August Birthdays

           ??????????????????????????????? A theme for the chronicles of summer has emerged. In the midst of chaos, when my feeble brain overloads to the point where I feel one more thing will surely short-circuit the whole affair, a new revelation presents itself. Through hours of mind-wandering road trips, bustle-to-wait airport adventures, and the monotony of slathering new paint over walls of a vacant house, or peeling buckets of apples to preserve, I realize the month of August carries significant import for me. August was the month when several of my significant people were born.

            This realization started with an invitation to the 100th birthday party of a lady, born on August 2, 1913, who demonstrated to me what it meant to be a good neighbor. At a time decades ago when repeated crises in my family nearly got the better of me, she was there to help, quiet and dependable. Once I despaired. “I don’t know how I’ll ever pay you back.”

            “No need to pay me back,” was her reply. “Just do the same for someone else someday.” Pay it forward. Don’t pay it back.

            Then, of course, there is my youngest child, born the 25th day of August twenty-four years ago, whose impact on my life continues to this day, wondrous and unique.

            Between these two, the old and the young, I think of my niece, the precious and oldest grandchild of my own parents, now capably raising a family of her own.

            There is my sister-in-law. The better I know her, the more clearly I see our kindred spirit and I understand why I love this family so much.

            I have been reminded that my good friend, writing coach, and life mentor, Marvin Swanson, celebrated an August birthday, on the 23rd day of the month, if my notes are correct. Marvin left the earthly life fourteen summers ago, but through the collection of letters he sent me, he lives again, almost as if he was still nearby.

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            Born in western Kansas in 1923, Marvin became afflicted with debilitating arthritis when yet a teenager. For over thirty years, he was a correspondence instructor of writing at Fort Hays State University and the University of Kansas. Living close to the campus of FHSU, he rented rooms to students and served as a mentor and a kind-of-foster-parent to those who shared his walls.

            Marvin was a founding member of the Western Kansas Association on Concerns of the Disabled. The founding principle, possibly penned by Marvin himself, reads:

            We, the members of the Western Kansas Association on Concerns of the Disabled, believe that all disabled persons, regardless of their disability, have the right to choose their own lifestyle. Along with this right comes responsibility. Therefore, we also believe that all disabled persons, no matter the degree of disability, can and should contribute something to society. We have dedicated ourselves and WKACD to the continuation of these principles.”

            If contributions could be measured, those of Marvin Edgerton Swanson would rank among the highest humanity has to offer. Though imprisoned in a body wracked with pain, he transcended that condition. His mind, ever observant and quick to compile subtle nuances into gems of wisdom, connected with young and old to contribute to the betterment of life for all.

            I met Marvin when I attended college at FHSU. We corresponded regularly for decades, until shortly before his death. His arthritis compromised his ability to wield a pen. Thus the thoughts he inked onto his monogrammed stationery were deeply considered and well-planned in order to wring the most meaning from each word. Reading them again today, he comes to life in my mind. The years drop away and it is almost as if I am young again, curled on his sofa, relating my thoughts to him in exchange for his ageless wisdom.

            This new blog category will feature gems of Marvin’s wisdom, gleaned from his letters, because they are worth sharing with the world. His writing career lacked a blog site. Were he still here, that situation would likely be much different. Thus, Marvin, here’s your blog. Should other friends of this remarkable man eventually find their way to this page, I welcome additional gems they have savored from their relationship with him.

 

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            Today’s gem, in honor of those letters, and in celebration of Marvin’s birthday, reflects on the importance of writing letters. His letters, surely, carry vitality on their invisible and timeless wings.

In his words:

            I’ve been working on an article about the dwindling act of writing personal letters. Up to 80% of our reduced 1st class mail consists of business letters. Will the personal letter exchange gradually disappear in the electronic communication revolution? The personal letter has many unique advantages.

            Ellen Terry, an actress, began writing to George Bernard Shaw when they were both single. They never met. Both married. They wrote for 25 years. Shaw wrote about their correspondence, which has been published: “Let those who complain that it (the Shaw-Ellen Terry “romantic correspondence”)was all on paper remember that only on paper has humanity yet achieved glory, beauty, truth, knowledge, virtue, and abiding love.”

            Imagine, I can read a letter Christopher Columbus wrote describing America or Edgar Allen Poe’s letter revealing the secret of the real tragedy of his life. They’re in a book with many more entitled The World’s Great Letters.  I have it.

            “Letters . . . are, of all the words of men, in my judgment, the best.” (Francis Bacon)

 Letters are poignant keys to the souls of friends long gone. We can live through our letters, as Marvin lives on his pages. For the young generation of today, which is so dependent on quick, electronic messages, how will their words echo in bits and bites for those yet unborn?

A Mother’s Dream

Soon I will be traveling to spend a special birthday with my youngest, a beautiful woman now of 24 years. By this time next year she’ll have a child of her own crawling around, maybe tottering some first steps. I recall the wonder and anticipation I felt awaiting her arrival. And I remember the instant love, a mother’s bond, a determination to do whatever I could to see that she had a chance for a meaningful life.  I would give my life for my children. I suspect that many mothers–and fathers–feel this way toward a new life entrusted to them.

That was about the time when I renewed my interest in protecting the earth, our home planet, to preserve its vitality for generations to come. I wanted my children to experience the beauty of nature, to revel in the wilderness as I had when young. I wanted them to grow up with principles, and goals, and a sense of justice for the good of all, even wild creatures of God’s creation.

I imagined that mothers the world over held high hopes for a new baby, though the hopes might differ in their content. How would my hopes for a child in Kansas differ from the hopes of a new mother in Haiti? What hopes do new mothers harbor today? What hopes do you have for your new sons or daughters?

Below is a poem written when my youngest was weeks old. Thanks to my good friend, Lynne Hunter, for the photos from Haiti.

A Mother’s Dream

From a Kansas perspective                                            From a Haitian Perspective

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Her brown eyes filled with wonder at the moment of her birth

And they have yet to lose the spark that miracle did place.

I wonder, Baby Girl of mine, as you arrive on Earth

What is your future?  Can I see a hint within your face?

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His brown eyes filled with wonder at the moment of his birth.

But will that spark begin to dim, this miracle a waste?

I wonder, Baby Boy of mine, as you arrive on Earth

What is your future?  Will you be granted one with grace?

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My girl, I thank the Powers that be for your sake on this day.

There is a list for which you’ll never have to pray.

A home with food and clothing and a roomy place to play,

Security for all you need to make a life each day.

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My boy, I thank the Powers that be for your sake on this day.

There is a list for which you’ll never have to pray.

A character built up through need, through learning to say nay;

You will be patient, understanding, quick to share your play.

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And yet, my child, there are some things that I would ask for you.

Dear God, please give her challenges enough to grow within.

Spare her the clutter of a life empty of all that’s true;

Too many options, too much ease, affluence her great sin.

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My child, there are a lot of things I ask in your behalf.

Kind Father, grant his needs be met so he’ll become a man.

Give him this year good nourishment.  Protect him with your staff.

See that he grows to have a chance and thus fulfill your plan.

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My little child, whose birth inspired in me unequalled awe—

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I’d give my life if I could know your innocence will prevail.

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Lord, give her character built by patience; teach your loving law—

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Dear God, protect him; let him grow; our hope do not impale.

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My girl, refuse a life of idle ease.

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                                                            Son, learn to fight. Do not let go of things you need.

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                Daughter, reject the load of justices denied to others so we can live right.

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Grow up my son.

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Be strong, my girl.  Choose your road with care.

 

His brown eyes filled with wonder at the moment of his birth

And they have yet to lose the spark that miracle did place.

I wonder, Baby Boy of mine, as you arrive on Earth

What is your future?  Can I see a hint within your face?

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Her brown eyes filled with wonder at the moment of her birth.

But will that spark begin to dim, this miracle a waste?

I wonder, Baby Girl of mine, as you arrive on Earth

What is your future?  Will you be granted one with grace?

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