As I've been traveling around the country, talking about the book and meeting readers, the number one question I hear is, "How much does Maya remember from your trip?"
Not "What does she remember from your trip?" or "Who does she remember from your trip?" but "How much?"
I find this a curious question, since I can't imagine what difference the quantity of a child's memories, nine years later, could really makes to a reader. So there must be a question behind this question, some impulse that makes people shape their inquiry this way even though there's another piece of information they really want to know.
I spent about the first six weeks of the tour trying to figure this out, and the other night at Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago, when an audience member asked the same question, an insight came to me in a rush.
I think people are asking this because what they really want to know is how much of the wonder and magic of early childhood gets carried into the pre-teen years and, by extension, how much of it might still survive in our adult consciousness today.
I'll try to explain.
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and I was telling him how, despite all that happened to us in Belize, I'm still a skeptic at heart who applies a cynical eye to much that comes across my path.
He said, "Actually, I think you've got it backwards. I think this whole skeptic thing you've got going is just an act so people don't accuse you of being too woo-woo. I don't think you're a closet skeptic. I think you're actually a closet mystic but you're afraid to admit it to anyone, even yourself."
I immediately started crying when he said this, which means he's probably right.
Since the beginning of this tour, I've been trying to position myself as Everywomen, so that I can look out at an audience and say, "See! I'm actually very normal! I'm just like you!" in the hope that this will help them identify with my family and my story. When in fact, the more accurate statement might be, "I'm a normal person, yet I nonetheless have these beliefs. You're a lot like me!" Because I know that if you peek beneath the surface of most people, you'll find one or more stories of experiences they've had they defy easy explanation, or cross over into the mystical and cannot rely on common language for description. Whether it's a story of an incredibly coincidence that made you stop and say out loud, "What were the chances of that?" or a dream in which you received information you couldn't possibly have known when awake--it's something that can't be explained but that we nonetheless know can happen, because we experienced it ourselves.
So the reason I think so many people ask me "How much does Maya remember from your trip?" is not even because they want to believe that the open door of childhood can persist into the teenage years and beyond, but because they already know it can and are looking for validation through hearing our story.
Here's what I think: that we're a whole society of closet mystics who've been conditioned to believe only in the sanctity of scientific proof, yet who nonetheless carry within us the deep knowledge that a whole lot is going on that the scientific method cannot explain to our own satisfaction.
What would it take to get more of us to come out?