England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

Why Every Day For Me Is Father’s Day

Last Sunday got me thinking, and if I can find the words, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I have learned from my dad. Image

I can still hear the notes leap from my father’s fingers on the strings.  Like prisoners presented with an open gate, melodies spun out of his hands and skipped across the evenings.  On those childhood nights, his songs stood sentinel over my dreams, ushering me out of wakefulness and into sleep.  I loved this music, and I assumed it would always be mine.   

The concept of transience, however, caught me in a stranglehold one Wednesday evening when my father began to play.  All of a sudden, as my eight-year-old brain lilted its way from lullaby to lullaby, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to sing to me forever.  How do we handle this kind of collision with mortality?  Even now, especially then, I wasn’t big enough to deal with such a loss.  I could not comprehend a life empty of the singer and his song. 

There is no real solution when pain so stealthily encroaches on the pristine certainty of childhood.  For the next three years, nightmares painted themselves garish and immutable across the ceiling of sleep. Visions of violence stalked the dark corners of daydreams and I imagined my dad injured or killed countless times.  Sometimes in my dreams we’d be driving and I would look over to find him abruptly disappeared from his seat, seat belt still buckled, gas pedal still depressed.  He left me, helpless and alone, speeding down a highway through the nowhere land of loss.  

These dreams disappeared of their own accord.  Mostly I think I just stuck them in the back of my mental file cabinet, neatly sorted alongside all those other things that I understand only insofar as I don’t understand them at all (see “Passing Away” and “Pantyhose”).   With these profundities safely tucked in storage, I survived middle school, graduated high school, and left for college. 

Going to a university halfway across the country finalized my acceptance of distance from my dad—or so I thought.  I missed him a lot, to be sure, yet purely as one of the most important pieces of my life all the way back in Kansas.  We would keep in touch over text or through phone conversations every few days.  But I turned 19 two years ago.  On my birthday, I received the following email from him:

 “Well…here’s the story.  It doesn’t take long to tell, and perhaps I’ve told it to you before, but after our very nice phone conversation on Saturday afternoon, I had a flashback. I was driving home and Eric Clapton’s song “Tears in Heaven” came on the radio.  You know the history; he wrote it in 1991 for his 4-yr old son after the little boy died in a tragic accident.  A couple of months or so before it came out, your mom was only a couple of months into her pregnancy with you.  One day she sat down by me and said she might have had a miscarriage.  She wasn’t sure, but it was possible that you had gone away.  I wept so hard…I was so afraid…so broken even by the thought.  I have never felt a loss like that, before or since.  Praise God, it turned out not to be the case, and you were still with us.  The song, when it came out a few weeks later, hit me right in the heart.  I had felt some part of what he was singing about.  And every time I’ve heard it since, I get that same feeling.  God helped me understand, by holding me in limbo for a time, how precious you were and are to me.   I’d not heard the song on the radio for years, but God played it again for me after your call to us that afternoon…just His gentle reminder of what a precious gift you are, and of how I know.”

Everything ends. Only love in its many forms manages to outlive the transience of our time on this planet. For there is permanence in loving and being loved that deeply. It changes a human spirit forever, and cannot be stopped by something so empirical as the distinction between this world and the next.

I acknowledge the fear that on occasion still dances around my dreams. I nod to the vast uncertainty that stretches behind my birth and beyond my last breath. But I am not afraid. Here and now, there and then, I am my father’s daughter. I know that when I see him on the other side, he’ll be singing.

Why I Write

Far back in the forest of my childhood stands a little house. Empty now, it has been forgotten by everyone except the oak trees and me.  Image

Once upon a time, though, its ramshackle rooms formed castles.  As my prolific imagination went to work, sunlight sifting through the decrepit roof gave birth to pixies and gnomes.  I believed.  Tales of their mischievous exploits soon danced out of my fingers and onto paper. They stayed with me until adolescence began to pick at the seams of my stories with sticky, insistent fingers.

I owe that little house a lot.  Inside its tumbledown walls I became enchanted by the written immortalization of thought and experience.

Today, the stories I want to tell run along slightly different lines:  hushed-up social justice catastrophes, travel memoirs, anecdotes on the adventure of living.  Yet my love for writing remains the same.  I want to discover, remember, and find out.

As a child, I wrote because my words lent me the beauty of another world.  As a woman, I write because they unlock the splendor of this one.