Last night I found out that a remarkable woman that I knew, Mary Coffman, passed away suddenly. I knew Mary and her equally remarkable daughter Elizabeth from working at the Blue Kangaroo Bookstore. Mary and Elizabeth were much much more than customers, though. We shared a kind of friendship that C.S. Lewis refers to in The Four Loves : when you realize that someone else loves the same books you do and you think to yourself "I thought I was the only one!" Lewis tells a story about when he became friends with his neighbor Arthur in Surprised by Joy:
"I found Arthur sitting up in bed. On the table beside him lay a copy of Myths of the Norsemen.
"'Do you like that?' said I.
"'Do you like that?' said he.
"Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking - soon almost shouting - discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way."
Even though I moved away, Elizabeth and I have still e-mailed about good books, or upcoming movies-made-from-books. We have come from American Girl to Narnia to Harry Potter to Edith Nesbit and George MacDonald. I have always loved how she was immediately willing to discuss a book! Even though Elizabeth is eleven, we have shared the bond of reading.
Last summer, when Mary and Elizabeth came to visit me, and we went out to eat at Lynn's Paradise Cafe (spending a good long time in "the world of swirl" as you might imagine). I was so intrigued to watch Mary lay good questions out on the table. We were all sharing what we hoped would come through in the final Harry Potter book, and when Elizabeth expressed an especially vengeful wish toward Malfoy, Mary gently returned a rather C.S. Lewis-ish response: "But Elizabeth, wouldn't you rather see him turn to good? A traitor may mend." (Edmund's remark to Eustace when he has just become un-dragoned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) I was always so touched by Mary's friendship with her daughter. Elizabeth is indeed a unique and wonderful child -- one I am blessed to know, and hope to know more as she grows into a young woman.
Elizabeth -- you are in my thoughts and prayers!