National Poetry Month has ended, and I miss it. While I may not be posting every day for a while, I continue to write.
The last prompt on Ethical ELA’s #VerseLove was on fear. Articulating it, facing it…perhaps conquering it.
This got me thinking how facing a thing for what it really is = the first step in conquering. There’s a lot of extreme anxiety in the world today. A lot of hatred. Sometimes we just don’t see things for what they are…including our own thoughts.
And so this poem was born.
Courage, peace, and wellness to you, Friends.Whatever it is…you can overcome.
My Fear Haiku
I once read a book where people’s eyes turned inward. They died from seeing
what’s inside their minds. I trembled to take a look at what lurks in mine.
Now I remember what Granddaddy once told me regarding black snakes:
don’t ever kill them. See, black snakes eat rats and mice; they’re good. We need them.
I think fear’s like that snaking along, with purpose something quite useful
so I never try to kill it. Let it consume the uglier parts
of my thoughts, and go its way leaving me with a clean peace and a better mind
so that all I fear, in the end, is forgetting memories of love.
Path of peace. The view after turning off the highway to visit my grandparents. The house is my grandmother’s homeplace, where she and her eight siblings were born in the early 1900s. Just ahead, around the bend on the left, stood my grandparents’ home where my dad and his sisters grew up in the 1940s-50s, and where I spent many childhood summers.
with thanks to Katie at #verselove on Ethical ELA yesterday. She inspired poets to look around the room for an object of great personal significance, followed by a brainstorming process for finding the object’s own voice and characteristics: “Now that you have stilled this object in order to distill it in a piece of art, it’s time to bring it to life. Listen to it, and once you are ready, consider: If it were a character…and say something back.”
when the harmonies rang and people sang songs by shape note
now more of a reliquary
with touch-memory of her hands on your beloved keys
they don’t forget
somewhere in that high-backed mahogany cracked prized-possession frame
amid your hammers and strings and octavian dreams
surely you must hold her dust alongside mine skin cells of the child I was
relics of bygone days side by side just as we used to be on your bench, of a summer night in pale lamplight
singing of the sweet by and by when we shall meet on that beautiful shore
in the meantime despite your need for tuning and your wonky key
her great-grandson stirs the slumbering chords again the dust the strings the house the blood in our veins pounding out the glory of the old, old story
blood does not forget
she’d be overjoyed with my boy
as you must surely be
as you whisper to me
in high-backed mahogany cracked corners where silence aches
The piano dates to pre-WWII days, possibly the 1920s. My grandfather bought it secondhand for my grandmother. I spent many hours beside her on the bench as she played and sang alto to my soprano. In her last years she moved in with my aunt and finally the nursing home. She gave the piano to me: “It’s my most-prized possession, you know.” I never learned how to play but my my youngest son grew up loving old gospel songs. He’s a magnificent pianist who graduated from college with a music ministry degree; not a day passes that I don’t think of how elated she’d beto know this.
with thanks to Araceli, Deanna, and Michelle at #verselove on Ethical ELA today, for the invitation to write about someone who’s influenced your life, incorporating sensory details. My first inclination is to write of my grandparents – as I often do – but today, my aunt came to mind. I expect she’d be so surprised.
This one’s for her.
On Day Twenty-Two of National Poetry Month
A Poem for Earnie
I didn’t expect to write of you today but here I am, remembering of all things, the tape recorder your ready, set, go! the click of your finger pressing play and singing for all we were worth, you, my little sister and me: Wherever you go, wherever you may wander in your life Surely you know I always want to be there… one of us flubbing the words all of us cracking up you saying, I’ll rewind let’s try it again
I think of your laughter wild, free, contagious your raucous humor trailing you like an ermine robe rich, resplendent, priceless cloaking loneliness I may not have perceived
The only one of my mother’s sisters never to marry or have children which didn’t keep you from giving advice pressing Mama’s buttons like no one else on Earth yet she went and named her youngest daughter after you
Then there were the wigs on the featureless disembodied heads sitting on your dresser you could pick whatever 1970s hair you wanted each day how cool was that?
I can’t recall a thing you ever cooked only that you loved eating Mama said you were picky you didn’t look it Mama said that’s why you weren’t married so picky that you didn’t get got
I wondered why you never really left home living with Grannie most of your life you’d break away for an apartment once or twice but would always go back like you needed to be within the borders of her shadow
Perhaps it will surprise you that I recall the ceramics class you took and the Pepto Bismol pink statuette of Hotei, the Laughing Buddha god of happiness and contentment that you made for me his hands thrown high to the heavens Rub his big belly for good luck each day, you said and I could hear the pleasure in your voice only much later did I flip him over to find your inscription of love on the bottom of his pedestal
Funny how the dress you wore to my wedding was Pepto Bismol pink I am glad I asked you to be my wedding director at Mama’s prodding I remember the books you ran out to buy to do the job well for me
Of course there’s Jenny… a love of your life Siamese as picky as yourself who’d curl in my lap purring That’s rare, you’d say
Jenny who lived twelve years who died in the fire when you woke in the middle of the night choking on the smoke phone in your bedroom hot to the touch calling 9-1-1 for the first time because it was a brand-new thing I don’t know how you roused Grannie and Papa G in the other room nor how any of you climbed out of the windows onto the roof into the freezing midnight air and safety as the firemen arrived but you did it
in my mind, Mama’s voice: It took three firemen to hold her from going back in for Jenny. They found her the next day under Earnie’s window.
I hear your anguished sobs even now in those wee hours when you arrived at our house to stay reeking of smoke so that the fur coat you wore would have to be destroyed
I remember the clothes you bought for my first baby in bright, beautiful colors, expensive so lovingly chosen
You didn’t live to see my youngest never knew of his gift for music how you’d have loved it I can see you right now, tape recorder in hand
As the disease took your lungs and reached its insidious fingers into your brain I recall the peculiar shine in your hollowed eyes against the yellowing of your face
when you asked: Are you still writing? Have you published anything yet?
Yes and no, Earnie. I am still writing, yes. Long, long after we laid you to rest in your pink dress (Grannie had your nails painted to match) and this isn’t really published but it’s for you I didn’t expect to be writing of you today or singing Olivia Newton-John all of a sudden after all these years, but here I am and here you are, wherever I may wander in my life snatches of song, rolling laughter here in my morning here in my night.
with thanks to Abigail, Betsy, and Soshi for the invitation to write on this topic for #verselove at Ethical ELA today (who’s not longing for summer right now?!).
Here’s why summer has such a special pull for me.
For Day Nineteen of National Poetry Month
Sunny afternoon blue sky bit of breeze faint sound of a radio from a neighbor’s yard I can’t discern the song it just sends me into reverie for a second conjuring hot sand under my bare feet Coppertone in my nose salt on my tongue If everybody had an ocean across the USA then everybody’d be surfin’ like Californ-i-ay… snatches of conversation cresting and dipping on the breeze mighty waves of memory crashing on the shore my father’s big black sandals flip-flopping to the old navy-blue Ford the battered brown Samsonite suitcase in his hand the ride is so long so long the city gives way to pastures, meadows horses fields that go on and on, forever plowed furrows running like long crazy legs to keep up with the Ford as we zoom past until at last the lonesome highway comes to a fork on the left, the tiny church where my ancestors sleep under stones we veer to the right turning onto the dirt road my heart beats faster Daddy drives slower stirring clouds of dust and I am already grabbing the door handle as Granddaddy’s lush garden comes into view with just a glimpse of Grandma’s white angel birdbath circled by orange marigolds through the laundry lazily flapping on the clothesline and there they are, walking across the green, green grass and I am out of the Ford before it’s hardly stopped and in their arms in the blinding sun as the forest stands tall all around with its cool dark mysteries where the rattling cicadas crescendo vibrating on and on and on through my soul I can’t discern the song it just carries me through eternity in this one bright second
with thanks to Dr. Stefani Boutelier on Ethical ELA’s #VerseLove today. She writes of the way a title can change the interpretation of a poem, or how it might add layers of metaphor: “I invite you to write a poem where the title helps identify its content, theme, or purpose. The topic and form are up to you–the focus today is on the title.”
I will share my poem’s title at the end.
For Day Fifteen of National Poetry Month
The stories of time before my time I lived them through your telling felt them through your pounding heart breathed them with your young lungs until I wanted to run coughing from the reek of smoke the acrid taste of ash and I think of how you spent your years giving yourself to others despite the ghosts that surely clung as smoke clings to clothing and as I enter the doorway I can hardly breathe for the cloying scent of flowers and there you are on the table ready and waiting in your little box conveniently resting in a little white tote I dare not trust the handles I just wrap my arms around you and carry you against my heart like I did my babies only there’s no car seat needed now
still, I must keep you safe in your new lightness so I strap the seatbelt across us both pondering the measure of a man larger than life so reduced
but I’ve got you, I’ve got you cradled close see now, I’m driving you home sun and shadows flickering over us like old newsreels of liberation
Title: What Remains
Dedicated to my father-in-law, a World War II veteran.
Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.
I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.
My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.
He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.
“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.
Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:
But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,
barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.
My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.
“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.
My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”
He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:
Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming…
Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.
I think how, less than two years ago, my husband wasdead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…
What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.
Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats
When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”
She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.
She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light…
Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.
I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.
The magnolia wreath.
Front door wreath and nest-in-progress
Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…
They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.
It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.
It is the end of March.
We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.
We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.
My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.
My husband has endured. He is alive.
My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.
The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.
This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.
I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.
One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:
I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.
“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.
She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”
“What is that sound?”
“Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”
She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.
“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.
And I am no longer scared, because now I know.
What does this have to do with magnolias?
Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.
Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.
But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her…
“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.
It’s a different park. A different tree.
But still, and always, a magnolia.
Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.
With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voicesfor many days to come.
She spies the box on the top of the shelf in “her” room (I call it the “Spare Oom,” kindred Narnians):
“What’s that game, Franna?”
“Oh, that’s Yahtzee. I used to play it all the time when I was growing up.”
“How do you play?”
Sounds like an invitation to me.
I reach past Spy Alley, Catchphrase, Trivial Pursuit, the chess set, and Twister (that game floored her. Really. Not just trying to be punny).
Dear old Yahtzee.
The dice rattle inside the box…and I remember…
Whole afternoons elapsing on the worn living room rug, sunlight waning behind the lace curtains, sometimes distant thunder beyond the rain-slapped windows, none of it mattering in the wide circle of lamplight where my sister and I hunched over the scorecards. The exultant cry or groan of despair, depending on whose throw landed all five dice on the same number. Yahtzee!
Evenings in my aunt’s spotless, light-dimmed, vanilla-scented den, legs criss-crossed, drinking Dr. Pepper in glasses with curiously-cylindrical ice cubes clinking (ice-makers were uncommon, then). The lovingly-fierce competition between my young aunt and uncle, their laughter, their encouragement: Good choice, Hon. Sometimes you just have to take it on Chance…
The look of perplexity on kids’ faces at math camp when I bought out the box after a lesson on probability; their brows furrowing as they learned the terminology: three of a kind, four of a kind, full house, small straight, large straight; their faces soon glowing with new zeal; shouts of YESSSS! accompanying fist punches in the air…
Hours at the kitchen table, the warmth of butter-yellow walls, my mother blowing on the dice, sending my sister and me into giggles; we start blowing on our dice, too. Come on, sixes, come on, sixes…years later, as I leave the house for a date: my mother at the kitchen table with a friend from across the street, whose story I never fully knew, only that she’d suffered a mental breakdown and had been taken in by relatives. Her hands shake as she lights one of my mom’s Salems, blue eyes wide and a little too bright, a nervous smile flickering across her face as the dice roll in her favor. Swirls of white smoke heavy in the air, floating after me on the sound of my mother’s cackling laughter, hilarious in itself, uniquely uninhibited, ever-gleeful…
So much depends on the rolling of the dice, on the way you choose to take what comes.
I lay out the pencils and scorecards, scoop up the dice, place them in my granddaughter’s little cupped hands.
“All right, Baby. Let me show you how to play.”
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 25, I am writing around a word beginning with letter y.
On the last Sunday in July, 2019, my husband went to the gym after church. He had a great workout on the stationary bike (always proud of accomplishing five miles in fifteen minutes).
He got in his truck to come home.
That is the last thing he remembered for a long time.
At the house, our dog went crazy, barking. Someone in the driveway. Police officer: Your husband’s had an accident. Do you have a way to the hospital… truck ran off the road into the woods…appears to have been a medical event…sorry, I don’t know how bad it is. EMS was working on him when I left…
Both of our grown boys happened to be home that afternoon. We rode together to the ER, not knowing what we’d find.
My reeling mind wondered if their black suits were clean…in case…
At the hospital, a nurse was waiting for us. She ushered us into a side room.
Massive heart attack, said the ER doctor, but he’s alive. He wasn’t when EMS got to him.He was in cardiac arrest. They did CPR, defib…they are heroes…heroes…
Heart attacks killed his father and grandfather in their fifties.
After emergency surgery, he underwent induced hypothermia to allow his brain time to rest from the trauma. No one knew how long he’d gone without oxygen. EMS had arrived on the scene quickly, as the station is just up the street from where the truck ran off. My boys and I learned that their dad endured forty-five minutes of CPR and ten – TEN – shocks from the paddles. We would learn that his sternum was broken. Attending CICU physicians warned: After hypothermia, we’ll do a waking test. There’s no guarantee he’ll wake, or how extensive the damage will be to his brain…
As we endured those long hours, we learned that his truck was barely dented as it ran off the road, that it stopped just short of a deep ravine in the woods. We were told that he swerved into oncoming traffic and back into his lane before running off on the right. He never struck another vehicle. People behind him called 911. One thing different, and all would be different…
As one doctor said: Everything aligned for him. Everything.
He did awaken. He knew us. He was soon able to ask, in a raspy voice after coming off the ventilator: What happened?
It would be a long recovery involving another hospital stay and more surgery…but he recovered.
He could remember leaving the gym, but he could not recall anything from earlier that month, or from many months before. All of his long-term memory remained intact; all his stories, all his sports trivia and stats. There was just a period completely erased, leading up to the heart attack. He could not recall a thing from our family vacation to the beach earlier in July, the glorious time we had.
The brain’s way of protecting itself from pain, our oldest son said. I had a professor who told us about this in class. It’s not good to try to make a person remember…
He didn’t recognize the scenery on the way home from the hospital: Why are we turning here? Everything looks so new…have I seen this before?
The doctors said, Some memories may return as he heals. Some may not. It’s hard to say; everyone is different.
After a couple of months, he returned to his work at the church. He’s a minister. The number one question people had after he began regaining strength: Did he see anything? when he was… you know… ‘gone’? I mean, he IS a pastor… such curiosity tinged with hope, in that questioning.
All he could remember, much to people’s disappointment: It was just like going to sleep. No pain, just fading into sleep.So peaceful.
Then one day he saw pictures of our family vacation and recognized the giant tortoise we chanced upon at a roadside display: I remember that!
Random bits returned to his mind, here and there.
Then on another day, much later, he told me: I heard voices.
What do you mean, you ‘heard voices’?
When my truck ran off the road.When everything was going dark.
What did they say?
They said, “He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road.”
Did you…did you recognize the voices? Do you think that maybe…well, it could have been just the EMTs…
He shook his head. All I know is, I heard them when I was driving and I thought, if I can just get over there to the grass, to that little hill… where that sunset is…everything will be okay.
He left me staring after him as he headed out to the park for the eight-mile hike he makes now, several times a week.
He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road…
Everything aligned for him. Everything.
I ponder the mystery of memory, and the miraculous…in ceaseless awe that he is returned to us, restored, rejuvenated, whole.
In his own words, with his characteristic wit and big, contagious laughter,as “a member of the Lazarus Club.”
Photo is entitled “The Day Black with Night” and is in the public domain on Creative Commons with this verse: “Go for help to Him who makes Orion and the Pleiades, by whom the deep dark is turned into morning, who makes the day black with night; whose voice goes out to the waters of the sea, sending them out over the face of the earth: the Lord is His name.” —Amos 5:8.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 22, I am writing around a word beginning with letter v.
At the end of February, the COVID-19 vaccine was made available to teachers in my state.
My district went to work immediately, setting up sites and online registration.
The quickest appointment I could get was at a high school gym.
Upon entering, seeing the tables set all around the perimeter, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu, sort of.
Flashback to another school gym. For just a second, I was there in a long line of people. Standing with my mother, my little sister.
To be vaccinated against swine flu.
I’d nearly forgotten.
This COVID rollout was so different. For one thing, masks. Another, no long lines; still not safe. I stood six feet behind one person for a just few seconds in the hallway outside the gym before he was directed to enter. Slight pause, and I was permitted. Someone pointed me to a table across the room. After giving my name and getting my official paper, I was told to sit in one of the six or so well-spaced chairs in the center of the gym. I didn’t think to count how many immunization stations were set up around the walls, mostly because I didn’t have time; I sat for less than a minute before someone came over to point me to one of them. Quick review of my info, protocol of a few questions, and the deed was done. Barely felt it before the administrator tossed the syringe into the biohazard container and congratulated me. She gave me a little CDC card. Moderna. A jolt of cheer in the knowledge that this is the vaccine Dolly Parton funded; she got her shot that same day. A layer of comfort, somehow. I’d just written of Dolly and one of her songs two days before. It’s like being blood-sisters now. Kind of.
From the time I arrived to the time I left: less than ten minutes.
Couldn’t help remembering, as I walked out into the warm sunshine of an imminent spring, all the hours spent waiting in doctor’s offices as a child, getting an allergy shot in each arm every week, then every other week, then at home when my mother was eventually allowed to give them. How my mother’s health issues involved so many hospital stays and doctor’s visits that her friends dubbed her “Pins and Needles,” a double entendre on her vocation as a seamstress.
I walked on, considering my own shadow as it glided along the parking lot pavement, mulling how needles prick the arm only for an instant in the aim of protection and preservation and then are gone, whereas needles in the memory can provoke reactions and pain for a lifetime. I feel the swelling of many stories, there.
But just as I did when I was small, I waited the allotted time to be sure there was no reaction to the injection. Once upon a time, my dad waited with me; now it’s my husband driving my inoculated self home. He wants to drive me back for the last one.
In the end, it’s just a matter of doing what must be done, and going on.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 14, I am writing around a word beginning with letter n. Amazing, the number of associations and memories threading through one simple, sharp word.
A faint, feathery swishing against the bedroom windowpanes. A silvery glow at the blinds, beckoning. I crawl out from under the warm coversto peer through.
It’s a different world. Softer. Purer. At peace in its perfect winter-white blanket, illuminated by the full moon. Big flakes descend to the ethereal stirring of wind chimes.
I imagine animals curled in their cozy dark burrows.
In the spirit of affinity, I return to mine.
I waited well into the morning before texting my son: Is she so excited?
His daughter, age five, has been longing for snow. Some winters pass without it here in central North Carolina.
He texted right back: She’s so wound up. We have already been out to play. We made snow cream. Put sprinkles on it and ate it for breakfast.
How awesome is that, I thought. She will remember it all of her life, this snow, getting to eat it for breakfast.
Magical moments. They will be stored away, deep in the hallowed halls of her mind.
I was just rereading The Power of Moments: Why CertainExperiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They explore moments we remember and revere the most. Some are tied to great emotion or to shared meaningful experiences. Others transcend “the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary.”
The authors write: “The most precious moments are often the ones that cost the least.” They relate the story of a three-year-old who succumbed to a severe E. coli infection. They describe (brace yourself) her kidney failure, horrible pain, portions of her colon being removed twice, her heart failure and resuscitation; she desperately needed a kidney transplant and a compatible donor could not be found. At Halloween, her costume had to be laid on top of her because of all the tubes. She was still in the hospital as Christmas neared, and it began to snow:
For a child from Vermont, it was cruel, having to watch the snow through the windows. Wendy loved to make snowmen, to go sleigh riding. She hadn’t been outside for two months. Her lead nurse, Cori Fogarty, and and patient care associate Jessica Marsh hatched a plan. If Wendy couldn’t play in the snow, they would bring the snow to her. But it was more complicated than that. Because of Wendy’s heart condition, the staff was monitoring every milliliter of water that she consumed. So Jessica went and filled an emesis bucket with snow, weighed it, let it melt, and poured it into a graduated cylinder. Now they knew how to translate the weight of snow into its volume of water. So they went and filled the bucket with exactly the right amount of snow so that if Wendy ate it all — as three-year-olds are prone to do —she’d be just fine.
Can you see them, bringing the bowl of snow into the hospital room? Can you see that little girl’s expression when she saw it? Jessica Marsh said: “I have never seen such joy and pure innocence on a child’s face.” Wendy’s mother: “It was bliss, it was joy.” Many years later she would write: “It’s easy to forget the monotony of the endless days that stretched together during her recovery. But that one moment of brightness, that is one moment we will never forget.”*
Perhaps that is just the image we need right now, as COVID-19 drags on. A bowl of snow for a child…a bit of magic to escape the moment, maybe to carry us through.
As parents, as teachers, as writers, compassionate human beings, we have this power within us to imagine such moments, to make them happen. The most precious moments are the ones that cost the least…
Just so happens that as I write these words on this new, dark morning, flurries have started falling again.
Let us go and seek our bowl of snow. And where we might share it.
Maybe even for breakfast, with sprinkles.
*Wendy’s story is from the chapter “Making Moments Matter” in The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017, 263-265). You might like to know that she did receive a transplant and went on to be an athlete.
Thanks to all at Two Writing Teachers for the power of your shared stories. Where there’s writing, there’s a way.