For my mother, who taught me about magic.

When I was a little girl, I believed in fairies.

I spent half my time imagining how fairies might look and live, roaming the forest behind our house in search of forgotten fairy garments, fashioning palaces out of Kleenex boxes and tree bark—and pretending to be a fairy myself, much to the amusement of our neighbors.

One day, I started writing to the fairies. I left my letters folded up in the cups of tulips or tucked beneath tree roots. Unbeknownst to me, my mother saw me. And for the next year, she wrote back.

In beautiful letters painstakingly crafted from scraps of purple paper, my mother wrote back as a fairy named Lilac who faced the same struggles that I did. Though hers was a world of glimmering wings and dresses spun from raindrops, she too dealt with timeouts from her elders, the occasional unkindness of friends and classmates, and many other matters very dear to the heart of a little girl.

One day, the fairies had to move away. I was growing up. The last letter was from the Fairy Queen herself, who thanked me for being a friend to her subjects and reminded me of the important things I would need to keep practicing as I got older: things like faith, kindness and laughter.

Though the letters came to an end, the magic did not. My mother had given me the space to let my imagination flourish. She had given me the warmth of a friendship no less real for its mysteriousness. She was magical with that very particular kind of magic that lets daughters know they have been well and truly loved.

This Mother’s Day, there is no gift I can give my mother to equal the wonder and delight of my year as a friend of the fairies. I have watched her tackle painful life challenges far removed from the fantastical world she created for me. I have seen faith, kindness and laughter keep my parents together, endure through long illness, and grow my sister and I into women who will face life with bravery and grace.

One day, I will have a daughter of my own who finds a tiny letter in the garden. I have learned a very particular kind of magic.

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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.

A Note to Angry Preachers

To the guy in front of Cooper Hall, disturbing the peace after class.

Eyes and ears seize you

Branding my baby Earth with your gospel of hate.

God sends rain

But you,

Self-elected emissary of some Satan in the sky,

You cremate

The dead bodies of love, of mercy

They languish on the ground as I pass

by–

Yes, goodbye!

By the sickening slick of your own poison

You will die.

Whom shall you convince?

Scorching heat of your stunted spirit

To think that I would dream of coming near it.

Festering sores

“GOD HATES YOU AND YOURS”

Hey, mister

Oh-so-sinister so untrue

Every day, with

Every Damn Thing I Say,

I triumph over you.

I will be the anti-hate

Breathe life into the love

You suffocate.

I am the rain, and you are a liar.

Watch me vanquish fire.

Drink Deep, and Don’t Stop Dreaming

There is probably little to no prior record of an all-nighter spent in a campus library producing goodwill toward anyone or anything. But this morning, as November brings a chill to even the Florida sunrise, there is hope.

Below is a list of things I have experienced that remind me what life is actually for. It’s for you, too: an exhortation to shake yourself out of your exhaustion and your disillusionment and thank today for coming to greet you.

Today, you have the chance:

To walk into the night under a foreign sky with familiar stars

To jump off a cliff head first and feel the world rush up to meet you

To know a name on every continent and “friend” in fifteen languages

To work hard and feel the realized ambition raise you up

To leave behind lovers, and friends, and family, who never really leave you at all

But surround you in the cocoon of a phone call

To sit on evening porches and talk about life and philosophy and thought and all the ideas

And dreamers who went before you

To see that we dream the same dreams and that they can still

Take you places

To laugh in the face of fear when

You don’t understand at all, what the hell is going on here

To smile and shout from a thousand feet up

To feel the pressure of the ocean when you swim deep below

To be swept away in a passion so exquisite and painful it leaves you at the precipice of

Finality and contentment

To feel the chasm of grief and loss and hang on to belief and be

Free.

To look back on your life and see that it was all poetry

And there will always be another human being, a God to understand

This elusive “me”

To jump from planes and sit in strange cafes and alleyways and see

Your soul in a painting made by a man years before you breathed

To cry in anguish into the night and then watch the sun rise

To shine like light itself when a child reaches up to your face

To know what it took to get you here

To remember and hold the universe inside your heart

To cherish every quiet shrieking resounding wavering solid yes and no

To hold and let go

To be left breathless.

Drink deep.