So the word is out. There have been millions of babies killed through abortions since the procedure was legalized. I wonder about that. How many of those were fetuses that would never have lived, had they been born? How many procedures were done to save the mother’s life? I have grave reservations about the truth of that statement. Twenty-five million giggly babies just snuffed out? That’s trying to simplify a very complex statistic. After all, in recent years, the objections to terminating a pregnancy have yielded strict limitations on just what kind of pregnancy is eligible.
I am old enough to have come of age during the original fight to legalize abortion. When I was an adolescent, the procedure was illegal. But that didn’t mean abortions didn’t happen. And consequences were severe for desperate women seeking help. Too often, illegal abortions ended up killing or maiming the mother anyway. The legalization of abortion was a life-saving step. Just making it illegal will not stop desperate women from seeking to end a desperate pregnancy.
This all alludes to a sort of class warfare. Did you know, for instance, that 75% of abortions in recent years were for women at or below the federal poverty line? 60% of the women already had children at home that they couldn’t afford to feed. 55% of women who received abortions were single. They had precious little financial help to reach the $196,984 cost of raising a child to age 18. (Yes! Magazine Spring 2022)
It might have been in the early years that the procedure was sought too lightly. But no more. Today, almost all the people I know, pro-choice as well as pro-life, agree that abortion should never be used as a simple form of birth control. We must keep other contraceptives available and affordable and eliminate unwanted pregnancies. Is that a point we all can agree on?
You might find it surprising how many pro-choicers abhor the fact that some women have used abortion as a contraceptive. You might also be surprised how many of us pro-choicers, if offered the choice due to abnormal fetus development, would choose to continue our own pregnancies. After all, if faced with some dire news, you would do that. I would too. But it would be our own choice.
None of us have the right, though, to tell others what they can or can’t do. We simply don’t know all the details.
So has abortion been misused? Sadly, yes, by some. Therefore, you say, we should outlaw all abortions again. It’s just like:
A few people who misuse alcohol and drive drunk. Innocent people have been killed by drunk drivers. Obviously, we’ve banned all alcohol and all cars, right?
Or—A few people misuse guns, and go on shooting rampages, killing children in their school classrooms, and people in shopping centers or theaters or at parades. So of course, we have instituted a national ban on guns, haven’t we?
Oh. . . Wait. . . .
I get it. This is different.
Or is it?
Does mis-use of abortion by a few mean we have to remove that option for all? And if that’s what we gotta do, how about those guns anyway? Surely the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for school age children is more important than the right to bear arms.
The intrusion into a person’s medical history and privacy is an unconscionable overstep by our government into our private lives and personal rights. None of us has the right to judge another on this extremely personal matter, nor to tell them what to do. We can offer love, compassion, and assistance, but we can’t make difficult choices impossible by removing options. There is nothing simple about pregnancy. Since every case is different, there is no single solution. All options need to be available. And nobody outside the triumvirate of parents and physician should even have a say in tough personal, medical decisions. No two pregnancies are alike. We can’t possibly know the inside stories of other families.
Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita, December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.
Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.
What is it about?
Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future. Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.
I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.
Prologue from the Book
“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.
I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.
A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered inches away.
“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”
There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”
I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”
My canine companion stood and shook.
“You need to go out?”
She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.
Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.
I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.
I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.
“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.
There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.
Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.
Rats. Lots of them.
I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”
She licked my chin.
I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”
He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.
Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”
When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.
Yet there was barely one.
“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.
Since I was young, I found peace and unconditional acceptance in the natural world, even in difficult times. Especially in difficult times. During a traumatic adolescence, I surrounded myself with nature in my hideaway room at home. There was a fifty-gallon aquarium, and shelves in the windows filled with houseplants. Some even vined across the ceiling. My own private forest.
In Nature, I found evidence of a supreme being beyond what our senses show. Through countless moments filled with awe and wonder at the mystery of life, of connections with other beings, I grew to love the Earth, its life, and its mysteries. As we approach a precipice of no-return in the global crisis brought on by our industrial and consumer-oriented lifestyle, I feel great sadness, along with deep gratitude for the gift of life itself, and for all the moments when I sense the Beyond through simple contacts with other living things. Climate grief is a true thing.
I wonder what awe-filled moments do you recall that you wish your grandchildren—and theirs—could experience?
Have you ever . . .
Watched an eagle soar and listened to its distant call?
Sat on a trailside boulder and watched an aspen seed float to the ground?
Had a hummingbird check your red bandanna for nectar?
Watched a glacier calve an iceberg?
Heard a rush of wings in the stillness of a heavy mist?
Watched a loggerheaded shrike hang a field mouse on a locust thorn?
Risen before dawn to visit booming grounds of lesser prairie chickens?
Watched a lone prairie dog scamper away from its village into the sunset?
Surprised a family of deer on a winter walk?
Watched a flock of robins sip melting snow from your house gutters?
Walked with a flashlight after dark in September to watch orb spiders at work?
Witnessed a black bear check out the milo fields on the high plains of Kansas?
Heard the scream of a cougar outside your tent in the middle of the night?
Watched autumn leaves dance with hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies at dusk?
Held a newly metamorphosed moth in your hand and watched its virgin flight?
Heard barking sea lions as they congregated on the shore below the seaside cliff where you stood?
Through six decades, travels from Oregon and California to Maryland and Florida, Minnesota to Arizona, as well as journeys to Japan, India, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico—not to mention my own backyard—the wonderments of Earth have held me spellbound in every little nook. With deep gratitude for all I have been fortunate to witness, and with fervent hope that we can stop our catapult into disaster at COP26, I offer Part 2 of the slide show from my younger days. Let humanity not be responsible for the Omega curtain on our gem of a planet.
Music: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Chorale Symphony.”
A pioneer story of Kansas by Mabel Chandler Harris.
George Chandler, his son Gene, and the horse Ned went doggedly forward and when the man felt sleepy in spite of himself, he knew he must act. He stopped the horse and slid out of the saddle. He could hardly support himself and clung to the stirrup. The horse dropped his head to the snow and snorted furry icicles from his nostrils. The man pulled the chilled boy into the saddle and carefully wrapped the blanket about his cold feet and legs. He removed the long wool scarf from his own neck and wound it round and round the head and shoulders of his son. He slapped his hands against his chest and stomped up and down until he felt renewed circulation of blood in his veins and his feet did not feel so much like frozen lumps.
When he felt somewhat restored, he gave Ned a slap on the rump and grasped the stirrup firmly. They proceeded on their way. The wind remained bitter and fierce. The cold grew more intense. George thought it must be after midnight. He was sure they were still several miles from home.
He gave himself up to thought. He believed in prayer and he had to have some help right now. He asked God for strength and endurance. He prayed for the son in the saddle and for the precious daughter who had been so faithful during these months when he had been forced to be away from home. As he prayed, he was strengthened. He felt reassured that they would reach home.
Gene seemed to be sleep on the horse. George’s thoughts drifted. He remembered himself as a mere lad in the Army of the Republic. He recalled the joyful day he married Hannah Priscilla Crabtree. He remembered the home life in Missouri and the glowing reports of cheap land in Kansas. These reports had fired both his and his wife’s imagination, so he had purchased their present home from a local land agent whom he had trusted implicitly. They had loaded their belongings in the two big wagons. With the crated chickens fastened underneath the wagon beds, and the boys driving the cows and extra horses, they came west from Kansas City on the great trail.
The Chandlers reached their destination in northern Lyon County, Kansas a week later. No one would ever know his bitter disappointment when he had first seen the treeless, poor upland farm that he had bargained for. He had not known there was so much pasture in all the world. He had dreamed of a farm in the bend of a creek, but the creek turned out to be a gully that passed through his land as a raging torrent after a big rain, a dry slough the remainder of the time.
The horse dragged on. George staggered as he clung to Ned. His arms ached. With thoughts of the family that waited for him, he poured his last ounce of determination into his efforts. He resolutely lifted one foot after the other, glad that Gene was quiet.
The night was clearing enough that he recognized the little cemetery in the whiteness. Ned must have come this far west to avoid some very deep snow drifts. The horse was doing fine to know so much even it if did make the way a mile longer.
Thoughts continued like a rushing stream that would not be stopped. The Chandlers had worked at making a home on that upland claim. And then—oh dear God—there had been Delphia, the blue baby. Disconnected scraps of memories filled his laboring mind. “Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.” Preachers always said those words in burial services.
With cold misgivings he asked himself, “Is there more than that in life?” Hannah was taken when he had needed her so badly. Was she better off than he this terrible night? The harrowing experience of moving little Delphia’s body from the corner to the place at the head of her mother haunted him. It was noon on a warm May day when the little disinterred coffin rested on the green grass. His helpers stood around while he obeyed an impulse to open the lid to peek at his darling child again. In the first instant as they all looked the baby form was there in its original angelic beauty. With the impact of warm air, the little form crumbled into a tiny mound of ashes.
Shuddering, George forced his mind back to his present surroundings. “I must be awfully cold to let myself think in this way,” he thought. “I will not doubt. The word says the spirit shall return to God who gave it. God help me,” he prayed, “to be able to say, even tonight, The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away.” Aloud he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord. I know that God giveth His children strength.”
At his voice, Gene mumbled “What did you say, Pa?”
The father answered, “We will get home. We are almost there.”
It was about three o’clock in the morning when the horse stopped at the stone house. The man gave a shout and dragged the nearly frozen boy from the saddle. The door flew open and Henry, followed by the tall neighbor boy, rushed out and half carried them into light and warmth. Charlie, the lame boy, limped away with old Ned, and while the people in the house worked over the man and the boy, restoring them with a tub of snow, Charlie fed and rubbed the animal that had brought his father and brother home safely home.
When only partially recovered from his night’s experience, the man whose sandy hair had turned white during the last twelve hours, turned to the bedside of his sick daughter.
As he stroked her hair, she spoke her last words, “I knew you would come, Pa.”
The father, with spasms of pain crossing and re-crossing his fine face, held the hand that so confidently had been placed in his. He realized his efforts to save this beloved daughter had been in vain.
As dawn broke over the windswept hillside, Etta Viola Chandler died. George gathered as many of his children as he could clasp into his arms. They clung to him or to each other as he bowed his head in submission and whispered so all could hear, “Thy will be done.”
That was the morning of January 19, 1882. The place was a quarter of a mile south of the original Santa Fe Trail that wended its way across northern Lyon County, Kansas. The Old Santa Fe Trail was the way thousands of people followed west in the 1800s. With their heads, hearts, and hands they literally created a democracy the likes of which is not found anywhere else on our earth.
Because of the bitter cold, Etta Viola Chandler, seventeen-and-a-half years of age, could not be buried in the little Bushong Cemetery beside her mother until January 24, 1882.
Notes about Mabel Chandler Harris, the author of this historical narrative, and the setting of the story.
Mabel was born to George Chandler and his second wife, Carrie, in 1890. She was one of eight children of this second marriage. The children in her “High Courage” story were mostly grown when Mabel was a child, but she must have heard this family story and her heart went out to their struggles.
Mabel married Loren Scott Harris, the older brother of my grandfather Charley Harris, on June 7, 1915. They had one child, Florence Ethel, born December 22, 1927, who was a favorite cousin of my father, Wallace. He called Florence by the nickname Pete.
Pete moved to Wichita during her adult years and shared this “High Courage” story with her dear friend and tax accountant. When Wallace moved to Cowley County from Lyon County, he also hired Pete’s accountant friend to handle his taxes, and I followed suit. During one of my annual tax meetings, she presented me with a copy of Mabel’s story about the blizzard of 1882.
Loren and Mabel lived in Dunlap, Kansas, just up the road from the Harris family homestead on the Neosho River where my grandfather and father lived. Mabel had the distinguished honor to become the first woman to be ordained as a minister of the Methodist Church in the entire state of Kansas. She performed wedding ceremonies, and funerals, for many rural folks, including the Harris family.
The settler’s town named in the story, Bushong, Kansas, is today little more than a few neighborly homes on the paved county road due north of Americus, Kansas. To put more perspective on the horseback journey of Gene and his father on Ned the trusty horse, Bushong is a good 20 miles from the heart of Emporia. The stone cabin where Etta waited would have been even further. Gene and Ned traveled more than 40 miles in that storm, 20 of them on the return trip with George, in the dark, facing into the wind. That blows my mind. Teenage Gene indeed showed great courage, as well as a deep love for his sister and the rest of the family.
I have limited experience with hospice workers. My mother was on hospice before she died and my dad was deeply grateful for the compassionate assistance the workers brought to their home. This concept of providing dignity to those facing imminent death is fairly recent. There was nothing like that available for me three decades ago when my husband struggled with cancer.
It seems somewhat audacious, maybe even preposterous, to think that those responsible for the decline of our planet’s life systems would dare to consider themselves hospice workers. How could agents of death possibly bring compassion and dignity to the decline of the climate conditions that support all life forms on Earth?
When I am in a down mood, I see humanity as a species that needs to go, in order to save the rest. Nature needs to eliminate her threat and we are the major cause of today’s destruction. Those who care seem to have little influence on the those in leadership positions. We are caught in a system that we cannot seem to change, trapped like animals in a live trap.
As a young widow, years ago, I taught earth science at the local high school when I was struggling to find a new life and purpose. I tried to infuse awareness of the decline of the environment in the teenagers. Considering all of geologic history, today’s situation apparently is not the first time that a life form created mass extinction through its waste products. The waste product for early single-celled life in the oceans was oxygen. Through proliferation, the simple metabolic processes of early life changed the composition of the atmosphere, paving the way for new life to evolve.
Geologically and astronomically speaking, our solar system is roughly halfway through the sun’s expected life. Given a few more billion years, there should be plenty of time for new life to evolve from the scraps left after this climate crisis settles into a new equilibrium. Am I comforted by this thought?
I have mixed feelings about it. When I watch neighbors roar past my Prius on the highway in 4-wheel drive fuel-guzzling pick-ups, or watch Styrofoam cups blow into the tall grasses along the road, or see trash, littered by passing motorists, build up around our small pond at the corner of two paved roads, I think to myself, “Humans are such slobs. Maybe it’s time. Nature is out to rectify our wrongs.” If we view the entire planet as one living organism, we humans, through our collective ignorance and apathy, are a disease to the planet, like its terminal cancer.
Then I talk to cherished friends who suffer anguish at the exploitation of the natural world, or I work with my piano students to help them master skills that will enable them to express themselves through music, or I watch my grandson playing with the baby goats in our front yard, and I am reminded that “We aren’t all bad.”
The eras of geologic history are separated by mass extinctions, as witnessed in the fossil records. PreCambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic. Based also on the geologic record, the previous eras were millions of years in duration. We are responsible for the mass extinction we are witnessing now, and it’s happening much more rapidly than any we have evidenced in the rock records. If we compare all of geologic history to a half-mile walk, humans appeared mere inches before the end that represents today. From the first appearance of a human to now encompasses a few seconds on a 24-hour clock that represents Earth’s history.
To disregard and exploit everything on the planet for selfish reasons, with no check on ourselves, empathy for other species, or consideration for future generations, has got to be the biggest crime against this remarkable and fragile speck of a planet in the cosmos. We are guilty of that crime. Our lifestyles trap us in a system that is dooming life as we know it.
Nobody knows what will come of the situation we face today, but I have to wonder how we are any different from those early single cell life forms? One way is this: We know what we’re doing. Science has instruments to measure the health of our planet, and to record its ruin. Yet we seem unable to stop our actions. Assuming that the early life lacked thought processes and their waste contamination was purely accidental and a product of their success, I have to think this is vastly more irresponsible. To know and not to take steps to stop the atmospheric decline surely is an unpardonable sin.
Tanna, with the weight of this responsibility on our shoulders, how can we possibly presume to act as hospice workers in Earth’s decline?
I struggle to remind myself that we humans are as much a part of the universe as the meadowlarks and coyotes and deer and butterflies. And I also remember, through my mother’s experience with hospice, that it’s entirely possible to reverse the diagnosis. Mother was admitted to hospice, not once, but three times before she passed from this life. The first two times, she got better and was released. So hospice doesn’t always carry despair and finality with it. The challenge becomes restoring dignity, and easing the decline. Maybe—maybe—with enough of us working toward a solution, we can drawdown the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere and restore the climate to one where life as we know it can thrive.
Hope is the other part of hospice. We must never lose hope. That’s why I’m writing these letters to you.
I love nature for the answers it suggests. How do we move towards the light? The prairie suggests, no matter how bad things may look, “Bloom anyway.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that “Earth Laughs in Flowers.”
I don’t laugh often enough, but when I do, it’s wonderful. Laughter is healing, as documented by Norman Cousins when he postponed his predicted demise by embarking on a process of regular daily laughter. Perhaps we should all do what we can to encourage flowers to bloom, to tickle the planet and laugh with nature.
I think it’s unlikely that any one effort of mine will make a difference for the planet. However, added to other efforts, we will make a difference. Maybe individual actions don’t matter much, but they count for something. If we do nothing, we are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
This is absolutely an exciting time to be alive. We are on the edge of tomorrow, of a time when the course of history will be determined by our collective actions. Will we prevail? Will we assist nature to overcome this dire threat?
One thing that I plan to do very soon is vote. I will vote for candidates who are on the record for their commitment to act for the climate. I will vote for the Earth.
In the end, everything that we do matters. Every decision we make, every product we select, and every choice we make to fill our minutes will matter for the future. Through action, hope is born and hope is crucial to redemption. Never forget that. Never lose hope. To do so would cement the terminal diagnosis of the planet.
The top priority in changing the course of our nation for some people is to abolish abortion. But I don’t think it’s that simple. Abortion is not an either/or issue, not simply “yes” or “no.” It’s not black and white. There are many shades of gray. There always are with complicated issues.
For me, the environment is the hot button issue. Exploitation, degradation, and destruction of the natural systems we all rely on for basic necessities are the biggest problems we face. Environmental destruction will destroy us, if we don’t hearken to the urgency. And then it won’t matter if women can govern their own bodies, or if we can shop for the latest fashions, or a new car, or even if we have enough to eat.
It. Won’t. Matter.
My love of the natural world goes back to my childhood. We traveled and camped every chance we had, all over the western states. I hope, Tanna, that you will have access to the amazing redwood forests like I did. I hope you will experience awe as you look over magnificent mountain scenes, canyons, rivers, and oceans of grass. This is truly a remarkable land and I hope we find the ingenuity—and the will—to preserve it far beyond your generation. Like every other child, you deserve the chance to feel wonder at the annual butterfly migrations, to catch your breath when an unexpected wild visitor turns your head, to watch a white-tailed deer chew its cud, to fill your lungs with fresh, clean air in an autumn breeze.
The concern for our wanton destruction and exploitation of nature is not new. It was well documented before I was born. By the time I entered college, there were ecology classes focused on our careless destruction of the natural world, and what that would inevitably mean to every living thing on the planet.
We are some of those living things.
To me, nature is teacher and healer, a holy place where I retreat to seek the divine. Nature can be that for you, also, if you learn how to listen.
I once watched an exhausted moose lunge through shoulder-deep snow and I learned the dangers of choosing an easy path. In a downpour I heard the rain plummet from the heavens and it spoke to me of cycles in life. I watched a family of ducks chase madly from one point to another and back again and I saw human fads and opinions mirror the whimsical parade of a flock of ducks. I watched my best friend waste away in a losing battle with cancer and I understood how the growing demands of humanity sap the vitality of our home planet in a similar fashion. Meadowlarks leapt into the wind so they might gain lift and fly away. And I learned I must face the adversities in my life before I could ever rise above them. A stately and beautiful tree crashed to the ground in tornado-strength straight line winds, and whispered that sometimes our roots will not be able to support us against a barrage of adversity. Messages arrive on the dust of a sunbeam and the wings of the wind.
Long ago, I read books by Thor Heyerdahl. One was titled Fatu Hiva: Back to Nature. In the narrative of his return to simple life on a remote island, he described the music he found in nature. “There is fine music everywhere in nature between moss-covered stones and foliage. . .The lights, the colors, the sounds, the perfumes, the touch, the shapes were never the same, and were always playing on our minds like a vast orchestra. We could hardly take in more music—and I do not mean the singing of birds and the tinkling of a rivulet: . . .I mean music beyond the eardrums. We have had to create flutes and violins to leave impressions deeper in than the eardrums, where nature used to play.”
The musician inside me revels in the symphony of nature. I have delighted in taking piano students (and a grand piano) to outdoor recitals where every piece they played showed a musical glimpse of nature. Everything we humans have created has its source in nature, one way or another. I cannot find words to describe that inner union of my consciousness with the constant prairie symphony in my backyard. Without nature, I would be nothing.
Nature is not exactly constant. It is, if anything, constantly changing, providing variety in daily life. Even the sky presents many faces and no two are the same. We see a lot of sky out here above the prairie. It is our grandiose landscape. Clouds provide our mountains, the earth propels us forward, and the view changes hourly.
From observing my grandchildren, I realize fresh eyes see things as new and wondrous, no matter how much they have changed in my lifetime. My wish for my grandchildren—times seven generations and more—is that they never lose a sense of wonder. Natural processes continue. Even the Earth’s response to humanity’s bludgeoning of the biosphere is Nature’s way to restore a sort of balance. What will emerge from this process is something I can’t imagine, but will be awesome in its own right. Perhaps your generation, if there is one, Tanna, will be able to answer that question.
In the evolution of homo sapiens, our intellect seems to have surpassed our compassion. We have developed the ability to manipulate the physical world—to the point where we even create earthquakes—but not the will or the heart to care enough to halt in our tracks and find another path, a better path, a path that leads to sustainability and life for future generations.
Currently I am dealing with a sense of profound loss for what I once knew the natural world to be. In some ways, this can be compared to the radical loss a person feels after the death of a spouse and soulmate. The loss of a spouse is a radical loss, tearing a hole in the fabric of your being. You not only have lost a person, a partner, and a friend, you have lost a marriage, a relationship, the shared experiences, the dreams and plans you made together. Everything—Yes EVERYTHING—has changed.
What do you do? Widowhood can become a very empty place. In some respects, the changes occurring on Earth are like witnessing the last agonized moments of a beloved soulmate. Many of us are grieving already, to the point where we are paralyzed by hopelessness and inaction.
Grief is not possible without love. And, perhaps, love is not possible without grief. If you never feel sad, lonely, or in despair, you will never appreciate the times you feel ecstatic and joyful. I treasure the joyful memories of a vibrant natural world. The process of working through the sense of loss makes me wonder many things. Are things so far gone that there is no hope? In our final attempts to right the wrongs of humanity toward nature, are we merely playing as hospice workers in a futile attempt to ease that final decline?
“Hospice care is a special kind of care that focuses on the quality of life for those who are experiencing an advanced, life-limiting illness.” How can one person provide this kind of care for an entire dying planet? How can thousands of us? Millions? How can we restore quality to the living systems surrounding us?
That is a huge question. I think the answer begins with hope. And I will tell you more about that tomorrow.
Sometimes words come hard. With only a few days left in this year’s countdown to the big holiday celebration, I am overwhelmed thinking of friends facing Christmas with new holes in their hearts and tears in their eyes. Some of my friends face their first Christmas after the death of a baby. (Kayla) When there should be joy and excitement, there looms silence and sadness. Some of my friends are newly widowed (Don). Some, I learned yesterday, face Christmas in the hospital (Florence). And some have recently made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize a faithful, but ailing, furry friend. (Floyd and Heidi).
There’s just something wrong when all the joy evaporates from life at Christmas time. When miles separate me from grieving friends, I lie awake at night wishing I could help. In spite of my best wishes the world still crumbles around those with grief-stricken hearts.
The best quote I have found to help with new grief is from Jamie Anderson. “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
Sometimes the loss is compounded when your faithful Peppy has been a shining spot in your own physical decline due to ALS. The loss is so devastating you may sink into inconsolable despair.
If you find yourself facing this year’s holiday season with no joy in your heart, please know you are not alone. Along with many others, I wish for you a spark of Hope. The future may weigh heavily today, but all we really need to do is get through the coming minutes, one-by-one. Try to keep on keeping on, one day at a time. If there’s one thing people are good at, it’s finding creative ways to open new windows when a door slams shut in our faces. We find ways to persevere. I wish for Hope and the power of its gentility to find your wounded heart.
May you also feel yourself buoyed in an ocean of invisible Love sent across the miles from everyone who has ever lost a beloved friend. Those who have gazed with compassion and sadness into swollen, bloodshot eyes begging for release—those who may have wept with remorse that they ultimately failed their best little buddy—they understand your pain and send you Love, even if they don’t know your name.
I wish that you will find comfort in cherished memories, those quirky little endearing things. Did Peppy have a favorite game? Warm your feet at night? Sit on your lap while you watched the old movies? Run and hide at the first sound of thunder? Was there a special way he looked at you that spoke of his unconditional love and affection? I wish for Peace to fill your heart as you cherish those memories.
Hope, Love, and Peace. A recipe for the holidays.
Here’s to Peppy, a good dog, a star among all those new stars in the Milky Way.
The year 2017 started for me in Japan. I read on my Kindle during the long flights and the first book of my year was Burt Rashbaum’s Tears for my Mother. It is a vividly graphic account of a family struggling with their mother’s encroaching dementia. Alzheimer’s remains a dreaded word for many families. It spares no group the horrors of mind disintegration.
Rashbaum’s account was deeply personal. The characters were patterned after some in his own family. He tapped vividly into the reality of what it could be like to watch your own self slipping away. Significantly for me, the author is part of my own family, the Jewish cousin who married into one side of my husband’s family. I enjoyed a few days in this cousin’s Nederland, Colorado home last summer, rewarding myself with a writing retreat in the artsy mountain community. Before I left, Burt and I had swapped books and I came home with another novel of his, the 2015 release of The Ones That I Know.
Like Tears, this story is based significantly on events in Rashbaum’s life. One of the characters resembles him a great deal, and another resembles his wife. Through the pages of this book, I again found myself immersed in post-holocaust Jewish reality, which unless you’ve been there is hard to imagine. It tells the story of a group of neighborhood friends, who grew up together in NYC and lost touch as adults. They reunite when one of them publishes a book about their youthful adventures. The book examines how connections of family and friends possibly go beyond the grave and revisit the same group in a fresh incarnation. It explores life’s purpose, as well as its challenges. It is a snapshot view of a variety of contemporary issues that have a basis in historical drama.
At the end, after reading these books, I felt I knew and loved my newly found cousins much better.
The year 2017 was ushered in for me by Rashbaum’s novel Tears for my Mother. It is fitting to conclude this book journey series with The Ones That I Know. Through my reading adventures in 2017, I felt my family expand. My circle of friends has grown as well, and that’s no small matter in today’s uncertain world. We hear much about alternative facts, conspiracy theories, rigged elections, international threats and climate change. The news media is under fire. Our courts are being stacked by extremists. Our constitution itself is on shaky ground. If one thing is clear, I believe that “the ones that I know” have something to say. As long as our constitution stands we need to exercise our right to write, to share our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our memories and fears.
Americans consider free speech to be a birthright. It is guaranteed by the first amendment. Free speech serves to hold the powerful accountable and for that reason we must defend it fiercely. Our freedoms and rights will exist only as long as we keep using them.
For all my writing friends and cousins scattered across the country—“the ones that I know”—I say, “Write on!” And may the force be with us all.
Sara Davidson’s the december project is a treatise on how to navigate the December of life and “not freak out about dying”. It is a joint endeavor by Davidson and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, wherein “An extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery.”
Having the distinct privilege to meet some cousins of my husband’s during the summer of 2016, I came home with the realization that there are Jewish people in my own family. Not only that, but Jewish writers and kindred souls who appreciate the counter-culture of my youth more deeply than I do myself. And, though I do not personally know Reb Zalman, my cousins do. That made the book intensely more personal. Cousin Burt explained, “Reb Zalman was the closest I’ve ever come to meeting/knowing a true ‘holy man.’ It seemed every breath he took, and every word he spoke, was holy.”
Returning home from our 2016 visit with some reading recommendations from cousin Sharon, it was early 2017 before I got around to reading them. the december project was one of those books.
I was enthralled with Rabbi Zalman’s story. He had escaped the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust years, and struggled with his faith upon arrival in his new country, America. Years later, after personal audience with the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton, among other notable events, he became a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.
I read the book because my cousin recommended it, and because I figured I was on the verge of my own life’s December phase. The book concludes with several exercises to help folks prepare for their check out. I found many of them to be good tips for any stage of life. Among them:
Begin each day with a thankful heart. Give thanks often.
Practice forgiveness. Forgive others who have wronged you. Ask forgiveness for your own mistakes. And perhaps the toughest, Learn to forgive yourself.
Review your life. Explore your purpose. Claim the life that is yet yours to live. What is urgent and needs to be done before you feel complete?
And one that speaks to my introvert’s craving for personal space: Make friends with solitude. Create an inner sanctuary—a place to go where you can feel the spark of the divine within you.
Solitude and sanctuary are concepts that are fast becoming archaic among the younger generations. Yet, I crave the space to find myself. And I wonder, if we can’t stand to be alone with our own selves, how can we expect others to find solace in our company? We came into this world alone, and most certainly we will leave it in a solitary experience as well. Get to know and love yourself.
Up next: About contemplation, or Discovering a few Kansas poets