"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

24 December 2011

Happy Birthday

Ninety years ago on Christmas Day my mother was born, to become the middle of three children. Six years later their mother died, and shortly after, their father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent years in a TB sanitarium, not expected to recover. Mother and her two brothers were raised by her father’s mother (who had already raised twelve children of her own), with the help of some of their aunts. Each sibling, separately, also spent some time in the sanitarium, for treatment to prevent their also contracting the dreaded disease. They slogged their way through the depression selling eggs and taking in washing and feeding hobos who were willing to work for a meal. Their father was returned to them, well at last, but not until Mother was in high school. Her older brother, a pilot, died in World War II; her younger disappeared after the war until after her own children were gone from home.

Because to recognize a Christmas birthday was too much for a grandmother trying to carry three more children through the depression, Mother’s first birthday party was given her by us when I was in high school, a surprise I’m still proud of pulling off. And on this day when we celebrate the Saviour sent for us, I celebrate too the woman who led me to Him through her daily example of His sacrificial love. Her early life was anything but easy – yet it molded her into a woman who learned gratefulness, who learned to love her Lord and serve her neighbors all her life.

Mother and Daddy had their trials and tribulations too, of course, over 67 years, but she had chosen to live in joy from a young age and so they worked together to make a home that was a miracle of love. She loved Daddy first and best, always, and she gave to us, her two children, of all she was. She taught us to love books by reading to us, keeping full shelves in the study and in our rooms, taking us to the library weekly. She taught us to work as part of a family with our various chores, and she made sure we were part of family life in the kitchen, the sewing room, the garden, the grocery store. The church was our second home, where we joined choir and youth group and went to the dinners and activities and contributed in various ways to the missions and charities. She participated in the church circles and made items for the yearly bazaar and volunteered in the local food bank. She welcomed foreign students, from the university where Daddy worked, for the holidays; she put together food and gift baskets for the local poor; she created a “Santa’s Cookie Tree” on which we hung the gingerbread cookies we’d baked and decorated for the community to enjoy. She took me to the Plaza in Kansas City to window shop and look at fashions, then we picked out patterns and material to make my clothes, as nice or nicer than any we’d seen in the fancy stores. She cried over us, rejoiced over us, daily prayed over us.

Her brothers both are gone, her brothers- and sister-in-law too, and now Daddy. But, despite sorrow and loneliness (what could ever fill the emptiness after 67 years of marriage), she still chooses every day to live in joy. She remains active in her church, she still read voraciously, she cries and rejoices and daily prays over us her children and over her grand- and great-grandchildren. She chooses joy and so her love lifts me up every day of my life, as it has ever done.

(The rose is one from the bush Mother sent us one year.)

21 December 2011

Sabbatical is Here

I am now officially on sabbatical. The last things I did before leaving the office last Friday were to set my college phone and email messages to refer callers and correspondents to someone else. The phone I won't check (no one calls anymore anyway with email so convenient); the email I'll take note of just in case there is department or college business I actually need to attend to or want a voice in, or a personal message I want to respond to.

So far:

I have cleaned up, polished, and refurnished my desk. I can now get to the top of it for more than just charging the computer and phone. Pens and legal pads are within easy reach, and a bit of chocolate, of course, and a new box of printer paper for the new printer.

I have placed the books I brought from work neatly on top of the small bookcase that also holds the creative nonfiction books, collections of familiar essays, and drafts of my Inscapes and Essaying posts.

I have printed out the last few of those posts and placed them in their chronological order. I'll be going through them all to sort them into categories soon, but not just yet.

I have made a calendar of January-March creative nonfiction contest submission dates and placed it on my computer desktop and on a hard-copy calendar. I may not enter any of these particular ones, but they still provide incentive; if not, then perhaps some a bit later in the spring.

I have had 3:00 a.m. connections made between ideas and drafts I've not before connected, and remembered them in the morning.

I have, finally, read and enjoyed almost all of Cleanth Brooks' essays in his collection Community, Religion, and Literature -- a book I've tried to concentrate on for months now. I have only a couple left for today or tomorrow. (I highly recommend this book to my lit-teacher friends, by the way.)

I have gone to Chattanooga with K when the Young Man returned his rental car to bring him back home for a two-week leave. I've even made dinner one night. (Okay, it was a chef salad, but I still made it and we all sat down together to eat it!)

I have slept till I wanted to get up and taken naps if I felt like it -- and I am beginning to feel less exhausted and more refreshed than in a long time. It helps to know that I needn't be working on syllabi and schedules for January.

Now for the writing.

12 December 2011

Sepia Moon

This morning’s moon shone confidently above and over the clouds filling most of the deep sky; not even the ragged bits of ebony left from the night’s attempt at rain could cross her surface. Clear she shone for the full ten minutes of my drive, creating her own sepia frame that rebuffed all darkness. Surely beauty will save the world, for who that has eyes to see can see less than its Creator, do less than fall to the ground before its burning Truth . . .