Thursday, May 10, 2007

My dad and Randy Alcorn

"Sometimes I say at writers' conferences that while many people think they want to write a book, what they really want is to have written a book. It's sort of like wanting to be thin without exercising or eating right. It's fun to hold in your hand a book you wrote, but good writing, like good farming and good bricklaying, takes real work." ~ Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn is one of my favorite writers. When I was in my early twenties I read a novel called Deadline by Alcorn. I passed it along to my dad to read.

Shortly after our big move to PA my mom and dad came up to have a vacation with us. Dad had just finished reading the book and we had the most amazing conversation as he and I traveled to the Pocono Mountains with baby Megan strapped in her car seat sleeping away the miles. We had to take two vehicles and somehow dad and I ended up with baby Megan in one car while Steve, my mom, and Joey were in the other. In life we have these golden moments that glimmer and shine long after it has past. My dad and I had just such a moment.

Deadline is about a group of long time friends dealing with the shock and mystery of the sudden death of one of them. It portrays the depth of human experience in the face of death. It sort of nods to C.S. Lewis as the book conveys both the life and after-life of the characters. I love it's honesty and compelling story. It was the only book I ever read and discussed with my dad as an "adult" and we had the best time picking it apart and looking at it from our differing vantage points.

My dad died suddenly just months later. I am so thankful to Alcorn for this piece of fiction and the way it allowed my dad and I to talk on a profound level about life and death and eternity. The reading of the book and the conversation we had about it helped me cope and have a certain measure of peace over the dramatic and unexpected death of my father.

I put the quote from Alcorn in the beginning of this blog because it speaks to me. I confess I want the result of hard work without the actual sweat involved. I want a ready-made depth of character without grinding away at persevering. I want so many things but I am so undisciplined.

Today I will finish things I have started and I will push through and do the hard work I have been putting off. Today is all about sweat and perseverance. Today is about bricklaying. Now I must go and do! Thank you to my late father and Randy Alcorn for this unexpected inspiration today.

p.s. The only time I ever actually laid bricks was in El Salvador in the sweltering heat one day. For most of the week we had dug the soft volcanic dirt for what seemed to me like an epic penitence. After all that dirt we were thrilled to finally build something. We, in our exhaustion and after painfully following the confusing directions, erected a wall that the Salvadorians laughingly referred to as "Serpentine." Even though the wall came down and the expert Salvadorians came to our rescue I learned I could push thru and persevere. It was such hard laborious work but I would do it again just to share in the sweat and build not a building but a foundation of friendship and comraderie. Ahh, the memories...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Rouark my once knight in dull armor, with me no more...

I have been thinking about Rouark, my knight in dull armor. He is no longer with me. I sold him. I sold him for twenty dollars and watched a man walk away with Rouark held awkwardly under his arm. Rouark is a 4' knight complete with a sword and a helmet visor that can be opened or shut. Rouark stood silently yet valiantly over my life from the time I was twelve to about six months ago. I got him from my beloved Uncle Bob. He got him in some shadowy mysterious way and gave him to me due to the fact that Rouark scared the crap out of my cousins. They would freak out at night when they saw Rouark standing guard. I have had re-occurring nightmares from early childhood on but Rouark never scared me. He was my knight.

I took him to college with me. I had to go to a college I felt was beneath me. My dad had gone through two bouts of cancer my junior and senior years of high school. He spend seven weeks in a Cancer ICU ward at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Tx battling for his life. Rouark stood guard over my anger at God and my tears of grief and loneliness as I grappled with life and meaning and disease and death. My dad did not die and life resumed. With the huge medical bills I was forced to go to a small jr. college in East Texas. My mother was insistant that I needed to live in a dorm and "be a normal college kid." Let's just face it being "normal" in any circumstance isn't really my bag.

I wanted to stay at home and go to UT Arlington. She made a deal with me -- one semester and if I still wanted to come home and attend UT Arlington I could. I figured I could handle four months of the piney woods of Kilgore, the once oil capitol of Texas. Oh, I failed to mention the world-famous Rangerettes were from Kilgore College. Only I had never heard of these world-famous Rangerettes thank you very much. At the time I thought of them as a glorified drill team! Little did I know that a dearly beloved friend would become one of those Rangerettes, a very least-likely friend for me. I was about as far from the whole drill team thing as a girl could get. Rouark stood guard over my dorm room. He silently watched as I grew to love East Texas and this little college.

He was there when I fell in love with a student pilot in the next town. Steve was attending LeTourneau University in Longview, Tx. We met at a restaurant called The Hot Biscuit. Ahh, what a wonderous place that Hot Biscuit was. With free iced tea refills as long as needed to pull the late into the night studying. It is there in that dimly lit restaurant that I first laid eyes on Steve. We had been passing a note back and forth between my table of friends and Steve's through the waitress for quite some time. When we decided it was time to go I walked across the room and said something brilliant like, "We have to go, we are taking the note with us, we plan on recycling." Steve in his New York Yankees baseball cap whipped off his little round glasses in a sweeping dramatic gesture that had me at hello.

Rouark was there in our first little house, our honeymoon cottage, a tiny three-room (with a bathroom so small that you had to carefully position yourself in the opening and closing of the door so as not to get squashed between the door and shower) once office for the three-bay garage next door.

Rouark was there in the house we bought for next to nothing as it was worth next to nothing. It was in the "bad part of town", our friends would lock their doors and dart from their car to our house afraid of being mugged or something like that. There was a crack house just down the street where Steve played the occasional Basketball. We weren't too concerned, we didn't have anything anyone would want to steal. The house directly across from us was filled to capacity with Mexicans that played spanish music loudly out into the night every weekend. I would pretend I was on Holiday in a balmy Mexican village with my balcony doors opened, the ocean breezes stirring the gauzy curtains to the exotic music being played on the village square below.

Rouark silently and stoically took a punch from Steve during a raging fight he and I had one night. I don't even remember what the fight was about. It shocked all of us (Rouark, Steve and I) that Steve would act out in anger. Steve is very laid back and calm. I must have been in rare form that fight. Of couse Steve felt bad and fixed Rouark whose metal chest had caved in from the impact of Steve's fist. Steve sawed a hole in Rouark's back and pushed the dent out, it wasn't perfect but it served as a reminder that some dents remain no matter how hard one tries to mend them.

Rouark was there as we brought each of our beautiful babies home for the first time. He moved around room to room and finally landed a place on our porch standing steadfast next to the front door. We live in a townhouse and it was how our home stood out for visitors and friends. Rouark was the first one to greet all our friends and family.

I sold him. I sold him in an act of firmly affirming to myself our life is changing in every possible way. When the man asked how much for the tin knight. I said, "His name is Rouark." I even spelled it out for the bewildered stranger. And somehow in that moment it seemed I needed to let go of Rouark. It wasn't about the money, it was something deeper. As I, in disbelief of what I had just done, watched the man walk away with Rouark, I wondered if Rouark felt the pain in my heart. I wondered if he thought he had done something wrong. I wonder if he stoically took it as all good knights in service to their knigdom should, but, somewhere, under the metal armor, did his heart break as mine did?

Rouark, my once knight in dull armor, with me no more... May you serve your new kingdom with the royal valor you did in mine.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Deconstructing a house/life

We are putting the house on the market Friday. I'm so sad about it I've been driven to watch the Turner Movie Classic channel. They are playing a movie with Frank Senatra and Louie Armstrong as himself and good ole what's his name. It's a musical. I'll think of what's his name by the end of this blog.

While talking with our realtor on the phone he asked why I sounded so down. I swallowed back tears and brightly chirped something about life and big changes, etc. I went downstairs to find Steve on the computer reading an e-mail from a pilot who sent a picture and wrote about his recent flight into Bongolo. Steve was pouring over the e-mail green with envy. He can't wait to fly those African skies. I swallowed back my tears and left him to his e-mail.

Bing Crosby, that's his name! I heard he beat his kids in real life. That's so disturbing. But his voice, his velvet-like voice... one could crawl up inside of that man's crooning. It's his voice that is the back-drop to my heartache. My grief of leaving. Don't get me wrong. I know it is a far far better thing we do than we have ever done... (or something like that) But it is sooo hard.

Our realtor thinks we can get a better price than we first discussed. Good news, right... All I can think about is deconstructing our life. We have to sell, store, or get rid of everything. I've been looking around more than usual taking everything in. My eyes get all soft and weepy when I look at the teapot we had in England, the one my great grandmother painted for my dad's sixteenth birthday. Of course we will store the special family stuff. Not everything goes. But we won't have our stuff in France and most likely not in Africa. It's just stuff. Stuff packed with memories. Stuff that tells the stories of our travels, our childhoods. Stuff that encompasses a life or five. But who's counting?

I feel like all lamenting should be done with a Brittish accent. So as you read these words put on your best Brittish accent and think of Bing crooning in the background. I realize it's a bit of a mixed bag but have a go at it! Do you think it's possible to choke on unshed tears? I don't have the time or space to release them just yet.

More later... Cheerio Mates!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

words are tiny lights that guide the way

"And anguish knows no boundaries: a fierce current courses from South Central Los Angeles to South African townships, Sarajevo and Sebrenica to Khan Yunis and Gaza City. An undertone of horror echoes from women in Serbian rape camps, eyes and bodies taut with an unspeakable anguish, to deceptively ordinary American homes where someone whispers threateningly, "Don't tell."

"Don't tell." It has taken me a lifetime to begin to understand the ways in which such words corrode, crushing palpable lives beneath the stone weight of fear. But who are we if we cannot speak out about what we have undergone, learned, become? We are the stories we tell; our words map the spaces of home. Our experiences etch themselves into our faces, the lines of grief and joy becoming sharper with age; our lives timbered with a resonance underscored by the fragile bass note of sorrow. To remain silent is to deny the embodied selves that bear us, rooted stalks, into the world: to become complicit in our homelessness. It is to deny, as well, those other narratives that inhabit us - the people crushed by tanks or bombs or guns or simple despair, the eyes and hands and voices whose pleas bind us to our jointly human state." ~ Lisa Suhair Majaj

As I type these words I am listening to a song called "Condition of Desperation." Randy Porter sings, "Time stands still, pictures fade to black, feeling the chill, the wind tearing up my back. Running scared, the pavement moves so quickly. I know that you must agree the dream of possiblity of you and me is slipping through my fingers. So I sing this song for you. My heart's like a clown in a circus. Forever I will be trapped in this crazy condition of desperation, oh such a sweet sensation." This song being one of many songs about lost love.

There aren't as many songs about losing your voice to the threat of "don't tell." I wonder how many have heard these words that slip silently in the ears and root in the heart of the hearer. How many have never told and are still imprisoned by these terrible words? How many define themselves by the rough touch that leaves filthy fingerprints that water won't wash clean? My heart grieves for those that have lost their voices, lost their song, lost their hope.

I used to sleep with books as a child. I thrilled at learning the letters, reading the words aloud. It opened up a world of structure and order. A beginning, a middle, an end. My first real book, meaning longer than a few pages, was an ancient (to me) Hans Christian Anderson book. A collection of stories with beautifully illustrated pages scattered throughout. My dad brought it home from the base one day when we were living in England, I don't remember the occasion. I still have it. The fact that I still have it is a testimony to the treasure that it is. I love the sound the pages make when you feather the edges. I love the smell of printed pages, old and new. I love the way printed words give way to imagination. One can get lost in the pages. Time is inconsequential.

It is often through reading others' stories one can be inspired to live differently. To be inspired by stories of bravery and victory over impossible obstacles. Written words can unlock the heart of the writer as well as the reader. To give words to fear is to take away the power of silence. I wonder if that is the true definition of a writer. One who dares to speak into the dark night of fear. Those words are tiny lights that guide the way for others.

Isn't it amazing that the first words of the Bible are "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless, and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said "Let there be light and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness." Genesis 1:1-4 The first words recorded in the Bible are God speaking light into being and separating it from darkness. Darkness was present in the beginning.

Words are powerful, they can destroy or heal. They can imprision or set captives free. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." John 1:1-5 Darkness only knows darkness. It does not understand the light. Where ever there is light - darkness is overtaken.