Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
Evensong, Heading East - Image (c) Lancia E. Smith
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Evensong, Heading East

November 14, 2016

K.C. Ireton

Somewhere in eastern Montana I finished reading Gaudy Night. With a sigh I closed the book and stared out the train window. In the westering light, green and gold fields rolled away from the tracks in undulating waves clear to the horizon. My eyes smarted, and something in my chest ached. The train’s whistle blew, a plaintive song fading into the distance.

The curve of the sky above the train and the fields seemed taller than my urban eyes were used to, bluer, more three-dimensional. The clouds puffed their tops into the dome of the sky, like snow-white pastries rising in a celestial oven. I held the closed book between my hands, unshed tears pressing against my eyes and aching in my chest. The book was over, and I’d lived with these characters for almost 500 pages and had come to love them; I wanted to keep on living with them and loving them.

But it was more than just that. For as long as I can remember excellent books have almost always left me feeling a bit bereft, as if I lost a part of myself, left it in the pages of the book. (This is perhaps why I reread books religiously: maybe I subconsciously hope that I will find the part of myself that I left behind.) Or maybe it’s that a truly great book enlarges me, and by the end of it there is a hole, an aching gap between who I was before I read it and who I was once I finished it. Maybe it’s both.

I watched the fields roll by. As small hills appeared in the distance, dark blue against the brighter sky, a nagging awareness tugged at my attention: to some extent, this ache in my breast was envy. I knew that I would never, ever write a book like Gaudy Night, no matter how great a writer I became. For years I had railed against this, feeling somehow shortchanged because my literary abilities were not on a level with Dorothy Sayers or Jane Austen or George Eliot. I stared out the window for a long while, seeing nothing. Then I opened Gaudy Night again, and found the page I wanted, where Harriet Vane says:

“I’m sure one should do one’s own job, however trivial, and not persuade one’s self to do somebody else’s job, however noble.”

She was exactly right. One talent or ten is not up to me. My job is to do my best with what I have. Gaudy Night marked a threshold for me, the beginning of a long process of letting go of my entitlement, my pride, my shame, and my fear. As I relinquished those deadening habits of thought and being, my desire to be a ten talent writer slowly waned, and in its place came a more wholesome desire, a desire whose fulfillment lay entirely within my power: to be a better writer tomorrow than I was today, to make of my one talent all I could.

The hills in the distance drew nearer, no longer blue, instead revealing cloven sides and the sere golden brown of the stubble that covered them. An outcrop of red rock rose incongruously between two of the wheat-colored hills.

Loss. Envy. Both were true, as far as they went, but they didn’t go far enough. Watching the golden hills flow by outside my window, I recalled my high school and college fancy that when I died, I would meet all the literary characters I’d ever loved. (Even now, I secretly suspect that they exist, fully alive and animate, in some sort of Christian version of Plato’s realm of forms.) For a brief moment, I imagined myself bantering and laughing with Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, in a perfect place where their frightful intelligence and wit did not intimidate me, where I could be wholly myself and at the same time wholly unaware of myself and so wholly at home with them.

That momentary image of joyful at-home-ness both deepened and encapsulated the ache in my chest, and transmuted my sense of loss and even my envy: my desire to have written Gaudy Night (or any of the books that awakened this longing) was, at its core, a desire to more intimately participate in them, to become part of them. It was the longing to lose myself in something—or Someone—other and greater than myself.

Every spring, I have this same aching experience when I see a certain sort of cherry blossom—pale pink blooms drooping their delicate heads from slender stems, whole trees of them, and I want to inhale them, or eat them, or fling myself into the branches, the petals. As C.S. Lewis puts it:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it….At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door….We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.” 

Evensong, Heading East - Image (c) Lancia E. Smith

It was this longing for union that I felt that day on the train, the ache of longing to get in, to find, at last, my true Home—and dwell in that Land for ever.

The hills marched nearer, and I saw cattle upon them. Black, brown, white-patched, they grazed, serene and placid. Gaudy Night lay open on my lap, my hands resting on its pages, and the train trundled east. Its whistle blew, long and low, like the first note of evensong.


As always, we are deeply blessed at The Cultivating Project to have K.C. Ireton share with us.

She is most certainly one of the finest writers in America and one of the most gracious people we know.

Many blessings to you, friends! 



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  1. Denise Armstrong says:

    Oh Lancia and Kimberlee,
    Thank you both. These words capture thoughts, longings and emotions that romped in my breast only this past week, longing to be released by my pen or keyboard. I first became aware of such longings as I sat in an open field in the dew-damp hours of the morning at my teachers’ college set in the St. Andrew’s foothills of my island home, Jamaica. My emotions, as I read of the longings of Creation for the ‘revelation of the son’s of God’ (Rom. 8:19-23), were mirrored in the sigh of the ground’s keeper’s cow which lay chewing its cud nearby????. I distinctly remember my worship-filled heart looking up at the hills and deeply aching to be plunged into it in reflection of the glory of its Creator. I also remember the caution of my dear pastor, after I had shared the experience with him, to keep the hedges of Scripture in full view, even as I enjoy creation, lest the deceiver use this very longing to ensare me in animistic involvement. Counsel I’ve treasured to this day, as I now realize that my longing is really for Him : The Beautiful One Himself, whose glory we barely glimpse in nature. Blessings on you both as we revel in His goodness.

  2. Joy Lenton says:

    Wise words here, Kimberlee: “One talent or ten is not up to me. My job is to do my best with what I have”, though I think you undersell yourself here. From what I see, you have a beautiful 10 talents-worth gift! I loved reading the evocative description of your journey and the way it sparked deep thoughts. I also hate coming to the end of a book that has held me in its thrall. It inspired me to check out ‘Gaudy Night’ for myself. For far too long now I have shunned fiction in favour of memoir and poetry. It seems timely to try to rectify that! I also sought out your own work and have downloaded a snippet to read. Thank you for being here, and thanks to Lancia for graciously hosting. Every blessing for future creative endeavours. 🙂

  3. Jody Ohlsen Collins says:

    Just as lovely as it was the first time, Ms. Kimberlee. I’m grateful for the re-read; it reminded me I wanted to find ‘Gaudy Night.’ Yes, you are “one of the finest writers in America.”

  4. Lancia Smith says:

    Thank you, Denise, for sharing your kind words of encouragement and from your experience. Many blessings to you and yours. 🙂

  5. Oh my goodness. Jody, you give me far too much credit. And at the same time, I am heartened by your encouragement. Always. xox.

  6. Dear Joy, Thank you. Once you read Gaudy Night, I think you’ll re-evaluate your opinion of my writing ???? , but I thank you from the bottom of my heart for these words of affirmation and encouragement. (Just so you know: GN is the third Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane book, so if you’ve not read the first two, you’ll likely feel a little lost at first, but I have friends who’ve read it as a stand-alone and still enjoyed it. I hope you do, too!)

  7. Dearest Denise, even your comments are lovely and reflect the beauty of your soul! Thank you for this glimpse into your heart, and for the reminder that this longing ache we feel is ultimately for “The Beautiful One Himself.” Amen.

  8. […] If you’d like to read the rest, please head over to The Cultivating Project.       Photo by Loco Steve, Creative Commons via Flickr. […]

  9. June says:

    To me, you are one of those writers who are frightfully intelligent and witty. I can’t begin to know why the whole world has not discovered you, but I am very thankful that I have. Your writing never ceases to inspire me to try to be a better writer, to listen well and to think deeply.

  10. Oh my goodness, June, my cup is running over! You just gave me about the best compliment I’ve ever received. To do for another what so many wonderful writers have done for me–this is grace beyond grace. Thank you.

  11. Helena Sorensen says:

    My word, Kimberlee. I set this aside to read weeks ago, and this was the day for it. How wonderfully lovely!

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