a poem and a book for the end of the world.

“The Mystery of Meteors” by Eleanor Lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents–
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

girl at the end of the worldMy family was not big into the idea of the Rapture or Armageddon or any of those things that Christians were kind of obsessed with in the 80s and 90s. My husband’s family stocked up on supplies and even added a wood stove for Y2K, but I guess we were just going to wing it in the face of possible disaster.

Elizabeth Esther’s family, though, was Rapture-ready. They had code words and meeting places arranged in case the book of Revelation came to life. (Since I did not grow up in a Rapture-obsessed family, I was not totally sure why they thought any of them would be left behind. Wouldn’t they have been taken up with all the true believers?) I have noticed that the more concerned you are about things like the Rapture or the afterlife, the less concern you show for the people in your very real life in front of you. Everything becomes about achieving perfection and obedience, and there tend to be abusive behaviors that ensure compliance. This is the environment that Elizabeth Esther was raised in, a fundamentalist church/cult called The Assembly that was controlled by her grandparents. She tells the story of her childhood and her break from that way of life in her new book Girl at the End of the World.

I have read Elizabeth Esther’s blog but it is hard for me to visit it on a regular basis. She (understandably, given her childhood) cycles through high and low periods that are painful to watch. I was nervous that the book would be the same way, but it is actually very different. It goes much more into her background growing up in The Assembly. Her voice is clear and relatable, the story is compelling, and it’s paced steadily and evenly. She has obviously done a ton of work to be able to tell the story in this way, both emotionally and in her writing. As she found the Catholic Church, the story felt more rushed and less reflected upon, so as nice as it was to feel a certain sense of closure on some of her family’s issues, the ending did not resonate with me like the rest of the book. Faith is a constant journey, so it must be hard to know where to end a story like this. I wish the story told in this book had ended a little earlier. Recommended for: people who like reading about fundamentalist groups, people who like spiritual memoirs.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but my opinions are my own.

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