Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Write Decision

     The classroom was silent except for the occasional whisper of pencil lead sliding across ruled paper. The thoughts inside my head might be loud with words and imagery, but the classroom was silent—except for the creak of a desk as a girl shifted in her seat, or a boy yawned, or a pen dropped to the floor. It was my favorite class in high school with minimal instruction, or interruption as I thought of it, and maximum output. I arrived early each day, sat down, pulled out my spiral notebook and began to write even before the passing bell had stopped ringing. For an entire hour, five days a week, for an entire semester, I was expected to do what I loved most. In this creative writing class there were no limitations on what form of writing or what genre I could explore; the sky was the limit and the possibilities seemed infinite.

     I limited myself to poetry. I loved prose more than anything in the world, but when I sat down to write, poetry leaked out. I wrote cryptically with all the angst of a sixteen-year-old emerging from the upheaval of the sixties. Page after page of sentimental rubbish.

     Occasionally, our teacher would have us read aloud to the class some piece that had caught her notice. One day, a boy stood up to read a short story he had written. He was the quiet sort, the kind of quiet that kept him from getting noticed; I didn’t even know his name. I won’t ever forget his story. Each line that he read took something away from me. By the time he was finished I was sure of one thing: I would never be able to write as well as he could.

     So I didn’t.

     I wrote passable essays for my English Literature classes in college and then I was done. Onward with life. I married, worked in a bank to put my husband through grad school, and gave birth. After that, there were the endless days of diapers, spilled milk, skinned knees, and scattered toys. I sat down in front of a mountain of laundry one evening after a dentist appointment and wailed inconsolably to my husband, “I have to do all of this, and now I have to floss my teeth too!” There wasn’t any room in my schedule for writing—or so I told myself.

     Then, when my youngest daughter was nearly three, a longing took hold of me. The longing turned into an ache that haunted my quiet moments. I wanted to write again. A story. Perhaps even a novel, though it felt too large an undertaking to even begin. But my mother used to tell me: “Can’t, can’t do anything.” When I was a child, she and I would think up plots for the book that she was sure I would write someday. I decided not to think about writing a book, but to begin by writing just one chapter.

     So I did.

     Then I wrote another one, and another one. I still didn’t have much time for it, but instead of watching television or reading in the evenings after the kids were in bed, sometimes I wrote. Some years I wrote more than others. Some years passed with hardly any writing in them at all.

     When I read David Copperfield for the first time, I heard the voice of pessimism sneering in my ear, “What makes you think you can write a book? You'll never be able to write like this.” I silenced the cynic with a clout of defiance. “I’m just writing a story, not the Great American Novel!” Not much of a one-two punch, but it served.

     A few years ago my husband was out of work and he took over most of the household duties so that I could finish my novel. When it was done, I began another one. I’ve written a children’s book too, and started this blog to keep the wheels greased and turning. I haven’t had anything published yet, but I won’t let the fear that there is someone out there cleverer than I am keep me from trying. Instead, I am now afraid that with so many stories rattling around inside me like rocks in a tumbler, there isn’t enough time left in my life to get them all polished. I write slowly, after all of these years that isn't likely to change, but I am not standing still anymore.

     I never consciously made a decision not to write, I just let it happen which is much the same thing. The diapers, spilled milk and scraped knees have been replaced by other demands, and I still need to floss, but I have resolved this year to write something every day even if it is no longer than a blog comment or thank-you note.

     So, I am...

Woman Writing by Henri Lebasque

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Je T'aime

"I love you more than homeland, my homeland is with you."

Tristan and Isolde by Marc Fishman

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Grief Upon Grief

A farewell salute from a grandson
     My dear father passed away last month just ten weeks behind my mother. Grief upon grief is mine and multiplied sorrow. Thankfully, I was with him when he died, in his own home, in his own bed, just as he wished. As a World War II navy veteran, he was buried with military honors in a moving service which left us all weeping. He would have been 86 years old today. In tribute to his life, I have included the words I read to honor him at his memorial service: 

     It is a rare man who can live his life with no regrets. My father was not a rare man; he was a common man. He was born into a humble home, received a humble education, chose a humble career, and in the last weeks of his life, because he was a humble man, he expressed regret that he had not been a better husband, a better father, a better servant to his Savior.

     But many of us here today see him differently than he saw himself.

     On one of my visits to Mom and Dad after I had moved away, as I was sitting at their dining room table one morning eating my breakfast, a German Shepherd from a house down the street came trotting up the sidewalk to wait at the back gate until my dad went out to give him his doggie bone. Just like every other morning, he knew my dad would come. Later, as I stood at the sink washing dishes, I looked up to see a dozen wild pigeons lined up on the fence staring me down through the kitchen window. They were waiting for my dad to scatter seed for their breakfast. Just like every other morning, they knew he would come. Dad also fed many of the feral cats in the neighborhood and even turned a couple of them into house pets. He loved taking care of those animals.

     His kindness, however, was not limited to the animals of the neighborhood. Years ago, when my aunt's  sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident, Mom and Dad took their son into their home for a year while he finished school. When my uncle was out of work, Dad helped their struggling family with money and groceries, and when my uncle died he took care of his widow. 

     My father was characterized by a quiet compassion and kindness, but what I admire most about him is his faithfulness.

     If you were here for our mother's memorial in November, you will have heard us mention that she was plagued most of her young adult life by the disease of manic-depression, now known as bi-polar disorder. When Mom was first hospitalized for the disease, Dad was left with six little children to care for. He looked into getting help from the State but was told that we would be split up into foster homes. It was, for him, an unthinkable solution to his dilemma, so he sent the three youngest to stay for a year with my aunt and uncle who lived a few blocks away. It broke his heart to do it and he carried that anguish with him the rest of his life. I have always honored him for his decision because it kept us together in a way that, otherwise, would not have been possible.

     I know that, sometimes, he would have liked to run away from the heavy burdens that had been placed on his shoulders--there are many men who would have--but he never did. He stayed and gave us story nights with a dime store toy under our pillows at the end of it. He stayed and wrestled with us--six to one--on the livingroom floor. He bought the Christmas and birthday presents. He took us camping in the summer, to the State Fair in the fall, snow-tubing on the mountain in the winter and to church every single Sunday. He bought candy at the Sears counter on payday and made us chase him all over the house to get our share, made waxed bags of popcorn with shiny red apples to eat on Saturday nights after our baths while watching Lawrence Welk, made hot cocoa after a day of playing in the snow, and took us regularly to the library. In short, he stayed and gave us a childhood.

     The footprints our father has left for us to follow in, are footprints of faithfulness; a faithfulness to his marriage, toward his family and in service to his Savior that has been tested and found to be true. As for those regrets he had at the end of his days, he knows, now more than ever, that there is grace enough in God to cover them all.

     I can almost hear our Heavenly Father saying to our earthly one: "Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your Lord."

     So it is, I went outside this morning and fed the pigeons.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Early Mother's Day

     I have been in Washington State for a month and have just returned home with slow feet and a dragging heart. Both of my parents gone in less than three months leaves me carrying an unfamiliar weight of grief. I have two children and a handful of grandchildren who, along with my husband, gathered near on my return to share the burden.

     A grief divided is a grief made lighter…

     After church on Sunday, my oldest daughter and her family brought us lunch. The little ones blew through our front door in a flurry of snowboots and laughter and filled my aching arms with hugs. When we were more-or-less settled, my daughter handed me my Mother’s Day present. Yes, the actual day is still months away but she couldn’t wait that long. The package was wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string with a couple of pen nibs dangling from the ends. Inside the plain brown paper was a gift from her heart.

     She had taken all of my blog posts from the past year and had them published in a hardback book. Just one copy. Just for me. She took three days, while my son-in-law watched the children, to perfect the layout and design. I love that it is a collaboration of both our talents and that she put so much of herself into it. I love that she couldn’t keep it a secret and couldn’t wait to give it to me. I love that I have such a beautiful, tangible copy of some of my thoughts and memories to pass down to my children’s children. It is a gift to treasure and the lovingkindness behind it lifts my weary heart.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter's Hope

And winter slumbering in the open air...

wears on her face a dream of spring.

Paraphrase from "Work Without Hope" by Samuel Coleridge