Tuesday, May 3, 2016

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island
Entire of itself
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

- John Donne -

Today my sister is gone a year.  The anniversary raises more memories, sadness, tears, and laughter than usual...  I'm trying to use these emotions in a positive way as I write to you today, showing how even hurt and sadness can be poured into your writing.

The leader of my writing group used to critique our work and the more she criticized it, the better we felt.  She read our flat black and white words on paper and said gently, “You can do better.  Look under that flat line – there is a story there.”  None of us wanted to look – we had hidden those scars away, hoping they had healed.  But she pushed us to write better, to look for the feelings we had hidden away.   We usually left disheartened, thinking we could do no better. 

But alone, where we were safe, we lifted those sentences, looked underneath and picked at those scars and our words slowly became colorful and full of feeling; we painted our three-dimensional scenes. 

“Remember – the king is dead – is that a story?” we heard her prodding us on.  And we painted with even more colorful  words … we were in Rome, in Tuscany, we met new loves, remembered first loves, we were at the side of a dying friend, selling the family home, swimming with gentle giants.  She pushed us to ‘feel’ – to tell the real stories not the broad brush ones.

And so I try to remember her words on days like this... I pick at those scars, relive those hurts and write.  I'll be spending a few hours today picking at my memories,  feeling and writing. I hope you do the same.

Here's an excerpt from a short piece that was published in a magazine a few years ago.  To write this section, I had to return to a very hurtful time and place....

"I looked down at my father’s casket. He had always been there for me – my whole life. I talked – he listened; I cried – he comforted; I lost my way – he guided me back. One minute he was there, the next minute he was gone.

Someone softly spoke my name; I turned wiping the tears from my face – an embrace, a word of sympathy, a kiss on the cheek.

I heard only the hum of the priest’s words at the grave, “May he rest in peace… let us pray for him.”

I stood there in a daze. Someone took my hand, kissed my cheek, moved on to my sisters and my mother. The mourners milled around and then softly made their way to their cars until our family stood there, alone. I pulled a pink rose from a floral arrangement and placed it on his casket, placed my fingers on my lips and laid them on my father’s casket. My final goodbye kiss. I turned, hollow eyed and empty, making my way back to the black limousine. My only thought,
What would I do now?  He had been in my life forever…

The wind whipped my hair against my face as I pulled the collar of my coat tighter around my neck. My ears stung and my eyes teared. It always felt much colder here as winter approached. The dampness of the water, I guessed. Most of the boats in the harbor were gone now.

It was November 5th, my father’s birthday. I had been struggling since August, when he died, to put my life back on course. He had always said, “If you need me, you’ll find me by the ocean,” so here I was, by the ocean, and in desperate need of him.

I stood looking across the lonely empty harbor, bracing myself against the cold, icy wind. It looked the same as it did when I was a child. I closed my eyes and could see us, my two sisters and myself, running up the sand dunes, screaming and pointing at horseshoe crabs, throwing the beach ball, toasting marshmallows over the fire, laughing; my mother sitting on the blanket, leaning back on her arms, her face in the sun, a smile on her lips; my father, dripping from his swim, running to the blanket and spraying her with water. He bent over and kissed her playfully. I saw myself floating on an old tire inner tube, watching my parents on the shore. Suddenly, I slipped through the center of the tire. Down I went under the water, valiantly trying to reach the surface when suddenly a strong pair of hands grabbed me and lifted me out of the water into the sunshine as I gulped for air. Coughing and sputtering, I rubbed my stinging eyes.

“You’re safe,” he said as he hugged me. “I’ll always keep you safe, I promise,” he whispered in my ear.

He always kept his promises I realized standing there. He had given me the strength and courage to cope with whatever obstacles life laid at my feet. And with tears in my eyes, I smiled knowing that this was where I would always come to replenish my soul and mend my heart. This was where I could always find the rhythm of my life."