May 2021 Story Sparks

Writer Brian Doyle in One Long River of Song wrote that Europeans who first saw them called them “flying jewels.”  They had never seen them before and lo, hummingbirds are only known in the Americas. Every morning in late March, Jerry and I watched as two hummingbirds traded time and transport of tiny sticks and grasses to build their nest in our California carport. They chose a narrow rod linked to a “C” of metal that served as their smaller-than-a-teacup home. Out our kitchen table window we watched each day, marveling at the intricate construction and feeling pretty cool that they had chosen a site so near. Could it be that our feeders close-by lured them? Or the little swing we hung for them let them know we valued their presence? Watching this story of a creation brightened our days.

When the eggs were laid, we showed the nest to neighbors, whispering, watching — from a distance — to see how one mate brought food for the other or spelled the sitter. And then one morning, there were chicks! How could anything so small have all its parts, beaks and wings and feathers? “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” The effort of the parents proved a frenzy and while we couldn’t hear sounds, the open beaks suggested impatience as the little ones entered this new world.

One morning I walked behind their home to pick up some chunks of palm tree bark blown off by the wind and the mom dive-bombed me. They can fly 60 mph.  I guess I got too familiar. We watched as the babies grew and it seemed impossible that the mom and growing chicks could all stay in that tiny nest.

Then in late April, the nest was empty. The family had launched. We read that hummingbirds often come back to the same nest and add on to it, so we were hopeful that next year we’d have the same treasure in our carport. But the day after the nest was empty, a wind came up and the nest shattered across the pavement.

I was surprised at the emptiness I felt. Jerry said he felt it too. We’d become accustomed to their presence and were hopeful that they’d come back to that nest. Our loss felt disproportionate to this cadence of nature. Perhaps it’s but a metaphor for all the other losses that have visited this year, all the adjustments that those little birds interrupted each day and gave us moments of a present joy, moments we so desperately need to set aside the anxiety of cancer, the uncertainty of the writing life, the pandemic, the future we don’t control and never have. Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson says it best.

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tunes without the words
and never stops at all.

Now we look with hope whenever a flying jewel – Joyas Voladoras – stops at our little swing or takes a rest on the feeder. The moment is fleeting but we inhale it and hope it can carry us along each day to songs without words that never stop. We wish those moments for you within your day and that you, too each day might find “the thing with feathers.”

Good News!

Jerry’s cancer is still in remission and he has been given permission to pause the immunotherapy!  We are hopeful that the odious side effects will disappear after a month or two of no infusions. It is a marvelous gift, this immunotherapy. Without it, Jerry’s prognosis would be grim indeed.  With it, he may live to be 100!!!  His bladder cancer has been in remission since 2005. Thank you for your ongoing prayers. We are grateful beyond words so I won’t even try.

Other good news!

The Healing of Natalie Curtis has been picked up by Recorded Books so it will be available as an audio book! There will be a chance to pre-order a signed copy of the print book before long. I’m excited about this story. One of the endorsers, Susan J. Tweit, (author of Bless the Birds) said she thought it one of my best! I hope you will too.

Another surprise is that the novella collection, Sincerely Yours, has been translated into a Chinese dialect. The four authors involved were sent a copy — but mine has disappeared into the universe. Forwarding mail and discovering that some mail has been returned means it may be heading back on a slow boat to China. But it is also a delight to know that inspirational stories are being read by people around the world.

Finally, Jerry and I have both received our vaccinations. I remember getting the polio vaccine in elementary school on a sugar cube. Along with the pneumonia shot, the flu shot (every year) shingles shot, tetanus (when I cut my finger while helping Jerry cut up a deer. Stitches were included) and those my parents got for me as a toddler, I’m very grateful.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The woman had the window seat (I had the aisle) on the flight back from officiating at my nephew’s wedding in Minnesota. She settled in (the middle seat was empty) and then she discovered she’d forgotten something at the gate. She apologized, left and shortly returned. It was the only interaction we had until we landed in Denver. We were being deplaned by row so I sat and waited and she made a call. Happy sounds. I heard her say “Oh, that’s not necessary but thank you.”  A silence and then she lowered her head to the back of the forward seat and began to wail. Her sobs echoed in the cocoon of the plane as she wept, phone still at her ear.

We were masked. Six feet apart. But touching a stranger? Still, I reached across the emptiness to gently hold her shoulder. No words. I heard her say to her caller through her tears, “I had hoped he would hold on until I got here.”  And so her grief had just begun. But I hope I gave her in that moment the knowledge that in this space, she was not alone.

Our row was called to deplane next.  I stood and she turned to look at me, eyes red over her mask.  She raised her hand in acknowledgment that we had connected. And so we had. I recall that physics theorem that says when two elementary particles merely brush against each other they are each forever changed no matter how far apart in time or distance they separate.

May is mental health awareness month. The National Association of Mental Illness has dozens of great resources for family members and those on the roller coaster of emotional challenges. A special section for those who have survived a suicide is worth reading more than once. The website doesn’t include my favorite resource in Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue. This Irish priest’s book is full of blessings including one for “Survivors of a Suicide.” I’ve read it many times. [1]

My professional life before taking on writing as a calling, was bound up in mental health as a counselor, administrator, and consultant. In my writing life considering the lives of historical women, I find I still draw upon that background as well as my own emotional journey between stress and joy that is the rhythm of mental health. I’ve had valued time with therapists, counselor-pastors; Jerry and I have four times through our nearly 45 years of marriage sought out a couple’s therapist, always to the best results. And through it all I go back to the things that I can do to improve my mental state each day. Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, wrote that “Generosity is the single most important indicator of a person’s mental health.  Generous people are rarely mentally ill.” Generosity isn’t just giving money – it is reaching out to walk beside another. Maybe reaching to touch a grieving stranger. When I wonder if I have control over anything in my world, I remember the Greek word for comfort that translates as “to come along beside.” There will always be ways to walk beside another. This is a good month to remember that.

Events:

The event at the Mennonite Village on May 16th has been cancelled. But I am already booked for next May, 2022!

May 8 at 11:00 am-1:00 pm. Consider supporting the Aurora Colony with a virtual visit with music history and myself.  Title: Strong Women. Check it out at https://www.auroracolony.org/events/emma-day-2021.  503-678-5754 for questions and to purchase tickets.

May 20 at 12:30-2:00 pm. Women of Worth event. I’ll be speaking about Hope as an orientation of the spirit. Please check the website of Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin to get your free ticket or call 503-638-5900. https://rollinghills.org/contact/

Word Whisperings

Remembering Hope
by Parastoo Rezai
Published by P2rezaibooks , 2021

The theme of this newsletter this month appears to be about hope. A cousin I hadn’t heard from in a long time put me in touch with this debut author Parastoo Rezai, and her novel Remembering Hope. I’m so grateful he did. The author and I have exchanged texts and emails since and I see many more books in her future. This story is about carrying on after a family’s struggle with cancer and dealing with grief, a universal story certainly touching my life. But it is so much more. Based on a true story, it reminded me of what I heard Joyce Carol Oates say at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Michigan years ago.  She said three things make a good story. First, to feel empathy for the characters. We care about Bahar and her husband Omid.  Living in San Diego, they are an Iranian couple with two kids and Omid, a physician, is dying. His business partner of 20 years has put the practice in jeopardy. As Bahar tries to come to terms with her future as a widow, she learns that she too has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. We can cheer for Bahar and their children as she copes with missteps and triumphs, her fears and lack of confidence. Oates’ second “story-building” is that it should give voice to voices seldom heard. In Remembering Hope, that voice is about the life of an Iranian family, how their extended family assisted, the great scenes of weddings, food, sibling interactions and most of all empathy and compassion. Parastoo tells her story with compelling writing and fresh imagery offering a unique fictional voice. Finally, Oates’ third point: a good story is worthy of remembering. This story has stayed in my mind and heart since reading it. Fiction should move us. It very much speaks to the historical women I write of: facing challenges, being shaped by family, friends and faith. It has the added dimension of learning about another culture assimilating into American life yet retaining the richness of one’s own history. A few years ago, the possibility of my speaking in Amman, Jordan came up. I read as many books as I could about Islam, about the Middle East, about women’s lives that I thought were quite different from my own. It turns out, we had much more in common than not. Remembering Hope is a story that opens a door into a world worthy of visiting. Author Rezai has made that door worth walking through. Visit at https://linktr.ee/p2rezaibooks

Believe in Yourself

Here is a short and hopeful video about believing in ourselves even when others might not.  Enjoy this baby.

In Closing 

It is MOTHER’s DAY this month.  I usually spend the day before at Aurora and Mom’s Day at Woodland, Washington at Hulda Klager’s Lilac Garden. This year, I’ll be visiting Aurora virtually and have to settle for photographs of gorgeous lilacs sent by friends. The gardens are open and they are selling lilacs you can give your mom. I miss my mom. More as I get older. If your mom is still on this earth, give her a call or write a note. Better yet, consider a visit. She’s probably been hoping for one of those from you for a while now. And to leave you with a moving piece of beautiful music, linked to mothering, here is Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti and the East London Gospel Choir singing “Holy Mother.”  Be sure to click on Skip Ad or you’ll see dozens!  The concert is pre-Covid 19. Brought tears to my eyes. Hopeful ones.

As Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”  Hope is an orientation of the spirit.

Stay hopeful.

Warmly,

Jane

[1] Page 328

Join Jane’s newsletter