Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
February 18th, 2010

Living and Dying with Tuck Everlasting

Looking back at life and death through the eyes of a 10-year-old

 
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Enter Mae Tuck: part Annie Oakley, part hippie Earth Mother, Mae is on horseback and carries with her a wooden music box from which hails the music. Mae has traveled into the village of Treegap to reunite with her two sons, Miles and Jesse, who she hasn’t seen in ten years. After Winnie questions them on who they are and where they’re from, Mae takes her via horseback to the Tucks’ cottage, twenty miles yet twenty thousand worlds away from Winnie’s sheltered home. Once there, she delights in the bohemian ways of the Tuck family. As Winnie quickly becomes attached to the Tucks, they confess their secret, of drinking from a spring 86 years prior, a spring whose water grants each of them the ability to stop aging, and ultimately, to become immortal.

Finally! Here was a story in which people could and did eschew death, a place in which time stood still and music made magic, a land in which a 10-year-old girl is given the option of drinking spring water that allows her and everyone she loves the ability to live forever. I occupied that world body, mind and soul, reading and re-reading its short chapters as if the more I read them, the more likely they were to come true. I thought if Natalie Babbitt could even conceive of such a plot, it must be based on some grain of truth, and there must be a way to locate some natural source, an antidote to dying, and avoid death once and for all. I was too far gone to call it denial; the fact was, I preferred to live inside the pages and plot of a complete fantasy, choosing fiction over funerals.

In retrospect, what I really needed was professional grief counseling; 27 years later, in graduate school, I got it in the form of a student teaching assignment.

I thought if Natalie Babbitt could even conceive of such a plot, it must be based on some grain of truth, and there must be a way to locate some natural source, an antidote to dying, and avoid death once and for all. I was too far gone to call it denial.

In my final semester of graduate school this past September I innately knew, when my supervising teacher handed me Tuck Everlasting as the text that I would teach to 80 seventh-graders, that this was in no way a cosmic coincidence; I was supposed to reconcile my painful past and wavering faith in the soul’s ability to transcend the body. This time, I realized that Tuck Everlasting was less about avoiding death than it was about believing in eternity despite its uncertainty. Tuck forces the reader to reconcile the burden it would be to never grow old, to never die. The novel’s ultimate message isn’t particularly didactic, religious, or even uplifting; it’s realistic. The “happy” ending, which occurs seventy years later in the epilogue, takes place in a cemetery, where the reader learns that the main character has chosen not to drink the spring water that will guarantee her immortality, and had died a natural death. What that means to me is that she chose the hope of eternity, to die without a guarantee of anything more; in essence, Winnie chose to have faith. I realized then that this is what I had been seeking all along. I will never have the answers to the existential questions that my naïve 10-year-old self thought possible to find; no one can. What I needed to find was enough faith so that not having answers would somehow be okay.

In Tuck Everlasting, Angus Tuck says, “You can’t have living without dying.” In Chekov’s play The Seagull, the character Nina says, “You must bear your cross and have faith.” And it was St. Francis of Assisi who said, “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Twenty-seven years later, I’m starting to believe them.

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The Author : Carolyn J. Martone
Carolyn Martone is a graduate of Fordham University and the State University of New York at New Paltz. In 2012 she received a three-month artist-in-residence fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, where she finished the screenplay, "Upstate," which is in development for television. She lives in Los Angeles.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Catherine Mc

    Dear Carolyn, So delighted to have stumbled on this page – Fr. Henry was my Husbands Uncle. Fr. Henry’s last surviving brother passed to his eternal reward on 16th August this year in his 95th year – May Eugene rest in peace. Yes Fr. Henry was a truly inspirational man – in 1978 when Fr. Henry was on holidays in Ireland, we all congregated for a house mass and like your experience of that Christmas mass that you have written about – I will never forget the one and only mass I attended with he as the Celebrant. It was touching to read your article.

  • Eileen H

    Thank you for your beautiful essay. You have a gift that has “lifted me up.” My mother is 90 years old and has always been a spiritual woman. The tribulations of repeated hospitalizations and rehabilitations has brought us closer but I see her fading away. Your essay and the comments from readers have reminded me that while life on our beloved earth is to be lived to its fullest, the promise of eternal life and seeing our loved ones again on the other side of the veil is the true happy ending to our stories.

  • Heather S

    Dear Carolyn, I don’t know if you remember me, I am Kathleen’s younger sister, the one who was supposed to give her my bone marrow but could not bc she unfortunately couldn’t hold on long enough in this world to receive it. I remember you and hope you are well. I am glad to see you have chosen to remember your(our) M.E. past in the written word. I found this article by doing a google search with my daughter, whose middle name was given in honor of my sister. What a wonderful experience to see your story come up as that result. Thank you so much. Heather

  • Marilyn M.

    My computer refused to cooperate to allow me to reach this piece some time ago. I am so pleased to have been successful today. Tears and smiles mingled on my face as I read. I can just barely remember an elementary school memory wondering why we all had to die. Thank you Carolyn for all your sensitive and beautiful words.

  • Mich

    Carolyn is such a gifted writer. She has the ability to put her reader right there into her ten-year-old perspective. Her mother was my eighth grade English teacher and I know she is so very proud of her little girl. Thank you Carolyn for your inspiring words about faith.

  • Linda

    Carolyn,I wish you peace.

  • Sheila J

    You’ve touched my heart again. Such serious thoughts for so young a child…but yet so familiar. Thank you for sharing and stay with your faith, it will get you through the toughest of times.

  • Karen Barkhurst Safranski

    Carolyn, you are such a wonderful writer. I loved readin this essay. That was definitely a young age to endure three deaths. Many Blessings, Karen

  • Anne M

    Another great read! I’ve always thought that our human flaw is not fully understanding the spiritual dimension of our being, the one not bound by our physical limitations. I believe no one who has broken free of our physical chains, through death of the body, would ever choose to return to human form. I believe life, in the fullness of our spiritual form, is beyond anything we can imagine. That gives me comfort, as I deeply miss those loved ones who have left life as I know it. Thanks Carolyn for this lovely sharing…I know the journey has been long and hard. Good that you’ve captured it so others can read, and relate.

  • Carol Tempesta

    What a beautifully written piece. While my heart breaks for Kathleen, the 17 year-old, the memory of her sign in the window is heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you Carolyn, for a wonderful read.

  • Kate Murphy

    Beautifully written! Hope to see more from this writer!

  • Emily

    Really great article. The problem I have with the popularity today of young adult books like the Twilight series is that the characters often make the decision to give up what waits for them after death in favor of eternity on earth. Tuck Everlasting handles the topic of immortality in much more profound and complex way, while still being on a level that children can understand. I hope it will continue to be read in classrooms for a long time to come!

  • Kim

    I’m also in my 30′s and I just recently turned the fear of losing loved ones over to God. If I die, He’ll take care of my loved ones. If they die, He’ll take care of me. A recent death of a sweet 16-year-old girl at the school where I work has reminded me that life isn’t about any of the things society deems important (getting married, having children, going on vacation)…it’s about being with God for eternity. Those who have passed on have made the crossing that we must all make so that we can be reunited with them in the presence of our Lord and Creator. Acceptance of that and faith in God has made all the difference in my life. Thanks for the wonderful article.

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