March 2020 Story Sparks
How are you? No, really, how are you? Whether sheltering in place, homeschooling, holding your heads about how to pay the rent or mortgage, checking in on family members you can’t hold or hug, know that you are not alone. Scripture promises we are not alone. Agape love promises love wins. Poems like the one I’ll leave you with today assures us that we are all connected. I remember a physics theorem I read once: When two elementary particles merely brush against each other they are each forever changed no matter how far apart in time or space they separate. We have brushed against each other through these years in story and at events and I have been changed – for the good – by each of you. My hope during these uncertain times is that you too will have experienced a change when brushing against each other didn’t violate social distancing or risk disease.
So how are we doing, Jerry and me? So many of you ask. Three weeks ago he had a great doctors report that all the tumors were gone and there were no new ones! Oh, we did the happy dog dance (Caesar included!). Jerry will need to have infusions for the rest of his days but the doctors were happy and hopeful that so long as he can tolerate the odious side effects, he could have many more years added to his 89. But then last week, he felt a new lump. Yesterday it was surgically removed and we’ll find out the results next week. All are pretty sure it is another melanoma and perhaps nothing will change except an awareness that the tumors will come and go and what we have control over is how we respond to them.
Which is where we all are now, right? What we control I’ve always said is being clear about what matters in our lives and having the courage to act on that. My dear nephew and his fiancé, whose wedding I was to officiate at in April in Minnesota, have decided to postpone their big day until next year out of an abundance of caution. I was worried about flying – if flights were still available – and worried about what I might bring back to Jerry. So I am grateful that they determined that what mattered was people’s health, taking care of each other, and making a huge sacrifice. What they had control over was what mattered most and they had the courage to act on that to a great disappointment to themselves.
I’ve been using my mindfulness exercise of noting 5 things to see, 4 things to hear, 3 things to feel, 2 things to smell and 1 thing to taste. I vary them on my daily walk or while standing (6 feet away) at the post office. One day I watched a hummingbird build a nest. She was so diligent and sang as she worked. The next day we had Santa Ana winds, my first exposure. When I walked the trail, her little hard-earned nest was gone. No new one has appeared. But I am hopeful that somewhere, she has begun another.
That’s where we all our now. Some things we’ve worked hard to accomplish have vanished and we find ourselves facing new challenges. Psalm 48 reminds us: Be still and know that I am God. To relax I sometimes say it backwards leaving off a phrase each time until I am at “Be”. Be kind to yourself. Be aware of your neighbors. Be willing to see the world in new ways. Be as generous as you can for giving is one of the greatest stress reducers and calming behaviors we can perform. I confess, I didn’t much feel like writing this months’ Story Sparks, but the act of reaching out to you has lifted my spirits. Holding you in my heart has encouraged me. I wanted to encourage you, a word that means “to be at one with courage.” I look forward to hearing all the ways you have identified what truly matters in your life and then had the courage to act on that.
Something Worth Doing
Here is something exciting to share with you! The first look at the cover for my September novel Something Worth Doing. It’s the story of a remarkable woman, Abigail Scott Duniway who was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, business woman, writer, public speaker, newspaper editor, caregiver and suffragist. She survived terrible tragedies but never gave up pursuing advances for women. All that happened way back in the 1850s. She had an intemperate tongue at times…and she was occasionally chastened but she is remembered especially this year as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution where women earned the right to vote. I hope you like the story and the cover! Look for September 3 release date! Her perseverance is an inspiration for our times.
As you can imagine, many of my spring and summer events have been cancelled as we hoped for more than 10 people to gather :). The Hulda Klager Spring Lilac Days won’t be held this year so I won’t be signing there. A presentation at an historical society has disappeared. And many more. What matters is that people are safe. Now is a really good time to read a good book! I happen to know of a few, and not just my own. You can visit my Bookbub account to see books I recommend.
A Dog’s View
Caesar wanted me to show you this short video that made him laugh and I laughed so hard I cried. It’s an enthusiastic dog in training as a service dog. It made my day. Click on the picture below to view it.
The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession
by Charlie Lovett
Penguin Group, 2014
This is the perfect book for sheltering in place! It’ll make you concentrate as you travel from the 1600s to the 1850s to 1980s and 1990s. Then back and forth all about books and love and books and mystery and books and loss and books and revenge. I learned so much (the author’s note identifies what books mentioned from the various periods are real) about Shakespeare and bookbinding and booksellers. I also learned about story-telling as each of the scenes were so well written, the characters crisp and inventive, dialogue so real that within the first pages I was hooked and throughout the reading I never thought about COVID-19 or my bruised ribs (I fell at the gym) or that someone stole my mail (they caught the people who had binders of checks and credit cards with them including my check sent that had never arrived. The car was stolen) and I had to open a new account at the bank and change credit cards etc. etc. A good story should engage us and keep us from the real world while still bringing us insight and wisdom and healthy entertaining. The Bookman’s Tale does that and so much more. Enjoy!
I’m doing research and working on my book DUE in September. I ordered a reference book called Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest 1880-1980. I found the book on line, ordered it; it arrived. I didn’t pay attention to the bookseller even after I opened the book. But inside, written on the invoice was a note from the bookseller at Chaparral Books in Portland, OR. The words were from the staff saying they hoped we were enjoying Southern California and that I’d enjoy the book. The precious note, remembering me from my having done a signing at that little used bookstore last year, made me cry. So many things have challenged: Jerry’s health, my nephew’s death, new worries over Jerry’s fragility with COVID-19 that I was overwhelmed with being “seen.” It made me realize how the smallest gesture of recognition especially in a time of trial is a generosity of spirit that each of us can demonstrate and will find welcome recipients. I sent a note back with gratitude. May you each find a place to “create spaces of grace for hope, healing and purpose” during this remarkable time. Now here’s the poem I promised you. I’ve read it every day since it was sent to me. Reach out with your hearts.
Thanks for reading Story Sparks.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath-
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love-
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
-Lynn Ungar 3/11/20: Unitarian Universalist Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship, UU