It’s Impossible

The book was sitting on the shelf where I always place my coffee cup, above the computer that I always work at. It was there on Tuesday. I looked at the cover briefly, then set it down and finished my charting.
The book was there on Wednesday, in the same place. It was there on Thursday, also, so after finishing my charts, I picked it up and read the first chapter. “The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster and illustrations by Jules Feiffer, is a children’s book written more than 50 years ago.
It was engaging, inventive and…..I was hooked. I read 4 chapters on Thursday, 8 more on Friday, and (confession time….) took the book with me to the lounge on Saturday and read some more. This morning I finished the book.

Milo is a bored boy who sees no point in learning “stuff” at school, and is surprised one day to find a package, tagged as a gift to him, in his room. Once assembled, he finds it is a tollbooth which lets him travel to another world….one in which the kingdom of “words” is at odds with the kingdom of “numbers,” and which can only be set right by releasing the princesses “Rhyme” and her twin “Reason” from the castle in the sky in which they have been imprisoned.

Milo (and his found companions) agree to undertake this mission, but are warned several times “there is something you need to know” about the mission, “but we can’t tell you until you return.”

And now a commercial break for a little editorializing. In about 1985, I was an unhappy postal clerk. I hated my life, my job, my boss(es)….and I started taking a few college classes with the intention of ….something-I wasn’t sure what- but found that I really enjoyed (and excelled at) biology and chemistry. I distinctly remember a conversation with my gynecologist who asked my plans. “Perhaps physical therapy school, but I’m also considering medical school.”

It took all his effort for him to not laugh out loud. The smirk on his face was painful and I swore then, I would never see him again until I had “initials” after my name. (In actuality, I never did see him again, even after I earned my initials…..)

And what has any of my personal history to do with “The Phantom Tollbooth?” These lines, at the end of the book are what reminded me of that conversation with my doctor:

“‘That may be true,” said Reason gravely, ‘but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you *will* do.’
‘That’s why,’ said Azaz, ‘there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.’
‘I remember,’ said Milo eagerly. ‘Tell me now.’
‘It was impossible,’ said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.
‘Completely impossible,’ said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.
‘Do you mean—-‘ said the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.
‘Yes, indeed,’ they repeated together; ‘but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone—and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.'”

It was impossibe, improbable and….yes, “smirkable” to think a middle-aged housewife, mother and night-shift postal worker could go to medical school. What is “impossible” in your life? Maybe….it’s not so impossible.

The book is now back on the shelf above the computer, where I found it. I hope someone else reads it and thinks impossible thoughts!