Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World
by N.D. Wilson
This is not a review of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. Tilt-A-Whirl is not a book you review. This is an interaction with the text. I feel pretentious using words I learned from literature class, but this is not a book you merely read. It is a tome that demands a response.
Shadows can seem so long when you are walking through them.
I remember an almost six-year-old me peering around a doorway at a large plastic box that held my little sister born at 24 1/2 weeks gestation. A micro-preemie brought into the world four months early to save my mother’s life, I could barely tell there was a sister under all the technology monitoring her. A nurse caught me moments later and sent me back out into the hospital hallway. Why was my sister in a box? And why did Mommy and Daddy have to wash their hands all the time? I was both fascinated and afraid.
I think of my wedding day. My lively talkative grandmother had been slowly fading under the curse of dementia for several years. I stood in her room at the nursing home and told her I was getting married in a few hours, even though I knew she would never remember the blond-haired young man who had visited her and would forget it was my wedding day moments after I left. I asked her to pray for me. For a moment her eyes cleared. She said, “Of course I’ll be praying for you, darlin’. I’ve been praying for this day your whole life.” Then she was gone again, her mind hijacked by the tangled proteins gathering in her neurons.
I remember the funeral of my college mentor, a brilliant sociologist with a razor wit and a love of Simon and Garfunkel. When I wrote a parody of the song “That’s Amore” using sociology vocab he laughed until he cried and told me he would submit it for publication in a journal. Only a few months later he described to me the night he spent in the ER watching fireworks crawling up the wall created by the tumor pressing on his occipital lobe and the doctor telling him he had three months left. As I listened to bagpipes bid him farewell in my university’s chapel, I asked God how He could give the smartest man I’d ever met a deadly brain tumor at only 50 years old.
I feel again the knots in my chest as I broke down in the parking lot of a CVS on my lunch break. A nurse had just told me the results of blood tests over the phone and casually mentioned that I would probably never have children. My world seemed to shrink until it was just me in a car, air conditioner blasting away the Texas summer heat. I desperately dialed my husband’s phone number only to weep so hard he couldn’t understand a word I said. I didn’t go back to work that day. I went home and cried in my husband’s arms for what felt like days.
Our world is a bizarre mashup of light and dark. As Wilson points out, our God designed wind, so He knew it could turn into tornadoes and hurricanes. Does that bother you? Does the tangle of good and evil that surrounds us make you question His goodness? His sovereignty? His wisdom? Good. The struggle is evidence of His breath in your lungs. Sometimes it feels as though the shadows have overtaken the light. The Valley of the Shadow of Death seems endless as we walk through it. But what is on the other side?
My little sister is why I celebrate when I reach 25 weeks with each pregnancy. I know that my baby can survive because my sister is a healthy, intelligent, and beautiful 23-year-old. She still bears scars on her hands and feet from all the blood they took those weeks in the NICU. They are beautiful. They mark her as a miracle.
I despise The Notebook. Dementia is too diabolical to be captured on page or film. But I also remember my grandfather’s gentle kiss on Grandma’s forehead and her eyes lighting up even in the depths of her disease. I remember their whispered “I love yous.” When I think back to my vows on my wedding day, I will never forget what “in sickness and in health” looks like, and for that I am grateful.
Part of the reason I can’t give up on being a novelist is because of my college mentor. When I told him I was writing a novel, he nodded and said, “Finish it so I can read it.” He was completely confident that I would be published. Other professors were encouraging, but he was certain. Such certainty coming from a man who prided himself on being a hard-nose meant the world to me. I keep writing so he won’t haunt me from the grave like he promised.
My second little boy is barely two weeks old, but the pain of hearing I might never be a mother left a tender place in my heart. I weep with other women when they tell me of their struggles. I understand the ache of empty arms and the frustration of doctor visits, blood tests, x-rays, and no answers. A bond ties my heart to Hannah and her broken prayer in the temple. When I look at my two boys, I remember my tears in that car begging God for a miracle, and suddenly I’d rather spend my day scrubbing liquid eyeliner from my couch and changing messy diapers than never have a mess to clean.
There is light at the end of valley.
Right now my husband and I are in the midst of a tangle between good and bad. It feels like we are in the center of a hurricane, the birth of our second son merely a pause before the winds whip our world into a frenzy again. In all the wildness, I am grateful that the Lion of Judah is not tame.
Thank you, Nate Wilson, for the reminder.