Courage (part one)


Corridor. danie; CC BY

“Do you know why you’re here?” the doctor asked.

When doctors don’t smile, the conversation isn’t going to be good.

My husband, pale but resolute, nodded his head.

Ocular melanoma. We’d never heard of it before.

It’s rare.

He had a freckle on his retina near the optic nerve in his left eye. Probably a birthmark, the optometrist said. We’ll just watch it.

They watched it for six years.

It was growing now, spreading, causing light flashes, changing color, leaking fluid.

The retina specialist looked grim. Maybe a radiation chip could be applied to slow the growth of this thing, but it would still be there. The sclera would have to be cut and peeled up for the chip, which would stay in for seven days.

The research hospital wanted to wait and see what the tumor – not a freckle anymore, but the tumor – would do.

Everything we read online about ocular melanoma said Do not wait. 

There is no cure.

The cancer doctor we consulted said, By the time it’s found, it’s usually metastasized.  Radiation and chemotherapy have no effect. It’s nasty.

My husband looked at me. I could see myself reflected his big, beautiful brown eyes.

He said:

“I want the eye out. As soon as possible.”

The optic nerve is connected to the brain, you see, and the pictures showed the lesion -the tumor – reaching for the optic nerve like a hand reaching for a piece of savory fruit, for juicing.

“Okay,” I said, without even blinking.

We found a surgeon, a highly respected one,  who agreed. “I have to tell you enucleation is an easy surgery to perform, but it’s an extremely painful recovery.”

My husband said: “Let’s do it.”

On the night before the surgery, I kissed his left eyelid. It was the last thing, the only thing, I could do for that beautiful eye which would be no more.

It was a long wait at the hospital. When the orderlies finally came, my husband’s sister, our niece and I told him we loved him, kissed him good-bye. As the gurney rolled down the hallway he was sitting up in his gown, waving at us, grinning from ear to ear in his usual gregarious way.

He knew he would come out of there without an eye, that the recovery would be rough, and he was smiling.

That’s profound courage, I thought. The bravest thing I’ve ever seen. 

I waved back, tears blurring my vision, until he vanished from my sight.

(To be continued tomorrow).

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer




Flight Envy. Pretty ParkinCC BY-SA

Above the negativity, the naysayers, to make room for the wondrous

Above the noise, to a place of productive peace

Above the superficial, the shallow, to the real, the valuable

Above the fleeting, to the lasting

Above constraints, to the creative.

Every day is new. Rise. Reach.



Repeat: Rise.

Reflect: Rise is a verb. It’s an action, a choice. How might YOU rise and step forward in newness?

Why I write 2016


I write because it’s the closest thing there is to magic.

From words spring worlds.

Worlds of understanding, perception, knowledge – of humanity and of myself. I write to explore the world without and within, the real and the fantastic, the important and the insignificant, the extraordinary and most certainly the ordinary. Where there are ideas and images, there are words – lanterns for encircling thoughts, illuminating objects and scenes, mystically shining from one mind to another.

I write because the narrative voice in my head is continuously composing, often drowning out other important things.

The power of story compelled me to write when I was six years old, sitting at the living room coffee table with a pack of wide ruled paper and a fat pencil. A few years later, a teacher said, “What vivid descriptions! Keep writing.” Every year thereafter, a teacher strategically appeared to give a refining bit of feedback: “Wonderful writing. Here’s a way you can make it even better … and keep writing!”

I kept writing, even when my dad grumbled, “Why are you wasting so much notebook paper?”

Today, I write with children. I witness their discovery of their own voices, their courage in putting pieces of their souls on a page. I share in the excitement of their creations, in every little triumph over challenge. I work to empower teachers as writers, for the empowerment of student writers, that all might tap into the magic.

And I keep writing.

I write to wrap a cloak of immortality around everything I have loved – what was, what is, what will be.

I write to scatter the ashes of all my yesterdays, to walk in the light of all my tomorrows.

I write to celebrate having lived.

In honor of National Day on Writing, October 20.

Reflect: Why do you write? What have you wanted to write, but haven’t yet? Carve out a pocket of time today and begin. Tomorrow, repeat.


Making it real



Image: Porch front. Liz West CC BY

Many of the second graders were bent over their desks, writing. Others were rereading their work with pencils in hand, like diminutive journalists editing reports in a newsroom. A few more looked off into space, thinking, before returning to the pages lying before them.

One of the joys of my role as literacy coach is getting to write with students and teachers across grade levels. The previous day I had come to model realistic fiction writing for this class, focusing on how to bring the stories to life with detail and dialogue:

“When I write realistic fiction, ladies and gentlemen, I often use what has happened in my own life. That’s why you were sad when my main character’s favorite toy got ruined – you felt what she felt, because it was something that had happened to me. I could give a lot of descriptive detail because I really lived it. That’s why you laughed at the conversation between my characters, because those were real conversations I had when I was that age. I just let my characters say those things. If you want to bring your realistic fiction to life, try using some things you have really seen, said, done, or felt.”

The children decided individually whether dialogue or more detail in setting was the thing they most needed to work on, and today I was back to see how it was going. One by one, I knelt beside them to hear revisions they’d made. I noted excited twitches as I approached – these kids knew their work was better.

I paused by a desk where a girl was absorbed in writing. I remembered her piece from the day before, in which she described a porch where two little girls were having a conversation. When she’d read it aloud, I could envision the girls sitting together on the porch, but the dialogue didn’t seem to be about anything in particular. “Try to think of what might matter to these girls,” I had advised. “Are they happy about something? Worried? Think about what matters to you and see if you can help your characters have a meaningful conversation that a reader would want to read.”

Now I knelt beside her. “Do you want to read your writing to me, or keep working?”

“I want to read it to you.”

She did. As I listened, a line from Emily Dickinson’s letter to a publisher sprang to mind, asking if her verse “was alive”: Should you think it breathed – and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude . . .

“What a major improvement in dialogue! This part, here, where your main character tells her friend that she’s excited about getting a stepfather to do things with, but is also a little afraid – that’s the best line in your story. This is where it really comes to life. It’s great writing.”

She looked up at me, eyes big and solemn. “I did what you said. That’s how I feel. My mom is getting married again.” And she bent back over her writing, drawn like a duck to water or a swallow to the air, a compulsion I fully recognized, for when we write, we are putting pieces of our souls on the page. Facing our fears, meeting ourselves where we are, daring to hope, finding a safe haven, maybe to heal. Even in the second grade.

Very real, indeed.

Reflect: What truth will you write about today?




The unplanned baby

Banjo 8 weeks

Banjo, 8 weeks old

He was born on a Sunday in early November, during the first freeze. For some reason, his mother didn’t seek shelter. She delivered nine puppies out in the open on that bitter night; before they were discovered, five of them died.

Getting a puppy was not even a thought when my husband and I stayed with his sister on her Virginia farm near the turn of the year. Our minds were consumed by the purpose of our trip: consulting with a surgeon on my husband’s rare form of eye disease. Following the appointment, burdened with the confirmation that my husband would soon lose his eye, my sister-in-law drove us by the old hay barn where her son was working:

“Let me know if you hear of anyone who wants a puppy. They’re pure Labs but this litter was unplanned, the second this year. I just want them to go to good homes.”

I was halfway paying attention from the back seat of the Suburban when she rolled the window down and called out: “Go get the big one.”

My nephew slipped into the barn. He returned momentarily with a fuzzy yellow ball, walked around to the passenger side, and placed it in my husband’s arms.

Two sky-blue, baby eyes looked round at me from a face that seemed a hundred years old.

He came home with us, of course, this unplanned baby that cried at the top of his surprisingly powerful lungs the entire three-hour journey back to North Carolina. We’re insane, I thought. We have a surgery to contend with and the surgeon said recuperation would be rough. We don’t even know what the long-term prognosis will be. There’s no puppy stuff at home, he’s going to shed like crazy, a big dog in the house, there’s the whole ordeal of housebreaking, we already HAVE a dog, that’s really enough, dear Lord, listen to this crying, we will never sleep another night…

Our college student/musician son was waiting at the door when we pulled up. He nestled the puppy against his heart and named him Banjo, not after the instrument, but the video game he loved as a child, Banjo Kazooie.  Baby Banjo slept in the bed with him and, incredibly, never made a peep that night or any night thereafter.

It was our darkest winter. Through snow, ice storms, surgery to remove my husband’s eye and his painful recovery, Banjo was the bright spot, an endearing and comical diversion, exactly what we needed. He radiated life, healing, and joy; he drove the bleakness away. His very presence represented survival. Turns out that instead of coming at the worst possible time, the unplanned baby came at the best time of all.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the characters sail into a darkness where nightmares come true, with no obvious means of escape. Just as the nightmares begin, Lucy whispers, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” An albatross appears in the darkness, circles Lucy, and whispers to her in Aslan’s voice: “Courage, dear heart.” Within minutes, the darkness begins to lift; the characters find their way out.

For the record, Banjo looked so like a lion cub that we briefly thought about renaming him Aslan, until we decided that it would be utterly impossible ever to reprimand a creature with that name.

Reflect: When has your life or work been interrupted by something unplanned? Where in that experience might there be an unexpected gift? What chances are you willing to take to find it?

If you’d like to read more about Banjo: Making adjustments.


Update: A condensed version of “The Unplanned Baby” is published in the 2017-2018 North Carolina Reading Association’s Young Authors Project anthology, on the theme of “Show Your Strength!”