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Texas Center for the Book

Letters About Literature Essay Contest 1998
Level Two Winner
Andrea Kennedy's Letter to Alan Lightman About His Book Einstein's Dreams

Alan Lightman:

Einstein's Dreams is like dipping your fingers in hot wax. First, there is this shock from the temperature, then it sets into you and hardens. I first read this book two years ago and have returned to it many times since. It’s magical, returning to a book. You're reading the same words you’ve already read, skimming your finger across the same off-white pages, inhaling and exhaling the same smell of the book. However, the images you see, the emotions that make thunderstorms inside your chest are all different. Instead of feeling connected to a particular character, I feel connected to you. I can feel your pulse and the desire to understand beating through the pages.

Each time I return to it, I grow and discover something about myself. Because each chapter is a new "theory" on time, I skip around. Each one is like a new scent from my wax-covered fingers. Each one is wax from a different candle with a new scent, an awesome image, a different revelation. The seat of passion I have when reading it is incredible. I feel like I am the character who missed his opportunity, the one who brushed past an unexplainable hint of instinct because of a pause in time.

The first time I read it, I was in complete awe. First at how it affected my perspective and how ironically you put words to things I could not. The hot wax hit me with the shock at how much I could relate to what the book describes. Just before I picked up the book, I noticed cycles, strands, pauses in time, and other things described on pages 138-142, but could not put them to words. When I felt the alterations in the air as described in the book, I used to call them "scene changes." These unexpected things would come, the "scene" would move into a new world. I would be moved to another plain; looking at them from an aerial perspective. The air between the person I was communicating with would have this movement to it that made us get farther apart or closer together. After reading this book, I began to recognize metaphysical things and I felt I could explain them easier, knowing I was not alone. Now I’ll be sitting in the back seat of a car, dad driving, sister next to me, and I will feel all of our thoughts tripod to the ceiling, become intertwined, then float back into each other’s minds. It is as if your book makes me more perceptive. Most importantly, I have finally started seeing the beauty in so many things, simple and complex. There is a dreaminess about the book that made me see how trippy the world is, but how amazing. Riding with my sister in downtown Dallas, heading towards a killer sunset with the windows rolled down—though the air was not clean and most of the people we passed looked angry, I was smiling.

The second time I read the book, in my life I was chasing something relentlessly, something I would never quite grasp. The book always seemed to go right along with my life’s difficulties, and it helped as I read about all the people chasing the birds. Reading this book, my perspective was like this giant awareness of time on all levels and possibilities. It was this constant "tick, tick, tick" in my ear. The ticking might not have caught my attention had time remained consistent as most people perceive it to. I imagined this massive, brown clock that was with me every second of every day. But this clock did not follow me like a shadow, I followed it. I slept with it hovering in my thoughts, one giant awareness that could resound with a ear-wrenching alarm at any moment. Oddly enough, I would wake up to find my thoughts on time had changed. Now time is like the idea of God, being everywhere and knowing everything. Life was not me playing "follow the leader" with time, time was something I could shape. It could follow me around! I meditated on the reasons for pain, happiness, and heartbreak. The thought of changing fate went from impossible, to possible. The sky was not my limit. Einstein's Dreams took me to a world in which there are no limits.

Can fate be altered? How many people on this planet are trapped in a misery? A happiness? How many of Earth’s people hide? What do they hide from and how? I began noticing all the tools people use to hide themselves and the effects on the person once the tools are gone. A friend of mine, Liz, had always had long hair, half-shut eyes, and a tiredness about her. The day she cut her hair, I saw that she had used it as a veil to hide herself. She walks with brave eyes now. It has taken me so long to try to figure her that she is brilliant. She hid it so well. I feel like I am walking down the street passing billions of hiding souls. My mother wears sunglasses to hide her mascara smeared from tears. This book has taught me not to hide, and I feel I have the awareness now to try to prevent myself from doing it.

This book opened doors. I see bodies as cages, and souls as birds that no one can find, each bird a spirit with secrets pulling others in. The images you created are dreary like the sky before a storm, like the streets of London or New York. The wax has left my fingers delicate and smooth, though. I feel the softness of understanding and grasping as my life moves with a softer touch. The book has overwhelmed me like lyrics to a song that are so amazing, they leave you dumbfounded, your eyes closed, your head shaking back and forth gently—with awe and disbelief.

Andrea Kennedy