First, I wrote Leyla.
She was a teen I thought my own teen girls might like. Leyla was for them.
A Turkish girl, wandering the old city, who falls into an epic adventure to uncover a secret passed among women for two millennia. As she learns to embrace her own strength, she must also accept her limitations, which is why she turns to her aunt and cousin for help.
And, so, then there was Lale: the aunt.
The mentor in our hero’s journey. The wise, strategic aunt who, unbeknownst to Leyla, has been on the same quest for years. She and her archaeologist husband have been getting closer and closer to the final clue they need to unlock the secret. Behind the cover of an artisan coop, Lale has been exploring the various cave homes in the Cappadocian region, mapping underground passageways in its honeycomb landscape, hoping to prove their suspicion before the government stops them.
Lale is a badass. But her importance in the story slowly surpasses Leyla’s, which is why, eventually, I accept that I am no longer writing Young Adult fiction; not when my protagonist is a middle-aged woman whom I wish were me.
I write about Lale and Leyla and the secret beneath the earth for six months before I am tracing their steps in real life; before I am climbing through the underground honeycomb myself and wondering, just once or twice, if it’s all real. If they are real.
We arrive in Lale’s “hometown” in the late afternoon, and I disperse our group to go explore. In minutes and only a few twists and turns, I am stepping down into a tiny cave jewelry shop, just large enough for a small table at which sits a young woman, crocheting earrings, and her mother. Two small children excitedly greet me and pull me past the makeshift baby swing suspended in the middle of the room. Could she be one of Lale’s artisans?
In the world from which I’ve brought her to life, Lale feels as real as my travel buddies, as real to me as my own breath.
She is the blend of all I might have been, or would be in another life. The answer to, “If you could do anything, be anything…” I feel her with me in these windy, cobblestone streets.
I have led a group of women to this land I love and invited them to consider the question they’ve brought that they aren’t aware of asking. What question lingers and longs to be attended to during this trip? It’s one I’ve allowed to percolate in my soul, noticing clarity increase as we travel toward Cappadocia.
The next morning, we wake at 5 a.m. to watch the sea of hot air balloons rise above the valley. We are enjoying coffee on the Turkish carpeted rooftop, not one sound other than the roar of the fires alighting balloon after balloon after balloon. I stay long after the last of the floating baskets descend so that I might capture what is surfacing for me. How to put words to how alive I feel. How at home with myself I am in this place. How attuned to God and God in me I am, right now, on this carpet in the middle of Anatolia.
And I realize, the question I have been asking is why? Why am I drawn back, over and over?
If there is such a thing as a thin place, a place on earth where heaven is a little bit closer, where you hear from God just a little bit more clearly, mine is Cappadocia. And if there’s such a thing as a subconscious ego, then I dare say, Lale led me here. She reminded me of who I am and who God says I am.
All those months of bringing her into existence—a reclaiming of someone in me I had forgotten. Or silenced. Or overlooked. She wasn’t even who I started with. Oh! Bless my sweet self, I started with my girls. I started with Leyla. For them.
Lale is for me.
Beth Bruno lives in Colorado where she and her husband get to create life-giving experiences and opportunities for aha moments around God and story. As owners of ReStory Counseling, they do this alongside a team of story-informed coaches and counselors. After living in Turkey for almost a decade, she designed and leads the boutique Lost Women of Turkey Pilgrimage for women each year. With the last of her three kids close to flying the nest, you may soon find her living in one of the cave homes of Cappadocia.