Buddha’s last words were “Make of Yourself a Light.”
Make of yourself a light. There are places here in America that are becoming darker. It is not the beautiful dark of nighttime when the stars shine, or the moon rises, or the clouds move in and still the night. No, it is the darkness of deception, of lies, of oppression, of hatred.
So yes, make of yourself a light. Be that underground railroad. Be that voice speaking up and out against injustice, against deception, against harm. Make of yourself a light, even if it’s only to get to the next solid stone on the rocky path, even if it means reaching out a hand to steady another while your own boot sinks in the cold creek, even it means you must go alone to find a way.
Make of yourself a light. Find what is good and true and sing it with harmony and grace. Join your voice with others who may have the words but need the tune. Tell the stories that must be told. Make of yourself a light, and when that means you have to claw your way out of the deep hole again, then find a way to patch the cuts and bruises, feed your soul what will nourish it, and don’t bother about the blood stains you may leave behind.
I recently read an article about using eight ways to describe a character to make them come to life. According to Jordan at Nownovel.com, those eight ways include:
“1. Start with character profiles and pin boards
2. Focus on details that reveal personality
3. Practice describing people in brief
4. Prioritize unique character features
5. Describe character actions and gestures
6. Find descriptive adjectives and fitting comparisons
7. Describe personality via dialogue and voice
8. Read writers renowned for good characterization” (www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-describe-a-person-examples)
So I played.
Claire is 18 years old with curly brown hair about shoulder length which she keeps in a ponytail most of the time, not only because the way it swings makes her smile inside but having it out of her face allows her to be much more aware of what’s around her. She has blue eyes, bright like a summer sky and her voice is quiet, but also quite pleasant when she sings. Her mother died when she was six and her father checked out on her, getting lost in his own loss. She dealt with a mean stepmother, found an older neighbor couple who took over that parent role in her life, and took off for Ireland when she was 18.
Although she did look back as she stood in line to board the plane for Ireland, she also had her head up and shoulders back when she scanned her ticket to walk on and find her seat. She wasn’t running away as much as running toward, but the insipid memory of Angelica had had its effect on her pace. Angelica was not the typical volcano stepmother, but more the slimy slithering snake carrying deadly venom with only the slight rustle of the long row of rattles at the end of her tail. And Claire was looking for room to breathe without pain.
The woods became Claire’s friend, and she often takes long walks and hums various songs that pop into her head without realizing she is making sound.
“I’ll hold the popcorn.” I was sitting in the middle, so it just made sense. Susan and Cathy had their own sodas, and I could reach both, although Susan’s was diet.
When the curtain opened, we quietly debated whether we’d want to see the movies being previewed. Then the lights dimmed.
It wasn’t billed as a scary movie, but my body didn’t know that. Every time a door opened into a dark space, and the character stepped toward the unknown, eerie music crescendo-ing, my feet came up to my seat, knees to my chest.
I wanted badly to look away or close my eyes, but instead they opened wider, glued to the screen and tied to whatever fate awaited the doomed character. None of us were eating the popcorn anymore, too scared to make a move.
When I screamed, my arms flew up to shield me from the evil that had appeared behind our poor ignorant character, “Behind you,” I yelled at the screen.
It was too late, both for the character and for the man behind me, now covered in popcorn.
Soft is a warm bed and thick comforter after a long day, the muzzle on a horse just below and between his nostrils, a place to fall that is protected and maybe sacred, a loose pile of hay, the pre-dawn sky, finely sanded wood, footprints on a damp trail, the whisper of a newborn baby’s breath as they quiet in loving arms.
Hard is the ground you hit when you get bucked off your horse, the silence of two people sharing a space but not the path, the wind-driven bits of hay that stick in your eyes, the steep rock-filled trail leading up to the mountain’s saddle, the long cry of hunger or wail of longing that cannot be silenced by any amount of walking or rocking, the edge of a darkness filled with fear unknown, the line that will not be crossed.
One night, the unspeakable happened. I was visiting my son, Alex, at Hastings College in Nebraska. My brother Mike and his wife Barb and my sister Jana drove out from Omaha to meet us for supper. It was a lovely spring evening in March of 2013, the week before Easter. In the middle of supper, I received a phone call from a detective in California and life has not been the same since. My sister, Cathy, was murdered in her home. There was no breaking the news to me easy; the detective was blunt and uncaring as he relayed some of the brutal details to me over the phone.
“Come on, let’s go in the forest,” my sister Cathy said. We liked to play in “the forest.” The stand of pines stood at the end of the creek that ran along our row of houses. We kids ran wild along the creek all year long and when we felt brave, or were double-dared, we’d range into that forest. Cathy and I were a team.
Standing here now, the little grave next to our mom’s had already been prepared with the vault entombed. It was open, waiting for Cathy’s cremains and some of her precious crystals and stones, the Bible with highlighted verses and pages smudged by her fingers, and her old dog Rebel’s paw print imprinted in a little circle of clay.
We were as close as two sisters could be, helping each other through every difficult thing life had thrown at us. Our mother died when Cathy was fifteen months old and I was two and a half. My father became a single parent to seven children, in order from oldest to youngest: GeorgeAnne (born in 1956), Jana, Julie, Susan, Mike, Sally, and Cathy, who was born in 1964.
Cathy taught my little daughter, Lynne, what airplanes were as they flew high overhead in the bright blue sky, only the word always came out, “Hair Pins.” She teased Lynne about that long into adulthood.
My son, Alex, was her “kindred nephew” spirit. She’d influenced the person he’d become because they’d spent so much time together and he knew all the things she’d taught him about crystals, and essential oils, and aligning their Chi. I never had understood this part of her, but Alex did.
Jana alone sat in our circle, with eyes wide open, she followed the litany around the ring; her mangled right arm held the order of service tight and she looked to us for some sign to begin her part.
Julie kneeled beside her and their voices began, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” Jana’s soft scratchy voice blended with Julie’s. We understood the words through Julie’s clear voice and felt them in Jana’s whisper. Susan took up the scripture from there to tell us not to fear because God would give us strength. And God surely had done this by bringing us together. That day, and every day, we have relied on each other when our own strength has failed us.
Susan and Alex placed Cathy’s cremains in the vault as Mike intoned the Pueblo blessing, “Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.” When Mike finished, he took the small leather pouch full of small stones and crystals that had been special to Cathy and handed one to each of us to place in the vault alongside the urn.
We joined hands one last time, bowing our heads as our oldest sister, GeorgeAnne, spoke the final words from Crowfoot, “Life is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of the buffalo in the winter. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
We miss you, Cathy. And we’ve seen you in those breathes and shadows and in the night sky full of stars.
Cows and coyotes generally ignore each other. But when there are baby calves, mama cows go into Sasquatch mode. One of the cows was deep in the labor process when I drove the tractor down to the pasture to feed. Some instinct tells them to move away from the herd, finding their own quiet spot to give birth. All the cows and calves, and the cows still heavy with unborn calves, ambled over to the chow line I was putting out for them.
When I turned the tractor, I saw that cow with her front end squared off, two little hoof ends heading into the world from her hind end, and one coyote moving back from her shaking head and bellow.
Running the tractor back up to the shed, I grabbed my rifle and pick-up. I don’t think that coyote will be back anytime soon. But he did manage to delay that birth so that the calf came just before dark in the cold.
Mama was busy licking, but the little one was shivering hard. Pulling up beside them, I turned the floor heat on high, opened the passenger door and folded that little guy into the pick-up, rubbing him with a towel and reassuring mom that I wasn’t going to hurt him.
After trying a few different things, I ended up loading them both into the stock trailer and parking it in front of the barn out of the wind. I bedded them down in the front of the trailer with a pile of straw. Full dark now, I trusted Mama to do her thing undisturbed and safe out of the wind. She did and now the pair is doing well. Mobile maternity ward to the rescue.
A recipe for love should include whole people, that is, the people involved must be accepted just the way they are, no removing skins or scraping out seeds, cutting away little rotted or moldy spots, and never separating and tossing away crusts. Once these whole people agree to this, then the adventure can begin!
Ingredients would include: hobbies, likes and not-so-much likes, family in moderation with no apologies for/to cranky aunts or other problematic relatives-really, they can stay at home and berate their walls so no one else has to suffer. Let’s add in some non-humans too-horses, dogs, cats, really more is better and you can enjoy them and care for them together. Your life will be richer and your rotted parts less.
If you love words, paths, stars-basque in them. Share them. If they love RAP, liver, travel, it’s okay, you don’t have to share the liver. The thing is, the recipe can change. You can both become masterchefs. Mix it all in one big bowl, or use two sometimes. Stir wildly, but with gentle thought, and bake at a temperature that will keep it cooking, but never quite have a toothpick coming out clean.
Note: If it burns, the most likely cause was that the two main ingredients were never accepted as whole to begin with.
I’ve been reading this book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy. It’s a fifty year celebration (published in 2010) of To Kill a Mockingbird. It contains reflections on the novel by all kinds of people, including Oprah, Wally Lamb, Alice Finch Lee, and many others. I was very taken with Richard Russo’s piece and what he had to say about teaching writing.
“Writing, it seems to me, is often taught, from the time that we’re in grade school, as the absence of mistakes–when you get your first papers back, and you have a little X that’s an error, another X that’s an error. Right up through college, I remember being taught that way, the careless errors, the difference between T-H-E-I-R and T-H-E-R-E–you get counted off for that.
And so every time you get a little check, then, you have lost points. And I lost points. But somehow you never gained points. You started off with a hundred points, and then for every mistake that you made, you lost points. If you’re trying to teach fiction writing or any kind of decent writing, any kind of real writing to students, the first thing you have to do is get them out of that frame of mind whereby you lose points for mistakes.
…The thing about writing is, you’re not looking for an absence of errors. You’re not looking for a pristine slate. You’re not looking for things to be perfect, but something that hits you where you live.” (Russo.Murphy,170-171)