A Facebook friend posted a link on my page – Atheists Feel Awe, Too. It’s a familiar notion. When Diane Nyad swam to Cuba and subsequently ended up on Oprah, the atheist world was set afire when Winfrey declared atheists did not feel “awe” or “wonder.”
Now, as an atheist myself, I wondered what the fuck she was talking about and I was in awe of her ignorance. Boom, right there, Oprah, you’re wrong. But I also happen to know lots of people who are pretty ignorant when it comes to atheism and atheists.
So I clicked the link, only to find it was for a work of fiction. A novel called The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, the same woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. My soon-to-be-ex-shrink had suggested I read Eat, Pray, Love, but she knows I’m an atheist and, quite frankly, she has issues with it. I, on the other hand, am fine with my atheism and would have gladly read the book if it were called Eat, Love.
I read the article about The Signature of All Things and decided I’d go to the library and get it. It sounded interesting enough, a female scientist in the 1800’s with a love for moss and all the wonders this world has to offer. And while I was there I figured I’d get a book by Julia Cameron – a “creativity guru” whose book The Artist’s Way was required reading for a college class I took (cough, cough) 20 years ago. I can’t say she spoke directly to me, she frequently spoke of “God” in her efforts to heal the creative spirit, and I know it stuck in my craw in college, but I thought I’d be able to see past it in order to harvest the important information my creative self needed.
So off to the library I went, finding the first book within moments. But the Cameron book was somewhere in the 800’s and I ran up and down the stairs to every floor two or three times and simply couldn’t find it. So I settled on another Cameron title in the 600’s – The Prosperous Heart. Sounded good to me.
I got home, opened The Prosperous Heart, and instantly closed it. The first page was a prayer. And the next bit I read said I could substitute another word for God, “Orderly Direction, flow, even prosperity.” None of those words sounded like “bullshit” to me so I closed it and put it down. Sorry, Julia, my creative self will need another author.
I picked up the 500 page novel, The Signature of All Things, and began my journey to the 1800’s.
I’m not a big reader, and when I do read I prefer non-fiction, but I was drawn into the book so much that I finished it in four days. Spending most of my mornings and early afternoons reading this third person account of the life of Alma Wittaker, much to my dog’s dismay, I was thoroughly engrossed
Gilbert’s writing is flawless. She captures the era with the language and draws a complete picture, as detailed as the botanical drawings described in the book. At times the book reads like V.C. Andrews for Mensa members: rich families, adopted daughters, a secret room, numerous uses of the word “quim,” Latin botanical names, adventures at sea… Even Darwin came into play.
The main character, Alma Wittaker, is not a pretty woman, but she is brilliant. I think most of us, men and women, can find a piece of ourselves in her story. While we may not be rich, plain or brilliant, her search for answers is an inspiring one.
I don’t want to give any of it away, the story should unfold as Gilbert intended, but I will say this book had little to do with atheist awe. So if that doesn’t interest you, have no fear. My atheist creative self didn’t find the guidance it was seeking that day at the library, but certainly Alma’s story has inspired me as a woman to find the answers I am seeking, no matter what it takes. The scientific method ain’t just for scientists, and I will continue to experiment until I find the answers I seek. As long as they’re not in the 800’s.