• Maggie Wheeler

The Closet

Recently, on my author Facebook account, I posted a video talking about a closet I have in my basement/family room in my home. It has euphemistically taken on the label “the archive” because it is storage for papers. I am blessed with a house with many closets, so this one—being out of the way—became the repository for tubs, bags, and boxes of my paper keepers. Some are heart value (personal mementos), some are legal value (tax returns, etc.) and some are from the childhoods of my children. The largest group, however, is that of the clips, pictures, articles, and other artifacts of the 20 years of my career as a mystery writer.

However, archives are ordered and easily navigated. This closet is where I just put things out of the way for the last few years since moving to my present home.

Simply put, if the door shut, then it stayed in.

The reason I did a video about the closet is that this week I mark 20 years as a published mystery writer, 20 years since the official launch of my first book in my Farran Mackenzie Lost Villages series A Violent End. And one of the things I will be doing over the next few months is go through what came out of the closet repository this week and share the finds on my Facebook page as part of the 20th anniversary celebration #Farran20 (The picture above, by the way, is cropped to fit. I couldn’t capture in the frame all the stuff that came out !).

As I say in the video, I know what’s in there—but I don’t know what’s in there. It’s been too long. It will be fun to sort through and go back in time. It will also be emotional as many of the people I shared those times with are now gone.

There is also something else in those piles that I need to see right about now.

The new restrictions this week in Ontario as our numbers climb with COVID-19 have hit us below the belt. Talking with others, I sense we are feeling a little punch drunk in our lives. Into our second year, we are tired, discouraged, apathetic, and quiet. Another summer looms with no summer escapes or entertainment. Another season of no plans beyond the week. We are farther into the tunnel than we are out of it. What I fear is learned helplessness setting in—the act of giving up agency because we feel all control is gone.

In my Facebook group, The Christie Project, we just finished the war years. Most of the war, Agatha Christie lived in London helping at a local hospital while husband Max was overseas serving in the RAF. She preferred to stay in London and keep busy. But it wasn’t easy, with the Blitz and the challenges of everyday life under siege. In her autobiography, Christie says something about then that is important to us now. Several years into the war, she writes:

So time went on, now not so much like a nightmare as something that had always been going on, had always been there. It had become, in fact, natural to expect that you yourself might be killed soon, that the people you loved best might be killed, that you would hear of deaths of friends. Broken windows, bombs, landmines, and in due course flying-bombs and rockets—all these things would go on, not as something extraordinary, but as perfectly natural. After three years of war, they were an everyday happening. You could not really envisage a time when there would not be a war anymore.

We are in wartime now. No overhead bombers or loved ones heading overseas to be in the line of fire, but the mindset is the same. Last week, I wrote about “The Return” and it is underway. But the mental shift that is happening now is what Christie experienced during WW2. It is a difficult and tricky one, with our minds battling against moving into the new normal as normal to better cope while our hearts say we cannot do this because we don’t want this normal to be the normal. We want the old normal to stay the normal and to come back.

It won’t.

It is of value to hear this experience to better understand our own at this time. The greater value we can take from that history is the fact that the war ended. And people returned to their lives. But their lives were now in a strange new world. That’s how it works. The grief we feel for the old life at this point, as we unwillingly accept its departure, can be tempered with the knowledge that the strange new world that waits has always been part of our lives.

That’s what I need to see in the archive piles on the floor.

The closet stored my activities, achievements, work, and memories of the journey with my hero Farran Mackenzie. But it also kept safe the person I was through those times—times of wins and losses, times of flying blind, times of fatigue that only faith could manage, times of wondering where the hell I was going with my life, times of giving over to Providence because that was all that was possible to do. Wartime.

And here I am, in a pandemic, yet also in the best times of my life. I made it through those challenging times, and life returned in full bloom.

This is the natural path of life and we have all walked it. We are walking it again.

In those piles is the person I need now. And she is there. And we will navigate through this together as before until the new world comes. Right now I cannot envisage it, as Christie couldn’t in 1942. But it came for them and it will come for us.

We need to be the person we are in wartime. It’s in easy reach.

Just open the closet.

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