The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was in a stack of books a friend was giving away. I had been wanting to read it, but I knew it would be difficult. I had seen the documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, and I knew her story. I had to be prepared to be drawn into her grief. I’m glad I read this book.
At about the same time I started the book, I watched a documentary about the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking. In the documentary Hawking’s brilliant discovery of the radiation around black holes was discussed. I am not much of a scientist, but any topic on the edge of human knowledge fascinates me. At first Hawking thought that everything was drawn into a black hole resulting in a singularity. Eventually the math led him to a different conclusion. There are particles of radiation that can escape a black hole and remain on its edge. All is not lost. This seemed parallel to the vortex that Didion describes as she puts words to the workings of her mind desperately trying to come to terms with the shock of her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness. For Didion, it seemed that almost any thought could trigger an endless mental trip that ended in the singularity of her grief. But her whole personhood was not swallowed up. She did not disappear into the abyss. Around the edges of her “vortex” were the pieces of herself that were not lost forever.
I know some of you have read The Year of Magical Thinking. To the rest, I recommend this amazing testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit.