Dec 20, 2018 03:04 pm
The other day on a group conference call with a team of people working on a Radical Joy for Hard Times project, a strange synchronicity occurred. It just so happened that three of us had mothers who had either died of or been diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. I was one of them.
In 1974, when I was 26, I was visiting my mother in Connecticut for Christmas. For a few weeks she’d had what she thought was a bad cold, and she’d recently been suffering from back pain. After Christmas dinner, she was in so much pain that my brother and I took her to a little clinic in Guilford. The doctor on call examined her, then told us to take her immediately to the emergency room in New Haven. There she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died four months later.
Even now, 44 years later, I still remember the details of that night so vividly. I remember how cold the small, empty-but-for-us waiting room in the clinic was. I remember the texture of my mother’s coat as I held my arm around her while my brother drove us to New Haven. All three of us were frozen in terror, though my mother occasionally tried to say something optimistic. Every Christmas night since then I feel piercingly sad. I miss my mother.
I have friends who work with body awareness practices that help to remove the traumatic responses we get to events in our lives that are long past but still wounding us. I think those methods are vital and amazing, and whenever I hear of a terrible, body-assaulting event like, for example, the ripping separation of parents and children trying to cross over the southern border of the U.S., I wish that my friends could go and help them. But for me, I’m glad for that annual stab of grief and memory. It reminds me of my mother and my brother and our scary, cold, mute, loving journey on dark roads, when the Christmas lights in other houses tokened warmth and joy. The grief that my body holds makes my own past vivid to me. I’ll keep it.
My new book…
I’ve had some great interviews about my new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty in Earth’s Broken Places in the past few weeks. One was with Dr. Julie Krull on her show, “All Things Connected.” Here’s the link.
If you’ve read my book, do please write a review on Amazon or Goodreads! Every review, good, bad, critical, or scholarly, makes a big difference to future readers!
What I’m reading
I’m reading South and West, Joan Didion’s slim (126 pages) little book based on her notes from the weeks she spent driving around Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 1970. Didion can say more in 50 words than most writers (including me) can say in 500. Here she is with some “random notes from the weekend”:
Bob Evans from WNAG Grenada, trying to explain the class structure of Mississippi towns in terms of five families, with the banker always number one because he makes the loans. A black girl, a student at Jackson State, presented a list of demands at an afternoon meeting and everyone explained to me that she did it “very courteously.” A tribute to coverage during Hurricane Camille, “Broadcasting working in symphonic harmony with the weather bureau and the civil defense authorities.” After that crisis “celebrities from all over the U.S. came down, Bob Hope, the Golddiggers, Bobby Goldsboro. Bob Hope coming down, that really made people see that the country cared.” Mrs. McGrath from Jackson leaning close to tell me Jackson State was a setup.”
Order my new book, filled with ideas for making bold, beautiful, simple creative gifts for wounded places in nature and in your community!