Diverted

So the holiday ended.

I energized myself for the return to work.

Bag packed. Masks washed and ready for the week.

My day mapped out in the planner: Lessons to review. Emails to send. Trainings to schedule. Reports to complete and submit. Meetings to attend. Agendas to make…

Quick check on the weather. In a word: Yuck. Raincoat and boots needed for morning bus duty and filling in at carpool arrival afterward.

Lunch packed (Note to self: Go to grocery store ASAP…).

oh yeah, my temperature. I’ve learned I am usually below normal, in the 97.7 range (at the moment 97.8, but I just sipped my coffee. Kids arriving at school in heated cars can register as high as 105…we have a fleet of touchless thermometers that must be left out in the cold for a few minutes to calibrate. We will have to perform several rechecks before verifying a child does NOT have a fever and may enter the building…).

Enter my temperature in the district website and answer the COVID questions for this cheery message: Thank you. You have passed your daily health screening. You may report to your worksite. Remember your 3 W’s: Wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth. Wait six feet apart. Avoid close contact. Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Have a nice day!

Um.

But I am ready to go, with time to set up before the arrival bell rings.

Except.

I forgot I needed gas.

4 miles to E.

That’s okay. See, the gas station is only about a mile up the road here.

I pull in, happy to see no one is at the pumps: I’ll still make it in plenty of time!

There is, of course, a reason:

Every. Single. Pump.

I sit for a moment with rain sheeting across my windshield…

…nothing for it but to go back home and tell my son he has to take me to work.

—He has no gas in his car, either.

But he does have gas in Pa-Pa’s 1989 blue Cadillac DeVille. With the dented-in back door on the driver’s side where the boy cut the turn into the garage too close (it is a LONG car. And that’s one of the few times I’ve seen my young Cadillac Man cry).

There’s more to this story, because the unforeseen complications didn’t stop there; these were but a harbinger for a day full of absurd and unexpected turns. My neat list in the planner … poof. Suffice it to say I texted admin that I’d be late. I made it just as the tardy bell rang.

In an afternoon meeting—online, naturally—the facilitators (battling internet connectivity issues) closed with this message:

I did not throw my laptop of out the window (after all, the laptop nor the window belonged to me…).

I just kept on flowing.

Even when there was no gas.

A reminder that I’m only going so far on my own resources. With my best-laid plans that can disintegrate without warning.

Willing to be led by the process of life…

Even when diverted, to an absurd degree, with plot twists right and left…

And it was sort of beautiful, in its way, arriving at my destination in a vintage Cadillac with a willing and loving driver.

Lead photo: Gas pump. Mike Mozart. CC BY.

My Thanksgiving song

Thanksgiving Day, 1987.

My boyish husband and I have come to eat with my parents. There’s a lot on my mind as I carry dishes from the kitchen to the dining room table. My father’s voice drifts from the adjoining living room, mingling with the Macy’s parade-babble on TV. He’s conversing with my husband, who’s planning to enter the ministry. Beyond the old lace drapes of the picture window where I sat so often as a child, the November day is like a sepia print. Browns of dead grass and leaves, oyster sky, skeletal trees bathed in pale, unassuming sunlight.

Then…another voice.

Singing.

Coming from the television.

I turn to face it, spellbound. I cannot move. I stand stone-still, between portals, as everything else fades away…there’s only that voice. Almost too pure to bear. It wrenches something inside of me, twists and pierces so that tears spring to my eyes… a man singing “God on high, hear my prayer, in my need, you have always been there…”

He sings of protection for a young man in troubled times, afraid, resting nearby. Of summers dying, one by one. He is willing to die for the young man— “he is only a boy”— if God will let him live and “bring him home.”

I stand, tears flowing, aching to the core of my soul, not wanting it to stop, knowing that I am somehow irrevocably changed.

******

The singer was Colm Wilkinson, portraying Jean Valjean from the Broadway musical Les Misérables. The song “Bring Him Home” is a prayer for young Marius, who’s fallen in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette. Valjean watches over the sleeping Marius at a barricade during the June Rebellion, or the 1830 Paris Uprising. Broad view: On top of harsh economic times, crop failures, and food shortages, a cholera epidemic killed over 100,000 across France. The poor, especially in the city of Paris, were devastated; they blamed the government and retaliated.

I learned much later that the song was especially written for Wilkinson’s tenor voice—a profound marriage of artistry. And revision. Lyricist Herbert Kretzmer struggled with the English translation. He completed it seventeen days before the show opened. Upon hearing its first rehearsal, the cast was blown away. One member, playing the Bishop, said:“You told us at the beginning that you couldn’t keep God out of the show. But you didn’t say you’d booked God to sing this song.”

My husband eventually took me to see (to hear?) Les Misérables on Broadway. My awe has never diminished; so many songs are hauntingly beautiful, meant to pull on the soul with deep themes of loss, love, faith, sacrifice, death…and, above all, redemption.

I’ve been thinking of Thanksgiving in the time of COVID, how life and gatherings— and parades—are changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We are not allowed to sing at school, for fear of spreading the virus.

But some things never change. We never really know what is to come in a day, a week, a year…or the next moment.

Like Valjean, I grow older, with my heart turned toward the next generation in prayer for preservation. For their peace and joy. My own boys, now grown… the firstborn followed his father into the pastorate. The youngest is a worship leader. A musician and singer. Yes, how soon the summers fly, on and on…the boys weren’t even born yet on that long-ago Thanksgiving when I stood before the TV screen in my childhood home, transfixed by a cloaked Irish tenor in the streets of New York City, as snow began to fly…

God on high, hear my prayer
In my need, you have always been there

It remains my Thanksgiving song, every day.

Always.

God on high, hear my prayer
In my need, you have always been there
He is young, he’s afraid
Let him rest, heaven-blessed
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son
The summers die, one by one
How soon they fly, on and on
And I am old and will be gone

Bring him peace, bring him joy
He is young, he is only a boy
You can take, you can give
Let him be, let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home

Songwriters: Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schönberg/Herbert Kretzmer

Trees know

Yesterday they came back.

Just a few of them.

The others will have their turn, soon. For now they wait in the wings and on the screens…

In a month when masks are normally worn for celebrating, they came masked for protection—of others.

Several of us stood as sentinels in the misty gray morning, waiting, also masked. Gloved, thermometers ready, when the first bus rolled up and its door opened to release three children.

Another bus carried only one.

But when the first child passed inspection and entered the building, the gathered staff cheered. Applauded. Like welcoming a hero home.

They are heroes.

These kindergarteners, these first, second, third graders in their colorful masks, quietly navigating the building, sitting socially-distanced (alone) at lunch… I suspect these images are etched deep in my brain for the remainder of my days.

I saw this verse on a StoryPeople print by Brian Andreas (1993):

When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things that children need.

I think about how trees

help us breathe

cleanse the air

provide refuge

absorb storms

soften hard edifices

beautify

welcome

are calming

are cooling

change with the seasons, yet remain constant

color the world

Tree leaves do whisper. Trees talk to each other (they do). They live in groups and look out for one another.

They carry the stories they live within them. You can read them, in their rings.

I cannot decide which is best, to be the tree with deep roots, waving my leaves at the children on the way to school, singing in their dreams…or to be the child, asleep, hearing the tree-song…

I stand, a sentinel in the gray silence of the empty bus loop, masked, gloved, thermometer in hand, watching bits of red and yellow and fiery orange swirling through the air as if stirred by an unseen hand… tree confetti, celebrating life, letting go in order to hold on through the coming winter, who knows how dark or cold, and I’m seized by the sudden desire to run into those dancing colors…

—I am bits of both.

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the invitation to share on Slice of Life Tuesdays and for also knowing about the things that children need. They, too, carry their stories within them…

Photo: Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY

The passing

This week I’m participating in a five-day poetry Open Write at Ethical ELA. Day One’s writing invitation, “Bodies in Motion,” was sparked by the importance of sports to so many student athletes who haven’t been able to participate—when it may be the only reason they come to school. Many feel most at home with a team, on a field, writes host Sarah J. Donovan, needing to “move their bodies to feel joy, to feel normal, to feel self.” Instead they’re confined to screens and “plexiglass cubicles.” For the Open Write we crafted poems about our own athletic experiences, or those of family members, or even about what we used to be able to do but can’t anymore.

I’ve never been athletic, not ever, in the whole of my life.

My husband, however, was.

Through him I know the vital and abiding value of sports for a young person…

Here’s a scene I witnessed recently at home.

The Passing

She comes out of his study carrying it
in her four-year-old arms
and his face is transformed, glowing
as if a passing cloud has uncovered the sun.
He leans forward in the recliner as she
drops it, kicks it, sets it spinning
—Oh, no, he says, this one’s not for kicking,
it’s for dribbling, just as the ball stops
at his feet. He reaches down, lifts it
with the easy grace of the boy on the court,
hands perfectly placed on the worn brown surface
in split-second calculation of the shot
so many times to the roar of the school crowd
so many hours with friends, his own and then
his son’s, still outscoring them all, red-faced,
heart pounding, dripping with sweat, radiant
—and at twelve, all alone on the pavement
facing the hoop his mother installed
 in the backyard of the new house
after his father died, every thump echoing
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The game in the blood, the same DNA
that just last year left him with a heart full
of metal and grafts, too winded to walk
more than short distances, having to stop
to catch his breath, deflated
—it needs some air. Do you have a pump,
he asks his son, sitting there on the sofa,
eyes riveted to the screen emitting
continuous squeaks of rubber soles
against hardwood.
—Yeah, Dad. I’ve got one and the needle, too.
His father leans in to the little girl at his knee,
his battered heart in his hands:
—Would you like to have it?
She nods, grinning, reaching, her arms, her hands
almost too small to manage the old brown sphere
rolling from one to the other like a whole world
passing.

*******

with thanks to Ethical ELA for the monthly poetry Open Writes and Two Writing Teachers for fostering a vital and abiding love of writing in students— and teachers.
Revise on.

Photo: Marcus Balcher. CC BY-SA

Of stifling, stories, and stars

What stifles you?

This question appeared today on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.

The first thing the word stifle conjures for me is heat—stifling southern summer afternoons, air turning to bathwater.

Hard to breathe.

Which makes me think of COVID-19.

And masks.

It’s hard to breathe with a mask, if you have to expend much energy, if you have to talk very much… I know, because I wear one when I’m out and about.

In thinking of masks, I come to another layer…

Filters.

There to help protect. To keep harmful stuff out.

Or in. Depending.

Masks may be somewhat stifling.

Filters aren’t stifling at all.

It’s the lack of filters I find stifling, out there in the daily atmosphere, the zeitgeist of our times. Words of fire, of ash, of acid rain, meant to destroy…when their creative power could be harnessed instead to edify, to transform, to transcend. To honor. To heal. The poets know it…

I can only be vigilant with my own filtering. With what I let into my own mind, heart, and soul. With what I let flow in return… recognizing that

Fear stifles creativity
Inner critics stifle courage
Loudness stifles contemplation
Turmoil stifles contentment
Excuses stifle commitment
Regret stifles today—and tomorrow

—I’d like to continue the acrostic with a sort of reversal using each letter of “stifle” and “filters” on every line but I am tired now. Tiredness stifles the brain.

Humanity is stifling. As in, one’s own. Today an education colleague and I joked that we were done with Earth, having had enough of not-knowing, of virtual realities of teaching, of the inability to move forward with life in general and the tolls taken on us all in so many ways. We kidded about going to live on the Space Station. Even now, recalling, I am “slipping the surly bonds of Earth,” as WWII fighter-pilot-poet John Gillespie Magee wrote, to circumnavigate our planet every ninety-two minutes, seeing fifteen sunrises and sunsets in one day, like the astronauts do. To be among the stars…

Which evokes another favorite quote, this one from Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

And so I slip away from the cosmos, down through our protective atmosphere, back to my own country, to my home, my family, my little spot carved out here in the kitchen, to the waiting keyboard, feeling again the heaviness of humanity.

For us all.

For our very atoms, for the stories we live and breathe.

I reach for the words and it’s a little like reaching for the stars. Not those beyond but their remnants within; as scientists say, we humans are made of stardust.

Well then.

Seems we should be about filtering light.

I’ve enjoyed the open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join.

Meet the new virtual teacher (Henry writes)

Well, it’s a bit early, but I am well-prepared. I might as well sign on.

[opening laptop]

[waiting]

[logging into Google Classroom]

Now, where is that video link? — aha.

[click]

Microphone on, camera on—why, there I am!

Excellent.

Let Me just split My screen [click, click]… pull this window over…

There. Nothing to do now but wai—What’s this? Someone signing on?

Oh! Hello, Principal.

Yes, but of course. You are most welcome. It is My great pleasure. I’ve been quite looking forward to it since the interview…no, I cannot imagine so many teachers taking leave all at once. Tremendous strain, certainly, certainly. The rest of the week at least, you say? Possibly longer? Not to worry. I’ve updated all lessons and classwork activities. Eager to meet the students…what’s that? The dress code? Well, I borrowed this good blue shirt for the occasion…why, thank you. I do love blues. Calming. Shows up well on the screen, I think. A nuisance to button, if I may say… but you were saying—? The dress code is “professional on top” because…oh. I see. I beg your pardon. Let Me readjust…

No, thank you. I certainly appreciate your stopping by, Principal. A great day to you as well…

—Hello, Student! Good morning. You are early. No, no, your teacher is fine, just on a short, shall we say, vacation…

My, how you students are popping up like popcorn! Egads. You’re becoming exponentially tinier on My screen…

Welcome to class today, one and all. Let Me introduce Myself. I am Mr. Henry Rollins Haley. You may call Me Mr. Haley if you prefer, or HRH, which I prefer. I’ll be your substitute virtual teacher while your teacher… ahem….recuperates.

Let us begin by taking attendance.

—Pardon Me, but two of you do not appear to be on My roster. Are you in this class? …Then will you please sign off promptly and go to your own?… Yes, My understanding is that you will have a substitute there also. Someone by the name of ‘Ms. Fluffy,’ I believe. Make haste. What’s that?… My apologies. Let Me rephrase: Hurry on to your own class now. Enjoy your day.

Time for learning to commence! Today we will—wait, that rattling sound—who’s eating Spicy Nacho Doritos?…. How do I know? Of course it isn’t magic. You flatter Me. I happen to be possessed of superior hearing; every single bag of chips has its own distinctive sound, its own signature, if you will…a better question is: Who’s eating Spicy Nacho Doritos at 8:00 in the morning? Is it you, Student XYZ*, there with your camera off? Please turn it on at once… oh! You’re the parent. My apologies… the student is still waking up but will be here shortly? I see. Thank you for letting Me know. By all means, keep the camera off… please…

All right, then, we are ready to delve into our first, if I may say, most exciting activity on—students, I really must ask that you refrain from using the chat feature to have personal conversations unless I direct you to do so, or unless you have a question or comment for Me, of course. I am glad indeed that you’re so happy to see one another and that you are communicating in writing; it warms the very cockles of My heart, truly. I have so looked forward to getting to know each and every one of you, and there is no better way to begin than by this (if I may say) fabulous introductory activity I’ve designed! All right, without further ado—wait, why is everyone frozen on the screen? Hello? Hello? [tapping screen with toenail]. Can you hear Me? Students—?

What’s happeni—that spinning circle! No! Don’t tell Me…

Alas.

Dear Google Meet, just a bit of advice: Never state the obvious.

Nevertheless. I shall attempt reconnection.

[refreshes. No Internet access]

[reboots]

[waiting]

[waiting]

[drumming toenails, clickety, clickety, clickety]

I might as well head to the kitchen for a snack until the connection resumes. An energy bar, perhaps…or three or four…

—But I am watching, every single second…

Hello? Anyone there?

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge and for the vital mission of encouraging writers and writing.

Henry (HRH) dedicates this post to all the teachers out there, in honor of their Herculean efforts and extreme dedication…as well as to all the dogs who faithfully accompany their children in virtual learning, even if they do occasionally lick the screen—the dogs, that is. Children seldom lick the screen.

*Student XYZ: Name has been changed for obvious reasons.

How to find peace (Henry writes)

From the pen—um, keyboard, rather—of a favorite guest paw-thor who has his own category here on Lit Bits and Pieces…

Dear, Dear Readers,

It has been far too long since we last communed.

So much has changed.

Where to begin?

Nearly one year ago, my Him ushered Me to a new home with new—how shall I say it?— Beings. A new Her. And a little Her. And two dogs, imagine.

Well.

Predictions were made. It was said by Some that I wouldn’t be happy. That I wouldn’t adapt. That I might lash out, because, Some stated, it is the nature of My kind, for We cannot be trusted…

That is where Some make the fatal error, see.

They commit assumicide.

They do not walk in My paws. They do not see with My eyes, do not feel the rhythms of My heart.

Sure, I am—I confess—a bit of a worrier who needs a dab of reassurance here and there.

—Okay, okay, My Him says “constant” reassurance, but.

Nevertheless.

I have reached a place of peace. A higher state of being.

—Right? I know you’re asking how that’s even possible, with My obvious preexisting highness! But it is true.

This, Dear, Dear Readers, is My secret.

It isn’t found in chasing rabbits. Trust Me, there are too many to catch. More will come to taunt you tomorrow. Not worth it…

It isn’t in staying in the same comfortable place ad infinitum, but in trusting, even when it leads you to somewhere very different.

It is always, always in People, even a small One who moves quite erratically and unnervingly yet drapes Herself around Your neck whilst murmuring “I love you” (I think of Her as my living necklace. My medal of honor. I wear Her with pride. Even as I tolerate Her plunking on a ukulele in excruciating proximity. Whatever happened to lyres, I ask You—?).

It is in learning to tolerate—nay, make friends with!—creatures that breathe the same air and share the same space… it is easier than Some might think. In fact, when all the Two-Leggers are out, those dogs and I have free rein (I prefer ‘reign’) over the dwelling. My old crate, My old safe place, has been disassembled. I need it no more, for now I am never alone, and accordingly feel no need to be “destructive” (although I occasionally recall the flavor of a good book cover with much fondness. Alas.).

Above all, this higher state is achieved in spending every possible moment with The One You Love Best (in My case, Him) which I have done more than ever since last spring, these moments, these days, the joy of My existence.

I wish it to last forever and ever, Amen.

But for now I will simply bask in it for as long as I can, togetherness.

So, from My perch here on the new couch I’ve claimed as My own personal seat of dominion, right beside Him’s desk where He works, I leave you, Dear, Dear Readers, with My perfect picture of peace.

May such be upon you and yours as well.

Most Cordially,

HRH

(Henry Rollins Haley)

To sleep, perchance to dream… of more love to give on waking.
Noble beast, Pit sublime, in his state of bliss.

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge honoring writers, writing, perspective, and voice.

What’s best for children

Just a little note this evening, as the sun begins its descent, glowing its most golden as it prepares to depart … really I must remind myself that it is the Earth turning away, not the sun itself. Which of us would reach longingly toward the last of that light, trying to hold what remains of the day, until encroaching shadows break our grasp … then, the dark. How many of us welcome it, so tired, so needing the sleep, so wrapping night like a thick velvet blanket around us, letting it shelter us, entomb us, savoring the peace and stillness in it … until we turn to first light and morning once more…

I am tired.

But so, probably, are you.

Today I walked through the empty halls of school. I could hear teachers’ voices in rooms as they met with kids online or recorded lessons. I could not hear the children. Through a hallway window, I caught a glimpse of many young faces on a large screen, interacting with the teacher—a virtual music lesson.

There’s something so eerie about it all. Haunting. The hollowness of the place, the distant, disembodied voices. Dystopian is the word that comes to mind. It’s like living in some novel we’d have been assigned to read in high school. But it’s real. It’s writing itself, bringing itself to life…

In snatches of conversation my colleagues discussed the reinvention of assessment for online administration, to determine what kids need, and what makes sense, and what is best for kids…

That line will not leave me. What is best for kids.

It’s a phrase we tossed around so loosely, before. “Let’s make decisions based on what’s best for kids…” but did we always?

I fired up my laptop, went to my little corner of a Google Classroom, and waited, thinking about those words: What is best for kids. Remembered playing games with a blindfold when I was a child. And waking in the night when the power’s gone out, having to feel my way through the dark…

Within moments, however, a cheery little face appeared. Beaming at me. A little voice asking if, before we read together, I could see something made for classwork today. This child—this very young child—splits his screen and presents to me. Then he asks if we will have time, when we are done reading together, for him to show me his dog.

I am sure, just then, that I feel the Earth turning. Steadily onward. Light mixing with shadows.

What is best for children is what it always was. That they feel safe. And loved. And valued. That they get to share things that matter to them. That there’s joy in learning. That they learn to do new things, some they might have thought they couldn’t. That their teachers do the same. That their teachers work together, help each other, and honor each other for the professionals they are. We may all be apart, but we must all pull together… reaching toward each other as we reach out to the kids.

The time goes so fast. My screen goes empty, the child disappears… and comes back with his dog.

It occurs to me that all three of us are smiling…the dog with his whole wiggly body.

Today will be tomorrow soon enough.

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity to share on Slice of Life Tuesday.

The Happy Napper

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crystal-blue eyes and a mischievous grin. On a June afternoon, when she was four-and-a-half, the little girl announced to her Franna:

“I can speak Unicorn.”

Now, this came as no surprise to Franna, who knew what magical creatures children are. She also knew that any adult playing a part in a child’s life is charged with sustaining bits of the magic, for that is the secret law of how the universe works… so, just as Franna was about to ask the little girl to please teach her how to speak Unicorn, too, a commercial came on TV.

“Look!exclaimed the little girl, pointing her tiny dear finger at the screen. “Happy Nappers!”

“Ah,” said Franna, nodding sagely.Those are … sleeping bags in the shape of animals? First they are pillows, and … you unsnap them to turn them into sleeping bags, then turn them back into pillows when you are done resting?”

“Yes,” answered the little girl in an imperious voice, her eyes glued to the images.

“How magical,” said Franna, scratching her head. She was on the verge of requesting Unicorn language lessons once again when the little girl drew herself up to her full height of forty-five inches and uttered the magic words:

“I. Wish. I. Had. One.”

She added a barely perceptible sigh—exactly the thing that sets the spell in motion.

Franna had no choice then, for it was the same spell she cast on her own grandfather when she was five, long, long ago. She wished for red rubber boots. The next time she came to see him, there they were, waiting for her. After all these years, Franna could still see his smile, could feel the rush of joy…

There was only one thing to do.

“Well, which Happy Napper do you like?” asked Franna.

“The pink unicorn,” announced the little girl.

Franna whipped out her handy smartphone to order the pink unicorn and … “Oh dear.”

“What is it?” asked the little girl.

I am trying to order the pink unicorn Happy Napper but it’s not available right now. This is called ‘on backorder.’ It means you have to wait a lot more days for it to get here…”

“Oh,” said the little girl, but not in a crestfallen way. She shrugged. “It will still come, right?”

“Yes, but some of the other Happy Nappers are ready to ship now. Like the white unicorn, if you want it instead …”

The little girl shook her head. “The pink one.”

So that was that. Franna ordered the pink unicorn Happy Napper which would take a month—an eternity!—to ship. And, quite unwittingly, she made a grave, grave error: She told the little girl that the pink unicorn shipping date was July 22.

On the morning of July 22, Franna’s son phoned to say: “Guess who woke up singing ‘Today is Happy Napper Day, Happy Napper Daaaay…'”

“Oh no!” cried Franna. “Today is just the SHIPPING day! And I haven’t had any updates!”

“I see …” said Franna’s son, and she did not envy him one bit, having to tell the little girl the Happy Napper really wasn’t due to materialize on that precise day.

And then… things got worse. Much worse. The unthinkable occurred.

A dreadful email arrived:

“Hello! We apologize, but due to overwhelming demand, your order is still on backorder … we expect additional inventory soon… you have the option to modify your order to a different character if you like…”

Feeling weary to her bones, and utterly unmagical, Franna called the little girl to explain: “Your pink unicorn Happy Napper is still backordered. It is not on the way yet. You can still change to a different animal …”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“Well, I guess the pink unicorn is really special and lots of kids wanted it. The Happy Napper people ran out of them and are having to make new ones. Supplies might be hard to get right now because of the coronavirus…”

And the little girl understood. Coronavirus meant she would not go back to preschool, not ever. Coronavirus kept her away from her friends. Coronavirus was a plague, a powerful enchantment that couldn’t be broken, only waited out. Tiny viruses topple mighty kingdoms…

Franna felt terribly sad and vowed not to mention the Happy Napper again.

The Happy Napper people must have known, for they sent Franna an e-book, which was some consolation, as the next most magical thing to a child is a book…and this one contained unicorns…

Then, one afternoon in late August, a mint-green box was delivered to Franna’s porch. She brought into the house and put it on the piano bench to await the coming of the little girl…

Several days later, here she came, strolling into Franna’s house with a joyous smile of greeting… when her crystal-blue eyes landed on the mint-green box…

It just so happened that the little girl could read quite well…

Those words on the box…

Her blue eyes widened. All the light in the universe converged there on her little face and shone forth as only this sacred magic can. She gasped:

“THE HAPPY NAPPER? It’s HERE??”

And so it was.

They opened the box, pulled out the silky-soft hot pink unicorn, and stretched it to its full blinding-rainbow length on the floor, whereupon the little girl climbed right in and made Franna zip it up to her chinny-chin-chin. The pink unicorn fit the little girl just right. The long wait was finally over, at last. And so Franna and the beloved little girl and her pink unicorn lived—can’t you guess?—happily nappily ever after.

One happy napper.

Once upon a time, Franna wished for a little girl.

*******

Magic moments of childhood never die: Here’s the story of the red rubber boots.

The steering wheel

This is not the post I might have written today.

Woke in the wee hours to total darkness, power loss, Hurricane Isaias smacking the house, tearing at the roof. Isaias is purely physical. He has no voice, unlike the ghost-wind that moaned and mourned for weeks under our eaves with the advent of spring and COVID-19.

Yet somewhere in the darkness, despite the raging gusts, little frogs kept up a cheery chorus.

Not much to do but stay in bed and wait it out.

And fall back asleep. And dream…

I am driving a car that belongs to my father, I think. Except that it doesn’t look like any car he ever owned. Nice little SUV, dark gray. I am coming home from visiting my grandparents in the country. I reach the quaint part of the city where they lived when I was little, before my grandfather retired. I’ve always loved this place… but I realize just now that I can’t turn the car. The steering wheel is gone. How have I managed to come so far without it? The car begins to spin and slide; I’ve lost control of it, I fear it’s going to be hit, but somehow I get it to a safe parking spot by a curb. I will have to backtrack and find that missing steering wheel—how could I have lost it? How is that even possible?

I go (on foot? in the same steerless car?) all the way back to my grandparents’ home. They’re out in the yard, very busy loading and unloading big objects (equipment? furniture?) on some kind of truck. Grandma’s face is serious. She doesn’t have time to talk to me [should have been a major clue that I was dreaming, as this never happened in reality]. When I tell her why I’m back she just says the steering wheel is over there (she points) in the road. Seems I lost it on the very start of my journey home…

I go to reclaim the steering wheel only discover two things: This is a rather large steering mechanism but the actual wheel isn’t there… and the little old road is freshly-tarred and paved. It’s never been paved. It’s supposed to be gravel. Sure, it looks nice, stretching out smooth and black, but why would anyone pave these tiny, meandering back roads where so few people live? This is a lot of work and expense that isn’t really ‘better’, I say to myself. With mounting sadness, I run a short dash on this new pavement to see that my grandmother’s home placea small, white house with a porch and a tin roof, where Grandma and her seven siblings were born over a hundred years ago—is gone. An expanse of green grass is all there is to see…

And then I wake.

Loving symbolism as I do, I know the dream connects to having little or no control in life. We’re living through a pandemic. A hurricane rages. I work in a school and the return next week will be drastically different. Life plows on despite the loss of the familiar. Nothing looks or feels or works quite like it used to. We travel a strange road interspersed with shadows of the real and surreal. The world, and our existence, have been altered in myriad ways. But… to be without power is not the same as being powerless…

As I write, Isaias has moved on. There is no damage here, no trace of him whatsoever now. I could revel in this glorious day, the azure sky with occasional cottony clouds drifting by, the unidentifiable bird with long wings soaring high, cicadas resuming their buzzing in the still-standing trees from which they were not shaken…that sound being one that connects me more than anything to safety and my grandparents’ home in the eastern North Carolina countryside. I could employ here my one word for the year, reclamation… reclaiming the day, reclaiming life, even my strange dream-attempt at reclaiming that lost steering wheel in a vehicle that wasn’t mine…

But the power came back on and the TV is full of destruction in the northeastern regions of my state. Homes destroyed by tornadoes spawned by Isaias. People dead and missing (some were children, who’ve since been accounted for).

And I think instead that the road to reclamation is so hard, so strange, so littered with precious, scattered fragments of life, obstructed by such mountains to move. We can control so little.

When we find we are unable to steer, perhaps that is when we are being driven most toward one another. Reclamation, then, lies in our responsiveness. In our willingness.

So does, perhaps, our redemption.

Photo: The road back to Stevenage. Peter O’Connor. CC BY-SA