivated by their beauty and sense of freedom. Long story short, Rune never discovers what happens to his son. Much more drama, which is irrelevant to this article, ensues, but in the end, Rune, Nadine, Bjorn, and Virgil grow closer, and ultimately, Virgil recovers not only physically, but emotionally and personally.
One of the central themes in the story is of freedom in the kites. When Virgil lets out the string and watches the colors soar above him, he experiences a sense of renewal, peace, and wonder.
“Thinking it over I became a bit less angry, and more proud of the kite itself: it had refused to be flown by Leer [Leer is a creepy, annoying character in the book] one moment longer. It broke the line and caught the next gust out of town. A perilous beautiful move, choosing to throw yourself at the future, even if it means one day coming down in the sea.”
This quote speaks volumes to me. Through flying his kite, feeling the chill of the wind on his face and sensing its thrust against the kite, he experiences freedom from his previous life of glum and dry routine. He wakes up from his coma with new friends and new hobbies which open his eyes to the freedom abounding in fresh starts – the freedom of redemption. He no longer feels anger, the kite flies in his hands, not the other man’s, because he allows its wonder to captivate him. And it flies. And it’s like he is flying.
Virgil Wander is considered to be Enger’s most Christian novel, and this is part of the reason why. Before Christ, we are much like Virgil, living in a perpetual state of discouragement and doubt. When Jesus comes, knocks us to our senses, and redeems us through his grace, we are free. Free to find the beauty he offers us amidst the highs and lows and life. Free to fearlessly fling ourselves into the sky knowing that even if we come down into the sea, He will sustain us. If we fall into the sea, we know with confidence that the sea is where he wants us to be, because there is no place we tread that has not been foreseen by His eyes.
Fellow seniors, we are about to embark on the next journey of our lives. Others, a new year of school is ahead of you. Teachers, new students, and curriculums are coming your way! The end of something old and the beginning of something new is approaching. As believers, we can confidently fly into what is next in our journey. What a hope and what a comfort.
My hope for everyone who reads my articles is to trust. To trust in Christ, the sustainer of everything. I also hope you see. That you see how through every single story, his hand is evident in the character’s lives. Through seeing that, I hope you begin to notice his hands in yours. I hope that you observe his faithfulness through the ages. We are created in the image of God, authors, and readers alike, all connected through the string of the gospel that weaves stories and centuries together. The string of the gospel that holds us fast, and leads us wherever the master storyteller wishes us to go next.
Readers, may you, like Virgil’s kite “throw yourself at the future, even if it means one day falling into the sea” because that sea may be part of your story, and in the arms of the Storyteller, you will not drown.
Enger, Leif. Virgil Wander. Grove Press, 2019.
Featured Image: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/356488126748485911/
Body Image: https://bookriot.com/2018/01/21/ocean-poems/