December 2020 Story Sparks
For years I’ve misquoted William Shakespeare’s words in Romeo and Juliet by saying “Waiting is such sweet sorrow” instead of using his word, “Parting” as being the source of the sadness. I say “wait” often. It’s a command I give to Caesar while I untangle his leash or pick up his poo. He knows it means he has to pause. Because this year has meant so much waiting – waiting for news about in-person school or virtual; waiting for news of lockdowns, for financial answers with business ledgers fading fast; waiting to enter that Zoom meeting; waiting for election results; waiting for a friend’s healing; waiting in line. We are in the season of Advent when waiting for and anticipating the Christ child is what the season is about. I find stories inside the words, to remind myself how I might celebrate the insights of the season including the task and privilege of waiting. Maybe my alphabet story will offer something hopeful to think about while you’re waiting.
W – Stands for wonder. Not only wondering how long I’ll have to wait to get into the store, or wondering when this pandemic will be over. Those are wonders of questions and answers. But rather the wonder meaning amazement, anticipation, the wonder of surprise. Children remind us of that kind of wonder. They often view the world through lenses of astonishment. But we grownups if we pause can find wonder too. I remember our first December on the desert and the discovery of the beauty of palm trees etched on snow-covered mountains. I cherish other wonder-filled experiences: the softness of Caesar’s fur, how tears of sorrow over a friend’s death flow so freely, the wonder that Jerry at 90 could go deer hunting with the help of a friend. I wonder, too, if I will remember to cherish each moment.
A – Acceptance. It’s such a soothing place, once we arrive at it. Mary accepted her part in the story of the changing world. She had a choice, we sometimes forget. Moving forward requires acceptance because blame and accusation keep us from our purpose – whatever that may be. Acceptance means being found worthy, too. Human beings seek acceptance among our tribe, our community. We sometimes forget that God accepts and loves us all, even those we disagree with. Perhaps the hardest acceptance is of ourselves, believing that we are cherished the way we are. Now there’s a wonder! Sometimes while waiting I say to myself, “You are worthy. You are loved,” especially after I’ve overcooked the Thanksgiving venison roast and undercooked the baked apples.
I – Intercede. Webster’s defines this word as “act to reconcile.” Oh, what a worthy way to spend one’s waiting time, moving forward to reconcile, a word that gathers up becoming friendly – again. Webster adds “adjusting” and “bring to acceptance.” While we wait during this season, during this pandemic, in the midst of our everyday lives, perhaps there are places to intercede. To intercede takes action. I wait, but I can also act. I am not a victim. What better use of my waiting time than bridging the gap of sorrow leading to reconciliation. A writer friend of mine once wrote that for a person of faith, “forgiveness is required but reconciliation is optional.” I wait to have the courage and intention to intercede.
T – Tenderness. Years ago, the study of stress that resulted in the words “fight or flight” was completed with college sophomore men. A few years ago, the study was repeated at UCLA with female subjects. The words that came out for them as a response to stress were “tend and befriend.” Tenderness is often forgotten in our waiting time as we fight or flee from the excessive demands of our harried days. Acts of tenderness are harder to experience when it isn’t safe to touch people as we might wish to. And yet, there is tenderness. A wife holding the hand of her husband who is dying; a father resting his hand on the shoulder of his daughter while they work on a virtual assignment. A pharmacist here on the desert filled Jerry’s prescription and found coupons to take a $385 inhaler to a cost $47 dollars. I teared up with this tender act in the performance of his duties. While we wait for what we are uncertain of, there is always room for tenderness not only to others, but to ourselves. And when we are tender, the waiting becomes less grievance and more sweet sorrow that we are in that wilderness place at all.
It’s my hope that your waiting will bring you a reminder of the reason for this season, that you’ll seek and treasure wonder, acceptance, intercede where you can and be tender while you wait for the greatest gift of all.
A bit of great news! Abigail Scott Duniway (Something Worth Doing) gets a second starred review from Booklist as one of eight selected titles about actual historical women. “Kirkpatrick offers a powerful fictionalized version of the remarkable Abigail Scott Duniway, a fierce advocate for women’s rights.”
In addition, a special thanks to independent booksellers and their faithful readers – YOU – for keeping Something Worth Doing on the Pacific Northwest booksellers best seller list for the past four weeks.
Welcome to My New Website!
Change is inevitable. With the changes caused by Covid-19, I’m adjusting to fewer face to face events and signing books. I’m closing my business. Don’t panic! I’ll still write. There’ll be a new book out next September titled The Healing of Natalie Curtis and another after that. Perhaps more, who knows? More about that in future Story Sparks newsletters. I’ll still do virtual events and visit with book groups. You can make requests on this new website and I’ve scheduled events into next year hoping it can be in a room with others. We have to wait and see. Meanwhile, with help, my website has been redesigned. It’s up and running now at https://jkbooks.com with a whole new look. I hope to be able to manage more of it myself, something new in a world that is topsy turvy. Please stop by, check it out and leave a message! You can click onto interviews I’ve done and visit archives of previous Story Sparks. The first image you’ll see is a painting by Oregonian Cindy Pitts, a painting representing the book This Road we Traveled. It hangs in our living room bringing Central Oregon to the desert and now to all of you who visit my site.
California was getting ready to shut down so I rose early to be at the grocery stores during the “old people” time. Gosh, they were so nice to me at Walmart, smiling eyes above their facemasks, asking if they could help me in any way. Across Town Center Road, at Wholefoods where I get Jerry’s clam chowder, the staff was equally kind, speaking tenderly to me, asking if I’d found everything. I never had to wait to checkout. Last stop was the post office. I was the only one there and once again, the postmistress was gentle. Even when she said “Are you aware that you have your shirt on inside out and backwards?” I looked down and there was the tag hanging out like a medallion. Perhaps those gentle interactions were expressions of concern for a doddering woman at 7:00AM. Whatever the reason, the laughter made my day and apparently the postmistress’s too as the next time I went in, she asked if I’d bopped my husband on the head for not telling me I wore my clothes backwards and inside out. Jerry is still alive.
This encounter was just one of a variety of disparate happenings this month. The washing machine broke down and flooded the laundry room and guest bath and nary can a repairman be found! Still, our park has a laundromat so I don’t have to leave to tend to dirty clothes. A mouse has found our toilet paper supply and managed to destroy two rolls – doesn’t he know there is a pandemic? And he’s figured out how to trip the trap, too. Jerry thinks it might be a fruit rat (they come to eat the grapefruit I fail to pick up) and our friend says since it’s been two weeks since the rodent was first discovered, that there are probably now fourteen.
And this: last November I ordered a pair of shoes for my nephew’s wedding I was to officiate at in April, 2020. The shoes never arrived from China and the wedding was postponed – not because of my shoes! Covid. We would all have to wait. Almost a year to the day of ordering, a beat-up box arrived. The shoes! In time for the wedding in April 2021! It’s all about timing.
Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying
by Susan J. Tweit
She Writes Press. April, 2021
Susan Tweit is a beautiful writer, a poet really. (I think poets are the best writers!) She posts gorgeous photographs on Instagram along with haiku poems and word images like blue birds described as “chips from the sky.” She’s written several books on deserts among other naturalist topics. I own several of them. She’s also a biologist who has spent her life so close to the landscapes she’s living in, that she comes to know the flutter of a certain insect or the velocity of a bird winging through the air. She also has the gift of words so we can see the plants and feel the western winds where much of this story takes place. Bless the Birds was six years in the making. With great generosity, it shares the story of her artist husband’s journey with brain cancer and the story of their marriage. It is an honest, authentic and richly imagined memoir, the kind of story where I found myself laughing, tearing up, and reading out loud to Jerry the phrases that captured the essence of acceptance, grief, anger and frustration of caregiving while celebrating tender moments. The book will be out in the spring, but pre-orders are always an author’s hope. So plan to give yourself a gift and contact your local bookstore and ask them to order in for you Bless the Birds. I gave away the advanced reader copy Susan sent me (to an author friend who has a family member dealing with the same kind of brain cancer as Richard’s). I’ve ordered in a copy just to open at random to read her lovely words now and then. You’ll want to do that too, a way to cherish poetry and its wisdom.
On Saturday, nearly 3000 people died of Covid-19 in America. One of them was a good and long-time friend. He had recovered enough to be off of the ventilator and moved into a medical unit in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so that his wife could be with him those last hours, dressed in PPE. She said they talked about him floating on the river while she held his hand so he wasn’t alone. His death she said was peaceful and she was grateful for the many prayers people sent their way. I love that the metaphor they chose to take him from this life to more life, was a river. I recalled floating two rivers with Don and his wife, Kay. One was the Deschutes in Central Oregon and the other was the Brule in Northern Wisconsin. On that trip, we somehow missed the takeout point and dusk descended on us. But I wasn’t worried because Don was with us. He knew the language of woods and the water and we’d be safe. And so we were. A part of me is comforted knowing he has gone before us. He’ll know the lay of the land and help us know where to “take out” safely on our final journey. I struggle with the theology that “things happen for a reason” but I do believe sincerely that God is with us in all things and that with God’s grace and friends, we will find the goodness and hope even in the hardest of times – if we’re willing to wait.
Jerry and I wish you all Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. Thank you for being a part of my writing world and please stay safe.