A poem a day might well keep despair away. I’ve been reading 150 Most Famous Poems published by Poetry House with works by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and many more. What I find so extraordinary is that while reading, I enter a sort of dreamland, an extra sensory awareness shared by many fellow humans. It’s the strangest sort of community in that we never have to have met or even speak a word to each other, yet we share a fathomless bond.
It’s the images, the juxtaposition of contrary thoughts, even transitions from this world to the other world so smoothly delved that the reader discovers they have entered someone else’s dreamscape, yet, it feels like home.
As William Blake so perfectly states in his poem Auguries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wildflower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Or as George Gordon, Lord Byron reveals in There Is Pleasure in the Pathless Woods
There is a rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes…
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
Emily Dickenson hits the mark in her poem Hope is the thing with Feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words…
With shocking insight, Paul Lawrence Dunbar strips our pretense away in We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise…
These poems and so many others embrace the sunrise in company with souls alight with mystical spirit. No matter the day or year, highborn or low, city dwellers or country folk, they fellowship in a shared human journey. In a world torn by strife and divided along so many lines, these voices rise like a chorus, reminding me, no matter how painful my steps or proud my goals, I have never journeyed alone.
Gianna sat in her living room before a shoebox filled with memories and stared at an old, taped together letter. Anxiety scrambled after fear, chasing horror along the byways of her mind. How could he have done such a thing? But now she knew—for once and for all—she had done the right thing.
The screen door squeaked open. Her youngest, Janie raced into the room followed by her hyper-excited pup, tracking newly mown grass across the floor. “Mom! Guess what! There’s a new cat in the neighborhood. It’s black and white so I’m calling it Moonie.”
After dropping the letter onto a stack of family photos, Gianna shoved the box into a wooden cabinet and shut the door. She prayed that she could do the same with the images filling her mind.
Pup raced around the room, dove onto the couch, and flopped down, her tongue lolling. Janie laughed and joined her partner in crime.
In perfect imitation of a miffed prison guard, Gianna crossed her arms, peered down at the two innocents, and growled, “Think you can wander in here carrying all outdoors with you, eh? Suppose you’ll be expecting lunch, too, no doubt.”
With some kind of child’s extra-sensory perception, Janie scrunched her nose and tilted her head, listening for a hidden something.
Gianna relaxed her pose, returning to ordinary-mom.
Happy again, Janie tipped back her head and boldly proclaimed her really important news, “Dad says he wants grilled cheese, chips, and pickles for lunch.”
Gianna rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen, glad for the distraction. “Oh, yeah? He wants your favorite lunch?” She hunched her shoulders in dejection. “And here I planned on liver and gizzards with a side dish of boiled onions. Oh, gee. I never get what I want.”
Janie and her sidekick bounced off the couch and followed in close proximity, perhaps to make double-sure that mom hadn’t gone to the dark side. She even scooted to the refrigerator and yanked out the cheese package just to be safe.
The puppy lapped up a bowl of water, while Janie propped her head on her hands, sitting at the kitchen counter, her eyes following her mom’s every move.
Pushing every thought away, except how to make extra-good grilled cheese sandwiches, Gianna performed mom-magic and prepared a delicious, healthy lunch just in time for her husband to tromp in, stomping a pile of cut grass and weeds on the doormat.
Matt looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, but I had to do a lot of cutting, or we’d need a compass and a map to get through the backyard.”
A waterfall of gratitude sluiced Gianna from head to foot. She could barely get out her words. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
With a perplexed frown, Matt peeled off his shoes, padded in his grungy socks across the room, eyed the lunch spread, and shot a hi-five to his daughter.
Pup slept curled up in her corner. A perfect picture of creature comfort.
Gianna sat next to her husband, and they clasped hands as they said grace over the meal, their heads bowed. Then everyone dug in, filling their plates. Suddenly, the imaged of the torn and taped letter flooded Gianna’s mind. Choking back a sob, she ran out of the room.
The July sun finally released the day, and dark coolness settled over the bedroom as Gianna readied for bed.
Matt hadn’t said anything since she had told him to leave her in peace for a bit. She had cried for over an hour, and her eyes were still puffy at dinner time.
Matt had taken Janie to his parents’ house where they fed the assortment of dogs, cats, and hummingbirds awaiting their return from Mount Rushmore. He had simply offered a quick kiss on Gianna’s cheek and roared off with a squealing-happy Janie down the road.
Alone in the house, Gianna pulled out the old shoebox and tipped it upside down. She spread out the photographs, putting them into chronological order: her parents wedding photo, her brother’s fifth birthday party, Thanksgiving with Grandmother and Papa, her sister’s third birthday party, Christmas with Aunt Selina. Her baptism. Everyone had looked so happy, smiling so bright for the camera.
There were no photos of the fights, the drunken spells, the rampages. No copy of the divorce decree. Only the one letter. Torn into pieces. It had been taped so that the edges matched, and the words, though dim, were clear enough to read.
“I love you…”
Gianna plunked down on the edge of her bed, her gaze straying to the fireflies sparkling just outside the window.
Matt padded in and sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “You ready, yet?”
She nodded, tears filling her raw eyes again. “He loved her. He really did. And I never knew.”
“This has to do with that box you found at your mom’s, doesn’t it?”
She nodded. “All the old photos and a love letter—from dad to mom.”
Matt didn’t shrug or murmur. He just clasped his hands, his head bowed, listening.
“I never knew them as a happy couple. I only knew the fights and all the nasty stories they told about each other. When Dad died, mom seemed relieved. She never once said a kind word about him. When she died, I only grieved for what I’d never known.”
Matt cleared his throat, pausing, parsing his words carefully. “It bothers you that he once loved her? That they loved each other—long ago? Like maybe that’ll happen to us?”
Gianna glanced over and saw a wrinkle of concern on her husband’s forehead. “No. Not that. I understand that what tore them apart is on them. It’s not us.” She sniffed back her pain and straightened. “No, what got me was that despite everything, I still believed in marriage. I dared to hope.” She took her husband’s hand and caressed the ring on his finger. “By some miracle, we did what they couldn’t.”
Matt nodded and clasped her hand in his. “Or wouldn’t.” He stood and led her to the bed, pulling the soft sheet back and letting her slide under the coolness. He leaned over and wiped away the last vestige of a tear. “What’ll you do with the letter?”
She sighed as she leaned back on the pillow, expectantly awaiting her husband at her side. “I’ll put it away. After all, they had their chance.”
Matt climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around her.
Home is where the heart is. But when the world fell apart, an alien race invaded, and my husband and children were in different locations, my heart dug deep into the home stead. If I couldn’t get to them, I’d hold fast, so they had home to return to…
No Place I’d Rather Be
I clasped a hot cup of coffee in my hands, stepped onto the back porch as the rising sun peeked between the flowering trees, and breathed deep. As if wishing me a good morning, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and a couple of cardinals fluttered about in springtime joy. I had a whole weekend to myself, and I planned to enjoy every peaceful minute of it.
There was no place else I’d rather be.
That has remained true, despite everything. Maybe because of everything. Perhaps some part of me knew what was coming, and I needed to savor every drop of beauty, glory, and strength to live beyond my small, about-to-combust, world.
Dana had left for her new job in St. Louis the previous Sunday afternoon. It was a great opportunity for her. And she knew it. I knew it too. Somewhere deep inside.
“Mom, please don’t dribble your despondency all over my clean car.”
Her dad, Liam—aka my beloved—grinned like the besotted fool he was.
The kid got her sarcasm from me, so I could hardly complain. Though I did scrunch my eyes, stomp my feet, and pantomime a child having a conniption fit.
Dana laughed. A loud bark that set our hounds into howls.
Her car, stuffed with two kitchen chairs, bedding, the last of her clothing, enough comfort food to get her through the first week, and a miraculous medal and prayerbook she didn’t know about tucked into the glove compartment, announced her readiness to fly from the proverbial nest.
She came around the front fender and wrapped me in a big hug. Dana was never small. Even as a baby, she came into the world larger than life, thrashing and screaming, her black hair wild, making her look bigger and badder than she really was.
I hugged her back with every ounce of my fifty-year-old strength.
When her car turned at the end of the lane, I stopped waving and wiped tears from my eyes. Liam held my hand all the way up the front steps.
Juan, my broad shouldered, eighteen-year-old, sunshine child, brought into my life by two miracles—his birthmother’s big heart and my husband’s absolute trust—bounded down the back porch steps on Thursday afternoon with the abandon of a guy ready for an early weekend.
I reminded him of dinner. “I’ve got a roast chicken and an apple cobbler nearly ready.”
An apologetic shrug. “I’m heading out—gonna go camping with a few friends.”
“It’s April!” I thought that explained everything well enough.
Not according to Juan’s logic. “Hey, ma, I’ve worked hard. The guys and I want to get away for a bit, think things over before our next big move.”
I scratched my head. “By move, you mean summer work, right?”
Crossing my arms, I shot one over the bow. “You ask dad?”
“He said go have a good time.” Juan squinted in his playful way. “I think he’d like to get out his corporate meeting and come with us instead.”
If I was perfectly honest, I’d rather Liam head to the wilds of Alaska than the L. A. madness that was his corporate headquarters. But mine was not to reason why…
It was only after Juan had roared his car down the road that it dawned on me. He took no clothes, no bedding, no tent. Camping? My eye.
I sighed as I headed back to the house and faced the roasted chicken that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat.
By Friday morning, Liam was a mess. He hated traveling. He loathed meetings. He despised corporations. How he managed to rise so high in the tech field is one of the mysteries of life. I forgave him for the third time for picking my beautiful dinner to pieces, knocking the Easter Lilly off the shelf, and nearly shutting the car door on my hand in his haste to get to the airport on time.
“If they try to drag me to one of their get-togethers, I’ll tell them I have a fever and—”
“Say you’re sick, and you’ll have the entire place hyperventilating. Just say you have work to do. They’ll respect that.”
“They’ll laugh and try to set me up with drinks and dates.”
I glared out of the corner of my eye.
He kept his eyes on the road.
“You ever consider starting your own multi-million-dollar business and work from home?”
Such a bark, I could almost hear the dogs howl though they were miles away back on the homestead. “I know where Dana gets it.”
“That laugh. It sounds like a bark.”
For the first time in three days, Liam smiled. “It’s not a bark. It’s a hoot.”
“You’re a hoot.” I smiled back, kissed him at the visitor parking lot, and kept it plastered on all the way along highway seventy till I reached home.
Saturday morning, I rose early, poured myself a cup of hot coffee, traipsed onto my bedroom porch and breathed deep without an inkling that the world as I knew it was about to end.
Even the Birds Stopped Singing
After dressing in jean shorts and a tunic top, I enjoyed coffee and a robust breakfast of eggs and toast. Fortified, I ran downstairs and tossed in a load of laundry. Then I scurried back upstairs and wondered why I was in such a hurry. With a reminder to take it easy, I grabbed another cup of coffee and meandered to the roll-top desk in my studio. Like a lady of leisure, I scrolled through my emails and social media.
When the internet flickered off and on around ten o’clock, I didn’t think anything of it. We live in farm country, so wild critters sometimes make a bad life decision and interfere with the lines, or storms miles away can interrupt service. I glanced outside. No storm. A perfect sunny May first. I shivered for the critter that may have suffered an untimely death.
When my phone chimed from the kitchen counter an hour later, I had just kneaded the last bit of dough for my weekly bread making and lined up the greased bread pans. My fingers, covered in sticky goo, weren’t suited for a technological device at the moment. So, I used my elbow and managed to make the connection.
My sister, Sarah huffed her words. Must’ve been running, I figured.
“Hey, Kiddo, did your power go off this morning?”
I slapped on the tap water and rinsed my fingers, talking over my shoulder. “Just for a sec.” I scowled at the trickle dribbling over my hands. The water pressure was down. Deep inward sigh. Water pressure meant a lot to me. How was I going to take my bed-time shower?
“But it’s back on, right?”
The proverbial light bulb clicked on. Power outage and loss of water pressure. Oh, yeah. Made sense. I peered at the ceiling. The light wasn’t on. I glanced to the counter. Nor was the coffee maker. But, silly me, they shouldn’t be. It was bright and sunny and I’d cleaned the coffee maker after my second cup. I glanced at the stove. The clock showed the time, but only dimly.
“Hmm…it came back on but—” I ran and flipped the light switch with my wet hand.
My sister broke through. “Hey, I’ve got another call. It’s Bill. Poor guy had to work over the weekend. Better go.”
I listened to the click as she hung up, but my eyes stayed fixed to the ceiling. Brown light. Not the bright glare I was used to.
A sound in the distance caught my ear. Horns? Who on earth would be blowing their horn out here? We lived on a dead-end lane and there wasn’t any traffic even during planting season.
“Oh, God!” It was an accident. I was sure of it.
But just as suddenly, it stopped. All noise stopped. Even the birds stopped singing. Complete silence.
If you’ve ever been suddenly thrust into the pitch black, you know how disorientating that can be. Well, the same was true when all sound stopped. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. The moment after a collective gasp.
As I maneuver between the goalposts of my day, I brush up against all sorts of realities. Some deceivingly mundane, some clearly molehills, others require deep prayer to survive their clutching, smothering embrace.
As a sat in the library on a Saturday morning, where I had offered a writers’ support group, but no one showed up, because, as I well knew, there are few people looking for writing support—life support, perhaps, but that is another topic altogether—I alternately worked on a writing project and considered the shelves of untouched books. My mind floated back to a barrio library in the Philippines where the door remained locked most of the time because, quite frankly, the library was not intended to be used. It was simply a designated requirement. The supervisor didn’t want kids in there messing about. That’s not what it was meant for.
Allowing my mind to roam off the page, it floated to other scenes—places of fulfilled requirements: schools packed with kids who experienced little connection between the exam page and the events testing their daily lives, jobs staffed with workers who put in their time like prisoners carrying out a life sentence, and “homes” packed with elderly—retired from work, family gone, all together isolated.
Recently I chatted with someone who likes to hike. A lot. When I asked if part of his motivation was spiritual, he seemed surprised. The answer was, yes. Super-physical and super-spiritual. Supernatural without the eerie music. A purposeful engagement with something beyond fulfilling a requirement. So far as I know, no one is required to take a hike. Suggested maybe…
Violent crimes—organized and unorganized—hunger, domestic abuse, and other horrors plague our world. So often, the malaise of meaninglessness haunts humanity. Why is that?
A storm just rumbled in, thick raindrops splatter everything and gutters shoot like geysers. The internet is out. Our power flickers off—on—and off again. Sheets of rain saturate our already sodden fields. Pumpkin vines sway with shredded leaves. Flower pots overflow, draining good soil away.
The image reminds me that I’ve recently attracted an internet antagonist who feels the need to point out his view of my literary and logical shortcomings. At first, I ignored him. Not out of malice, but simply because I didn’t have much to say in return. No one is required to read my posts. No one has to think as I think or believe as I believe. I simply share my point of view—life from my small and relatively quiet world. Yet an antagonist found me and shot his bolts of angry lightning my way.
What’s a meaningful response to a cyberbully? I could hurl back verbal bolts, but what’s the point?
I’ve been watching PBS’ World on Fire, an excellent WWII drama relating the hellish realities too many human beings endured ninety years ago. In my world, if the internet goes down for a couple of hours, it seems like a big deal. A molehill grown to gargantuan proportions. For them, cruelty and death chased sanity into close quarters and then hunted down families for generations. Devilry itself hidden behind national doors.
So once again, I consider what really matters. I knew when I arranged the writers’ support Saturdays that few people would show up. But I did it anyway. Why? Because I believe that libraries, writers, and support matter even when no one shows up. For the day when someone does step over the threshold hoping to exchange a word or two. I appreciate my hiker-friend since he has taken the road less traveled but found health and peace of mind in clear air and a rugged path.
Kids should have an opportunity to go to school—but daily purpose should be relatable to lives, not built on designated requirements that allow planners to check off boxes. Can a child find meaning in his or her lessons? Even simpler, will he or she grow up, be able to put food on the table, and care to eat it?
And how to manage in a world where bullies, baddies, and rivers of wrong flood the highways of our lives? Where old age leaves us alone without words or coherent thought.
The rain has stopped, and one of the cats just curled up in a flower pot between the fern and the pumpkin plant. A cool breeze has taken the edge off the heat of the day, and night is falling. Birds twitter their goodnight songs, and fireflies are flashing their lights for an evening of delight.
Each day unfolds its mysteries and conundrums. Sometimes I stroll, other times, I run. Never answering everything or certain sure of all.
But I make it to the end, glad I was a part of it. I’ll crack open my library book now, relax a bit, and be present to the Presence of life itself. For the meaning I searched for—was inside of me all along.
Kiara loved the sound of the wind rushing through the woodland. Earthy and rustic, it spoke of invisible worlds and steadfast powers beyond human control. Blades of spring grass poked up from last winter’s mulch, and buds swelled in the promise of better things to come. She sighed. If only…
The sun had crested over an hour ago, and she must return to her apartment, then off to her shrill, insistent work place, always maintaining a calm, professional demeanor.
A redbird alighted on a fence post, chirping an attractive, lilting tune. Why can’t I be a bird?
Her sister’s voice. Myra always knew where to look.
Kiara stepped from the shadows into the field. “Yes?”
“There you are!” Myra jogged forward. “Let’s go to the lake. Mother left a cold supper in the kitchen, and the boys won’t be back for another couple of hours.”
A thrill ignited Kiara’s imagination. “You think we could?” Doubt quickly cooled the spark to mere ash. “But I should prepare for—”
“Another workday?” Myra gripped her sister’s arm and tugged. “You’re always working, and when you die, your spirit will float about this beautiful planet, wondering why you ever lived.”
Aching pressure surged against an inner wall, splashing over the ramparts. Tears filled Kiara’s eyes.
The two women stood on the rocky shore, surrounded by cliffs held together by a phalanx of trees, ripples scurrying across the blue-green water.
A tall, lean man strolled toward them, waves splashing his toes.
Shock filled Kiara as she stared wide-eyed. “What’s Jagan doing here?”
Myra kept her eyes glued to the horizon. “Does he have to have a reason?”
Images of the muddy water, floating debris, homes half-submerged in the flooded plain filled her mind. So many had lost loved ones in the disaster. The funerals never seemed to end. Then they did, and everyone returned to work and normal lives.
Normal? What does that mean? “I thought he moved up north, away from—”
Myra shot her a glance. “He did. But now he’s back.”
“He doesn’t have family here. Not anymore.”
Scuffing a bare toe against a smooth rock, Myra rubbed a fish-shaped pendant hanging around her neck. “Doesn’t he?”
With a snort, Kiara tossed her head.
Jagan stopped and nodded. His eyes reflected grief mingled with endurance. “I was down the shore and saw you; hope I’m not interrupting.”
Myra hugged her sister’s arm. “Of course not. Mother has made enough supper for a spring festival; come and join us. The boys would love to see you. They’ve been working on a kite.”
His gaze glancing off Kiara, Jagan waited.
Words tumbled from Kiara’s lips before she knew what she was about. “Certainly. Come and be welcome. I have to return to work so someone should enjoy—” What? Life? She blushed in confusion.
Ignoring the unfinished thought, Jagan fell in step between the two women as they headed back to a small blue Honda. “You’re still at the same place?”
Kiara nodded. “Same work. Same family. Same everything.”
Myra’s tiny head shake obliterated the lie. The tiny woman pulled out her keys and slid into the driver’s seat. “You two sit in back and don’t tell me how to drive.”
After supper, Jagan met Kiara in the kitchen as she wiped the wooden table free of spots and crumbs. He tugged a towel off the rack and started drying the dishes. “Keeping busy helps, doesn’t it?”
Her throat tightening, Kiara kept her gaze glued to the polished surface.
“I moved away. Thought I’d find peace if I didn’t have to run into a memory every time I turned around.”
The distant sound of rumbling thunder echoed off the hills. “But now you’ve returned. For good?”
He smiled and lifted the clean stack of plates onto the middle shelf. “For good? That’s funny. I hardly know.”
With a shrug, Kiara dismissed his honesty. “I like to keep busy. Productive.” She squeezed the sponge and laid it neatly on the soap dish. “Not a problem.”
Jagan leaned against the sink and nodded. “That’s good. I hated it when I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Just a vague unease, like something was supposed to be inside of me that wasn’t.”
The wind picked up, and branches swished against each other, groaning in stormy delight.
A shiver ran down Kiara’s arms. “I should’ve headed back to my apartment this afternoon, but I got caught up in the spring sunshine. And Myra and mom wanted…you know.” She sighed. “I’ll have to get up extra early tomorrow to make the drive if I want to get to work on time and do stuff.”
With a playful twinkle, Jagan twitched the towel at Kiara. “Love doing stuff, do ya?”
Laughter bubbled inside Kiara. “You betcha! The more stuff the better! I’m one of the best stuffers—” Suddenly, as if she had been stripped of every article of clothing like in a horrible nightmare, left without a single defense, choking tears killed all joy.
Jagan didn’t ask. He simply took her in his arms and held her. Softly, without possession, advice, or comment.
Her tears stained his brown shirt, but she couldn’t stop them. She hung on and let the tears do their work. After a deep calming breath, she pulled away. “I still have to go tomorrow.”
He nodded. “And you’ll manage another productive day.”
“I will.” She looked up and met his eyes. “And you?”
“I’m home now. Grief can find me whether I work or play.”
Rain pounded the roof and beaded the window. A breeze sashayed into the kitchen.
“I wish I were a bird…”
Jagan took her hand, led her to the doorway, and flung open the door. Messy drops drizzled and splattered.
He pointed to the treetops where a nest swayed in the wind.
Queasiness unsettled Kiara’s balance. “How do they stand it?”
He gripped her hand tighter. “It’s home.”
“The place where you face life’s storms.”
As the drops slowed, Kiara relaxed, peace enveloping her. Home isn’t a place. It’s a presence. For the first time in forever, her soul flew.
Edna watched the fly buzz around her kitchen with all the intensity of a warrior spying out the movements of the enemy. Finally, the devil’s minion dared to land on her clean counter. Ah ha! With a victorious slap, she smashed it. Barbarian exultation surged through her.
Her phone chime, a song her father had loved, drew her attention to the living room. She scampered to her work desk and swiped up the phone, one hand still brandishing the swatter in case of any enemy retribution.
He sister’s name flashed on the screen. A groan erupted from Edna’s middle. She pressed the phone to her ear, her gut twisting. If she had to hear one more rendition of how Tabitha’s recent fling, Marvin, used her and dumped her and how men were all cheats and liars, she’d— “Yeah, honey, what’s going on?”
“Hey. Just wanted to let you know that Dave was in an accident over the weekend. Drunk driving.”
Edna’s heart stopped beating. She was sure of it. “The kids?”
“They’re fine. He was out with his buddies, and the kids were with a sitter. Actually, he picked a good one this time. Real responsible girl. She called me right away and then found Dave’s mom’s number and sent her all the info from the police. I went over, got the kids and figured I’d let Dave die on the emergency room table. He deserved it, right?”
Edna wasn’t sure if she had pulled the chair out, but she was grateful when her behind hit the firm seat, and she didn’t land on the floor. “Is he…did he—”
A strange tone entered Tabitha’s voice, one Edna had never heard before. “No, he’s just got a few scratches. But it scared the hell out of him. And it’s going on his record. His boss called and told him that he’s fired. The firm can’t allow this kinda stuff.”
Edna swallowed and took a deep breath. “So what now?”
“Ya know. I hate the guy. He was always a jerk. Well, after a couple good years…he revealed that he was a jerk.”
Edna rubbed her temple. Here it comes… She waited.
“But funny thing, he started crying. Real tears. His mom came and got him, and I went by this morning to check in.”
Edna felt waves of turbulent water splashing about her ears. “What about letting him die on the table?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. That’s what I thought. At first. How I felt. But then, you know, turns out that Marvin has cancer…something with his pancreas. He didn’t tell me because he was afraid I’d dump him.”
A pad of paper sat squarely in her desk corner. Edna grabbed it and flicked a pen point down. If one was facing crazy, might as well doodle. She murmured, “And so…”
“So, it hit me, that perhaps, I might hate the men in my life for the wrong reason.”
The doodle became a black storm cloud. “I’m not sure I’m following.”
“Well, Dave drank like an idiot when he was with friends, but that’s not why we got a divorce. I divorced him because he was so selfish. He never thought about me…not really. He just lived his life with me in it. And then, you know, Marvin was the same. So I figured, all guys are blithering fools.”
A painful cramp seized Edna’s hand. She switched the phone to the right and continued the parade of raindrops from the storm cloud with her left. Wobbly raindrops…but she didn’t care. She exhaled. “And so?”
“So, as I watched Dave meltdown in his mom’s house and how his mom just shook her head and put her arm around him, I thought…I’d do that if it was one of my boys. I’d love him even though he acted like a complete jerk. And I thought of Marvin getting those test results and never telling me…because…you know…he figured I wouldn’t really care about him. I’d just be mad because he was sick.”
Silence stretched over the miles between Colorado and Illinois.
Edna didn’t dare breath. Her hand froze. The raindrops had become a river at the bottom of the page.
“So, it dawned on me. Maybe, I hate ‘em because they remind me of me.”
A splash brought the river to life and blue ink flowed. Edna wiped her eyes. She swallowed the ache in her throat. “It’s hard to love like you want to be loved.”
“Yeah. That’s what I think. Kinda what dad told us before he died. Remember how he wanted that song? It irked me because I thought it was so stupid. But the words spoke to me today. Ya, know…letting go of the bad and keeping the good.”
Edna sniffed, laid the pen aside, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I remember.”
“Sorta like what you’ve been doing with me all along, eh?”
The river became a torrent. Edna wrapped her arm around her face and stifled a sob. After a monumental struggle, she lifted her head and found her voice. “I’ve tried. Though I haven’t always succeeded. “
“But, at least, you tried.”
After the last bit of conversation and a final, ‘talk later,’ Edna laid the phone on the table and stood. She stared at the pad of dribbled blue ink. It didn’t look like the original anymore. She ought to crumple it and toss it away.
A fly landed on the paper. Pure instinct incarnate, Edna grabbed the swatter and lifted her hand. This devil deserved to die.
But the picture didn’t.
She waved her hand and the miniature demon flew off to annoy her another day.
She laid the swatter aside, picked up the picture and taped it to the refrigerator. It wouldn’t last forever. But it would outlast the flies.
So last evening, I sat on the back porch and watched fireflies twinkle, appearing at different spots in our beautiful garden, like Tolkien-esk-fairies. When I tipped my head back, I could see faint stars turning ever brighter as the blue sky darkened to dusky-purple.
The kids still living at home slumbered in their beds. The dogs and cats stretched out on the porch. The garden rested without chiding me for neglect. Peace and contentment pervaded my little universe, and my heartbeat slowed to the rhythm of a lovely universe.
Then a mosquito bit me. A moth fluttered close and attempted to smack me in the face.
I decided I had tempted fate long enough, and I rose to my feet. I was just about to go inside when the phone rang. It was my daughter who had moved into her own place last week. With a lurch, my heart gripped the phone harder than my hand. It was so good to hear her voice. To chat. To know she was okay. Yeah, I had figured she was fine…but now I knew. Happiness. Even better than contentment.
Later, as I crawled into bed, a soft cool breeze rippled the curtains, sending a chill down my spine. I realized, for the umpteenth time, that I’m in a new period of adjustment. I can name four families without blinking that are going through the same adjustment—transitioning on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis from caring for aged parents to children flying from the nest.
Was there ever a time when life was simple? When the fireflies ruled and the stars stayed still? If there was, it didn’t last long.
One of the things I always loved about Tolkien’s stories was the way he managed to include some kind of retreat. A time-out. Or maybe, a time-in. It was a period where the characters would get off the road, luxuriate in a hot bath, shift into clean clothes, eat honey and homemade bread, and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.
I’ve been pregnant eleven times, lost a husband to cancer, and raised eight kids over twenty-three years. I could try and list the number of things in the house that I have fixed, but it would be a fake number since I usually have to fix the same blessed thing multiple times. I’ve supervised innumerable gardens, raised chickens, stacked woodpiles, managed accounts, planned and executed educational programs, and done whatever job/task/mission seemed necessary to ensure the health and wellbeing of my family…and my sanity.
Days run together like a stream joining the ocean. Yet, over time, the stream of life changes course. Challenges are met and new missions accepted. Chickenpox, the death of a beloved pet, toppled trees, a shoulder injury, a new electric appliance, a scholarship, college, a new job…
Being a child and loving our parents—difficult as that some times can be—seems easy when you become a parent yourself and look back—I had it easy then. Raising a baby seems heroic until you get to the teen years and wonder how the human race ever survived. Each new challenge seems to play a game of one-up-man-ship with the stage before.
So, that’s why God created fireflies. And starry skies. The real reason behind hot showers and cool breezes. I’ll never actually get to Tom Bombadil’s house, but I can sit on the back porch, nibble a chocolate-zucchini-nut muffin, watch the fireflies twinkle and the stars turn.
Kathy loved hot tubs. But she couldn’t admit that to a living soul. She also loved chocolate chip mint ice cream, but she rarely indulged. And as for mystery novels…well, if there was a bit of romance thrown in, so much the better. But God forbid anyone ever caught her reading a trashy novel. No, she kept those squashed under a tower of historical biographies detailing the late-greats of the nineteenth century. So far…no one ever caught on.
It was a perfect spring day. The cherry and peach trees were in full bloom and if the sky glowed any bluer, she’d break into song…and that would never do. Lord have mercy. Kathy’s heart swooned, but her body stayed as ridged as a cliff facing turbulent ocean waves.
Elliot had no idea what he was doing to her insides. But then Elliot had better things to do than worry about his frazzled Catechism assistant. As a director of social services for the county, he had people with real problems to deal with. Unwed mothers, abused kids, out of work fathers, drug-addicted teens. The list was endless. People’s problems were endless. Yet Elliot always managed to smile at his hyperactive class of Catholic kids and act like he was having great fun just being with them.
Kathy’s heart melted at the mere memory of Elliot’s face. She pulled open the door to the Sacred Heart Community Center and stepped into the quiet interior. No one else had arrived yet. Good. That gave her time to arrange the material for today’s class and set the player on the right episode for tonight’s theme—Who Do You Say That I Am?
As she brushed by the front desk, she noticed a half-empty water bottle. Elliot’s? Probably. No one else used this classroom during the week. She picked it up and stared at it as if its previous owner would magically appear to take back his property. She jumped at the sound of a woman’s voice.
“Staring at it won’t bring it to life, honey.”
Kathy turned around and faced the matronly figure of the Pro-Life Director.
In her early fifties, with salt and pepper hair that she kept tied in a neat bun on the top of her head, Chika might look like a schoolmarm of old, except that she wore jeans, hiking boots, and an oversized plaid shirt, which would have fit a lumberjack.
A blush spread over Kathy’s cheeks.
Chika moved into the room like a ship’s captain taking the helm. “I’ll be delivering the main address today. Elliot asked me to come in and highlight some behavior issues he’s concerned about.”
Kathy bit her lip. “I thought we were doing Who Do You Say That I Am?”
“Well, we are…sort of. Just add in the consequences of unregulated lust and rampant promiscuity, and we’ll have tonight’s theme.”
Kathy thought her face might have caught on fire. “Oh?”
Chika grinned. “It’s a talk the kids need to hear…but, not you. In fact—” She wandered to the front of the room, pulled a key out of a deep pocket, and unlocked the cabinet. “I think you could do with a little more romance in your life…not less.”
Embarrassment combated with fury as Kathy stood before the chalkboard. Undiluted anger won. “Oh, really?” An edge sharpened her voice as it rose to a squeak.
Chika shook her head. “Come on. Be honest with yourself. You like Elliot. And I think he likes you…but you give that poor man not an ounce of encouragement. It’s time to step off the sidelines and make your move.”
“That’s hardly my place! I’m a modest woman and I—”
“What’s modesty got to do with it? Look in the Bible, honey, and get with the times. God made man and woman for a reason!”
“I’m perfectly well aware of that fact, but I’m hardly about to throw myself—”
Chika grinned. “No one suggesting anything radical. Would be amusing to see you get a little radical, I’ll admit. But—” She leaned in closer. “Since you’re the two shyest people on the planet when it comes to romance…I’ll just ask God to do His thing and give you two a little nudge.” She nodded to a foot high statue of Jesus with His sacred heart glowing in his chest. She grinned. “Author of romance, don’t you know?”
Completely flummoxed by this unorthodox reasoning, Kathy snorted a tiny puff of dragon’s breath and retreated across the room.
The sound of pounding feet turned both women to the doorway.
His eyes wide with anxiety, Elliot rushed into the room. “Call 911 and get Jason’s mom. He’s having an asthma attack. I can’t calm him down.”
With flashbacks of her own childhood asthma trauma flooding her brain, Kathy rushed to the hallway and found Jason slumped against the wall. His face flushing bright red and his hands fluttering in a panic as he dragged a ragged breath from his chest.
Kathy dropped to her knees and braced his body upright. She stared into the boy’s face. “Look at me, Jason, and squeeze my arms. Breathe. Slow in…slow out…look at me…everything is going to be okay. I’m here. You’ll be fine. Relax. Let your breath come…one in…two out…”
His shoulders relaxing as he clasped Kathy’s arms, Jason closed his eyes and exhaled.
A bustling movement forced Kathy aside. She got out of Jason’s mother’s way. The harried woman handed an inhaler to the boy who gripped it in both hands and soon had it pressed to his mouth, his mother continuing to count out slow breaths.
Kathy stepped aside and stood alone as the blare of an ambulance sounded in the parking lot. Her heart pounded, but she sucked in a deep breath and then exhaled releasing the tension. A firm hand pressed her shoulder.
Elliott leaned in and whispered in her ear. “You’re amazing. Thank you.”
With only a slight turn of her head, Kathy met Elliot’s gaze. A blush warmed her cheeks. The smell of chocolate-chip mint ice cream filled her imagination. As she swallowed hard, a figure across the room caught her attention.
Chika raised her eyebrows, a knowing smile on her lips. She pointed to the figure of Christ. A rose lay at His feet. Kathy blinked…and then squinted. It was one of the plastic roses used to decorate the room. Well, okay, it was a romantic gesture…giving God a rose.
Elliot’s hand still rested on Kathy’s shoulder. It felt warm and comfortable there.
A shocking thought raced through Kathy’s mind, sending a shiver down her back. Does God have a romantic soul?
Perhaps He likes chocolate-chip mint ice cream too.
“It’s the little things that tie us down—you know—like the Lilliputians.”
Adam snorted, his eyes stayed glued to his phone. “Life’s what you make of it, Grandma.” His attention wavered. She said something he couldn’t catch.
He scrolled. “Yeah, sure, whatever.” There were three new messages, and he was itching to check his Facebook and Twitter pages. His stomach rumbled. He checked the time. Sigh. He knew his duty. “Hey, have you eaten yet, Grandma?”
Her puzzled frown annoyed him. It was a simple question; it shouldn’t cause brain strain.
“I—I don’t think so…. But don’t worry. I’m not hungry. You go ahead and check your box now and then we can chat.”
On autopilot, Adam scooted the kitchen chair out and sat with his arms propped on the table. There were a lot of posts to scroll through…and through.
A sudden bang snapped his head up. Grandma’s stricken expression propelled him to his feet. She stood in the middle of the room staring at the fallen teakettle as if it had flown through the window. A pool of steaming water slowly spread across the floor.
“You okay? Did you burn yourself?” The stovetop was glowing red and the kettle spout smoked like a chimney. Adam gritted his teeth as a wrenching pain punched his gut. He led Grandma to the table.
“Here, sit down. I’ll clean up. What were you doing anyway?” He grabbed a towel and tossed it over the wet floor. The twin pools of confusion and disappointment in Grandma’s eyes sent another twist to Adam’s gut.
“I just wanted to make us a cup of tea—for our chat.” She plopped down heavily on a chair. Her right hand stayed fixed with the palm up.
Snatching a potholder, Adam conveyed the kettle back to the stovetop and turned it off. He plucked ice from the freezer, wrapped it in a paper towel, and handed it to Grandma. “Here, put this on your hand.”
“Cause you burned it, see? It’s red there. Might blister. Dang it, Grandma, you know you’re not supposed to touch the stove! Just let me do it next time, okay?”
Grandma blinked back tears and straightened her shoulders. “I’m not a child—or a loony—you know. I can still make a cup of tea!”
“Sure, sure. I know. I shouldn’t yell. Just Mom will get so mad that you got hurt under my—”
Adam’s phone chimed. He snatched it up and stared. “Oh, brother! Some idiot just plastered a bunch of political slogans on my page.” He barely glanced at Grandma. “Just a minute, I gotta—”
Grandma shook her head as she rose and returned to her tea making.
An hour later, Adam looked up. Grandma’s place was empty. A cold cup of tea with a slice of lemon balanced on the saucer and a little cookie sat before him. He stood and looked around. Her washed teacup lay neatly drying on the drain board. Long evening shadows slanted across the tidy kitchen.
Adam tiptoed down the hall. “Grandma?” He peeked into her room. There she lay, sleeping peacefully on her bed, her hands folded over her trim waist. She’s really a beauty—funny I never noticed before.
Two months later, Adam sat beside Mom on the front pew at church. Grandma was laid out in her finest, and her hands once again rested in quiet repose over her neat, trim waist.
Mom’s shoulders shook as she covered her face with her hands. Dad wrapped his arm around her and leaned in. “You were always there for her, honey. Now, it’s time to let go.”
Adam stared straight ahead. All he could see through his parched, unfocused eyes was a cold cup of tea with a slice of lemon on the side. His phone vibrated in his pocket. But he only felt the sharp snap of strings breaking.