Ordinary Suffering/ Suffering Is Ordinary

Last week I was writing about suffering. I have been writing about suffering for years (because that’s a fun way to fill a notebook, right?) but this year I churn when I sit to write about suffering, with impatience to reach conclusion about what I see in the world, what I see in dear friends’ lives, what I feel in my body and mind. When considering others’ losses, I wonder if my own suffering is selfish. Does God care to comfort me when I am sad for nothing much, compared?

A few weeks ago, after a family suffered the death of their baby girl, my friend Sabrina listened to my very wandering thoughts about everything and said to think about what I am learning from the people in my life who suffer much. This circle of suffering friends includes Sabrina, in her first year of widowhood, her first year of single parenting. So last week when I was writing about suffering and a colleague asked what I was working on, I told him and he quoted an Auden poem – “About suffering they were never wrong,/ The old Masters: how well they understood” – which I looked up. Which sent me to Pieter Brueghel’s painting “Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus.” I read the poem, looked at the painting and found a way in.

The Fall Of Icarus

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Ordinary Suffering/
A Response To “Musee des Beaux Arts”
Sarah Marslender

I was on the way to the airport to fly to Australia
when my grandfather died in Wisconsin,
but I read the news at the gate, leaned against
my husband. I thought, Grandpa knows everything/
I was at my work study when a plane flew into
the World Trade Center – we turned the radio on,
we thought it was impossible but true, returned
to our work/ Two weeks ago, I was walking down
a school hall when I checked my messages to
learn a friend’s baby died. With the time
difference between here and there, I couldn’t
remember what I was doing when this baby girl
left all of this world

I think about that – what I am doing when a
plane explodes in the air, or barrel bombs rain,
or the earth shakes foundations, slips mud, eats
half a mountainside town. I think about where I
am when, as if it matters at all

to join the suffering. We do not all turn away
from the boy who falls from sky. The fisherman
with his slender rod, the hawk on its slender branch,
the shepherd staring at sky – we do not all turn
away from ordinary suffering but you cannot
see our heads turn, our feet move before we
think, or how we lay that night seeing it again,
you cannot see what paint dried

Ordinary suffering/ suffering is ordinary, not
less than/ greater than, only part of being here
where people may fall from sky, or wake with a
mouthful of mud, or witness the brightest/ most
excruciating light before dark, or walk the next
day with empty hands

Tattoos

Next week, if enough of my colleagues sign up to attend, I’ll run a short poetry writing workshop. I’ve missed writing poetry this year – one of the functions of teaching a poetry unit to creative writers is actually writing a ton of poetry. Those six years reading and writing poetry alongside students stretched my usual practice. Poetry shakes loose writing inhibitions. But after years of writing poetry, you really must take Raymond Carver’s advice and make use of the things around you.

This week, that is tattoos. I half listened in on a conversation between colleagues about tattoos they have, tattoos they want, tattoo artists here in Seoul, plans to go, maybe, and at the end of the conversation, perhaps sensing my eavesdropping, Daniel turned to me and asked did I want to get a tattoo. I said I’ve been thinking about my tattoo for twenty years. So.


I’ve Thought About My Tattoo For Twenty Years

One summer I sat next to a boy at church camp,
saw GRACE tattooed in black letters on the inside
of his forearm – this tenet of faith extended to
him to extend to others. I asked did he have any
other tattoos? He said yeah, they were where
he couldn’t show me and others at the lunch table
laughed while I blushed. He patted my shoulder,
said he was only joking

That summer I thought about the tattoo I might
get, a tiny Christian fish on my foot, walking the
gospel, or maybe a winged fleet foot at the ball
of my ankle because I was running and running
and one day going to run very, very far

In college I saw enough tattoo regrets to stick
to piercings. Bleeding ink, misshapen faces,
calligraphed anything, kanji you can only hope
reads hope, thick useless bands around biceps,
nosegays, suns, stars and compasses, an animal
kingdom of cartoons, four leaf clovers and realistic
wolves. I stumbled the gospel more than walked,
relieved I wasn’t also advertising my failure

When I returned to amazing grace I remembered
GRACE, turned my wrist over to imagine grace the
color of a freckle on delicate skin. Or a thin line like
pencil lead sketching the Holy Spirit dove in one line

After a long winter I wanted a piece of green
somewhere on my body, and in Colombia I saw the
many shapes leaves take in a climate of perpetual
spring, perpetual fall – but I did not make myself
a forest. I thought to dash watercolor at my right
collarbone. I thought to tattoo a favorite piece of
punctuation, the –

Or I might use my flesh to write what is written
on my heart, words of life I reread, memorize in
shorthand: rejoice, give thanks, pray/ belong to
the day/ in everything/ workmanship/ faith, hope,
love/ unstained/ draw near/ pleasant places. Each
year or season collects phrases I whisper, pray –
these are for my whole life and for the moment in
front of me. My body would be covered in affirming,
uncomfortable, confrontational scripture to complicate
or clarify my living any of this

Finally I think of white ink. Draw the borders of each
country I have lived, draw the borders one over
another so the thin lines entwine, knot

The marks on my body are not inked. I have freckles
the color of freckles. I have a birthmark like a brushstroke.
I have stretch marks at my hips, like wavery white ink,
and age draws fuschia squiggles on my thighs. I am a
body marked, but –

I Used To Call In Sick On April Twentieth

I was a high school senior in Wisconsin when a freshman boy in Kentucky opened fire on a circle of students gathered in prayer, killing three and wounding five. Later that winter the school shooting was a discussion on Dawson McAllister Live, a Christian call-in show for teens carried by the station our family radios were tuned to. I listened from the backseat of the minivan, staring out the window at the dark evening, hearing stories from witnesses. I remember McAllister talked about having compassion for the shooter’s sister. I remember we were all silent, maybe a little uncomprehending. Something inside me wanted to scream. If I held myself still enough, if I didn’t let a sound out – I watched the dark sky, the shapes of trees.

Also in that minivan was my then infant sister, Mary Grace, who is now graduated after twelve years of homeschool. My sister Ruth is just graduated after completing her senior year at public school. Ellie and David are attending that same school as a junior and sophomore, while the youngest of us siblings, Danny, is in seventh grade homeschool. All of my youngest siblings have grown up or are growing up during a time when the US moved from shock, sorrow and outrage at school shootings to a kind of apathetic acceptance that these tragedies are now part of our culture – attributed to  a diet of violent media or bullying or family dysfunction or mental illness or, ultimately (obviously) easy access to guns.

One of my friends, also a teacher, posted his response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Facebook. He acknowledged there are deeper issues to address – I think of how many students question their inherent worth, how we might restore value to the least of these, how we might increase our love for one another in community. And he also stated the necessity of gun restriction discussion and change.

And change.

I am heartened by the Florida high school students who are not retreating to thoughts and prayers but are saying we do need change, now. It is now.

I am disheartened to think how we have become an unreasonable nation, to resist this change. No. One political party has become unable to attend the morality of gun control debate and legislation. And that is unreasonable. This morning I thought how many Republicans love the Christian right vote. I thought about how many Christians want their rights protected in the US, to the point of canceling other people’s constitutional rights, to the point of negating compassion. I think these voters and lawmakers are afraid. Our country is not listening to one another. Our mouths are full of old arguments.

We possess innate morality. We are not born good but we are born to know the difference between good and evil. It is evil to neglect our children. It is evil to pretend any preventative measure of gun violence is an infringement of civil liberty. It is evil to only send up thoughts and prayers when we are also given wisdom to end the massacre.

Columbine happened spring of my freshman year of university. I came home from class and a girl named Jenny asked did I hear what happened? A school shooting in Colorado. She had her television on CNN coverage and I stood in her room for a few minutes, long enough to read the scroll of what was known so far, long enough to hear conjecture, long enough to see the line of students evacuating their school, the teenagers dangling and dropping from classroom windows. I ran out of my residence hall, that shuddering fury I felt when I heard accounts of Paducah returned, and I cut across campus, gasping a little. I looked up at the sky and asked God why. I don’t understand why I was so affected by this shooting but it happened as I was considering a teaching degree. Later that evening after I returned to my hall, after Jenny told me they got the shooters, the shooters were dead, I sat at my narrow desk by the window and wrote. I wrote I wasn’t sure if I could teach if this is what school meant now. I wrote my worry and fear.

I began my teaching career with a wary eye on the slumped boy, the angry girl. I assessed my classroom for barricade potential. I counted how long it would take to lock my classroom, turn the lights out, draw blinds. During my first years teaching in Wisconsin, April twentieth was difficult – I was anxious the weeks before and the day of I might call in sick or schedule a medical appointment. The year before I moved abroad, I decided I could go to school on the anniversary of Columbine but during first period I asked the office for sub coverage, left school midmorning.

April twentieth is not charmed. Nor is it cursed. It is only a date. And there are so many that followed.

Since leaving Wisconsin I have taught in Colombia, Kuwait and now, Korea. Each of these places have their own risks but I am not afraid of going to work as an educator or of sending my kids to their classrooms.

My daughter was in kindergarten when Newtown happened and there was a stretch of time I was most afraid for my children because humans are capable of such atrocities. The likelihood of a shooter firing into my son’s preschool room was so minimal but after Newtown I could imagine anything, and did. I hated the stay-in-place drills. My son’s teacher asked parents to send comfort objects for the boys and girls to hold during a scheduled drill. If there was a terrorist attack or a shooter on campus there would be no blankies, no stuffies, only thumps and cracks, a siren punctuated by a female voice urging

Stay — in place
Stay — in place

What followed Newtown was a slow realization I could not return to live in my country. I was as saddened and shocked by the details of the attack as I was by the federal government’s inability to enact gun restrictions which would make such mass murders more difficult to commit. The years since have entrenched an oligarchy placed by corporate interests, kept by voter suppression; and an ugly, entitled turn of political bias that refuses practical or difficult compromise necessary in such a diverse nation as ours.

At one point, I started a short story about the fabled good guy with a gun. He received address, dates and times and if he could only get through gate check and catch his plane, if he could only make his way through rush hour traffic he’d protect this school or that movie theater from a barrage of bullets. His performance review was shit.

I was mad. Just after Newtown a neighbor told me his plan to buy one or two assault rifles that summer when he was home, before Obama signed any gun control legislation reducing his right to bear arms. Why do you need a gun like that? I asked. Because it’s fun, he said. I remembered that conversation two years later when a nine-year-old girl at a firing range accidentally killed her instructor because she was unable to manage the power of an Uzi. Was that fun?

I wish I didn’t know the phrases “high capacity magazine” or “bump stock.”

Restrictions are imperative. Boundaries, rules, expectations can be gifts that shape fuller, longer lives. This morning I read about the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas – those cropped photos and short descriptions we are all familiar with. I watched a clip of David Hogg telling our representatives they are adults who need to do something. All the children in the US start kindergarten in a country where school is not safe.

Our last year in Wisconsin there was a school shooting in a neighboring district. I remember reading the email sent to all staff. We were supposed to continue teaching. That night on the news, the story told of a boy who walked into school, shot and killed his principal. Last school year, my siblings’ Janesville high school was put on lockdown and later closed while local, state and FBI law enforcement searched for a man who burgled a gun store and mailed a manifesto to the White House. The man was apprehended in the southwest part of the state, a little less than a hundred and fifty miles away from where my family lives. I still haven’t asked Mom what it was like to know three of her children were on lockdown because of a credible threat from a man with lots of guns. Weirdly, when I heard the story I didn’t feel alarmed or afraid. I had no deep feelings, not even rich gratitude for my siblings’ safety. The incident seemed regular.

This morning I was thinking about Paducah because it was not so long ago when this carnage was truly uncommon. I googled “paducah ky school shooting” and first results included news articles about Kentucky’s most recent school shooting which left two dead and fourteen injured. That happened January 23, 2018. I hadn’t heard of it. You probably haven’t heard of it. Two dead and fourteen wounded is no longer national news.

If all gun deaths were national news, what might happen? Could we say the number out loud? Two here, five there has become nothing but each is a life our nation let go.

Following Christ exacts a high cost. Deny yourself. Be angry but do not sin. So far as you are able, keep peace. Be humble. Love even the ones who are difficult to love. This is my anger: the political party who wants most to align itself with Christianity has twisted my faith to prosperity gospel, hypocritical prolife sentiment, protection from any “other,” and the right to bear an arsenal. How has personal liberty in the US usurped freedom in Christ – who will now deny themselves a military grade weapon? who will now lay down the handgun when they leave the house to buy groceries?

Not all will follow Christ. Not all will choose the hard work of love. But it is not the end. But, oh God, we are fucked as a nation if we cannot come to this issue humbly, openly, willing to draw necessary restrictions to help curb all gun violence in America.


Notes: I am a hit and miss expat voter newly resolved to vote, regardless the inconvenience. While at different points I thought I could not return to live in the States, I know that my life is best lived where I am and if I am one day back in the US, I will be glad. Also, I pray. I do believe prayer matters. But wrestle the issues, persist. Learn to listen. Last, while I am far away from my home country, it is my home country and I care deeply for the men, women and children living in its borders.

Please take time to read “A ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ Cries Out For Change.”

Midwinter Rant – & Revision

It’s day three hundred and seventeen of winter. We’re halfway to spring!

I underestimated the work of just getting through a transition year. This week I nearly missed the bus home from school. I sat in my seat, whispered a gentle fuck and then quietly cried for most of the commute. Three nearby colleagues noticed, patted my shoulder or said a kind word when they stood for their stop, offered a little commiseration, sympathy. Later in the week when Claire stood in front of me on the sidewalk and declared, You don’t get it! I am having a tough week! All week I am sad! You don’t understand! I thought of being the grown up who two days earlier cried on the bus ride home from school.

Because rants are allowed transitionless tangents:

I spent the week thinking about one essay I am revising. I worked on this essay a little each day. I thought about this essay on my morning runs. I dreamed this essay. I actually dreamed a paragraph to add, woke up and made a note.

Personal narrative is exhausting. This particular essay is a challenge because it centers on the years following the death of my friend’s infant and after two years of drafting and revising it is near completion though, as I added in a line, the conclusion I reach is that I will continue to ponder these things for years to come. There is no neat, tidy or uplifting package for the initial loss or grief and what I saw as I allowed time to write and think about that summer and my intersection with the event and lives involved – what I saw is that a first grief can open other griefs.

This must be true at any tragedy. We think we are sad for one thing because we are sad for that one thing, but then we are also sad for this other thing and soon our grief for the two entwines.

I was angry for three years after this infant died. I thought I was angry at the loss or the situation or even certain people present then, but the anger may also have been for the way this one grief made me see another, different sorrow I was holding.

If I didn’t keep a notebook or draft personal narrative, I might be better at sitting on a bus and pretending everything was fine.

This essay. I might have ruined it with the latest revisions. At the least I have taken the term personal literally and explored desires and fears circling motherhood, desires and fears I was already examining when my friend’s infant died and, in the years since, I linked those desires and fears with that summer’s grief.

One afternoon I took the kids to a small cafe for hot chocolate. I sat with my laptop open, adding to this essay, and Claire asked why I like to write. I said I want to make art. But when I consider why I write personal narrative, I have no good answer. A couple of weeks ago I was out to coffee with my friend Erin and I found a way to say why personal narrative is difficult: there is a pressure to really get it right. Especially the tough parts. I often start writing about something just because I need to write about that something but when I decide to turn the idea into a (someday) shared essay, there is terrible dread I won’t say what I need to say in a way that translates to understanding.

Early in the week my friend Sarah messaged me a quote from Australian author John Clarke.

“Writing another draft” sounds exhausting. “Having a bit of a tinker” sounds delightful.

And a day or two later Erin messaged me a link to a Reading My Tea Leaves post about writing or creating while also being a mother, a thoughtful reminder that what I am doing piecemeal adds to my craft. More, that motherhood adds to my craft.

Yesterday Grant looked at my engagement ring and asked if it is a real gem. I said yes. He asked, A diamond? A real diamond? Yes. His eyes got big. He said, We’re so rich! We are, in so many ways.

Well, this rant wound down nicely. It is still cold. We are trading coughs. Strawberries cost as much as a dollar apiece. And it is still cold.

Writing From Headlines: Hawaii Emergency Alert

The Hawaii emergency alert. I read about this and maybe a day or two went by and I was still thinking about this because it makes your stomach funny to think about such a horrible thing happening, to spend a very long short time supposing you might die imminently. I am morbid enough to think about these things even when there isn’t a supporting current headline. Around the world and throughout history, men women children are put right next to their cut from life to death, made to see it, think it, wait for it. So when I read about Hawaii, of course I thought what I would do. And then I very quickly put me out of my mind because it’s really awful to think about.

Instead, I made a writing exercise. I want to create a full piece with different voices to tell the story of not quite an hour. I avoided reading personal accounts of those terrifying/ surreal/ unsettling minutes until I had a few ideas drafted in note form. Below are the first two of five situations. Finished, the five parts contribute to one piece.

Writing fiction is one way I think about who I am. My notebooks are almost entirely filled with journaling and prayer, notes, lists. The Hawaii emergency alert reminds me of my own fears and I might have written an essay about those specific fears but I’m bored of or over or far away from those fears. I know those fears very well. What I don’t know is what it’s like to find out you may die or breathe radiation this morning. I think we should all take time to be a lot afraid of terrible things but not live in that fear for very long, just long enough to be glad when you breathe where you are again.

One more note on the following. The first piece, “Do That Thing,” is about honeymooners. They have sex. They waited until they were married to have sex and now they are on their honeymoon and a ballistic missile is headed their way and, really, I think this is a nightmare scenario for any purity pledging young person even if they believe God is good. I actually really like this piece because it was tragic and funny and tragic to write but sex happens in the story and if that is uncomfortable to read, skip ahead to “Basketball Camp.”

MISSILE THREAT INBOUND

 

Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Melbourne HL Looking Up

Agnes named two places we should go in Melbourne. When I mentioned wanting to see street art, she said, Go to Hosier Lane. And she said to eat at The Hardware Societe. She described the dish she ate, how she couldn’t explain why such a simple dish of egg and avocado was the most delicious, but it was.

Agnes and Rob are friends of friends. During our stay in Maryborough we spent an afternoon at their house. They have an acre in a small subdivision off a highway, a big yard for the kids, with a teepee at the back lot line, perfect for planning adventure or hiding. The kitchen opens to a large outdoor room and I spent the afternoon there, sitting at a round table made for company and long, lazy lunches. I watched the kids run around, race a remote control car, jump on the trampoline. Wherever I travel I imagine living. The outdoor spaces built into Australian homes are gorgeous – not the patio or screened porch of the Midwest, but an easy flow from inside to outside, like homes I remember in Cali, Colombia. So one day, I think while sitting at Rob and Agnes’s table, When I live in Australia or South America, I will make an outdoor space to read or write, a place to think, nap, drink a little, eat. (Maybe what I need is a tent).

That afternoon I was quiet and tired, thinking of my family in Wisconsin and why we choose to be so far away. (Why do we choose to be so far away?) But I was also thinking how, after only two or three days on my sixth continent, I was already deciding to return. (Why do we choose to be so far away?)

Melbourne MosaicMy first morning in Melbourne I ran a path south along the Maribyrnong River, toward the port, and found street art hidden on a short stretch connecting the quiet river path to a busier road route. A low brick wall was a surprise of bright color, swoops and angles, cartoon illustrations. A small utility building with a Danger High Voltage Keep Out sign was painted a weave of flames. There was a sculpture of a fish-man on a bicycle, welded from scrap metal. Running back, I looked up to see a small square tile mosaic installed on a metal and concrete bridge. I immediately thought: this is my writing.

Probably I make too much about me. But I saw that little piece of art tucked where a few people see it and I ran away ready to do the same with my work this year. Street art is daring and vulnerable. You make something to share, on purpose. You make someone see:

I put a mosaic together
I spray paint at midnight
I write poetry
I play a song without words

And you hope when someone sees they connect/ interact with/ respond to your work. We don’t always get to know that part. I wish I could tell the maker of that tiny mosaic how glad I was to see art on a trestle.

That morning we took the tram downtown. When Agnes talked about Hosier Lane I imagined a mile of painted brickwork. I imagined a whole street angling through downtown Melbourne, like where we might shop or stop for a bite, just lucky enough to be surrounded by an artist’s late night work. But Hosier Lane is an alley, wide enough to work and no storefronts to fuss. The buildings on either side are three or four stories. Giant canvases. Agnes told me wedding parties visit Hosier Lane because the backdrop is so wild. That weekday there were no wedding parties but we arrived to see other tourists with their heads thrown back to see the tallest art, to take in as much wall as they could. What I saw was all the cameras. All the poses.

Melbourne HL 4I took a couple of pictures of Justin and the kids, then left them for the hour. The lane is short enough, only a city block or so, that we bumped into each other but I didn’t pay them much mind except to shoo Claire out of a shot and tell Grant to wait a minute. Now that seems embarrassing, a little greedy. Didn’t I want Claire to see something she might do one day, paint for an audience? Didn’t I want Grant to see how unpredictable art is? But while there, I didn’t bother about my kids’ responses to the brick walls of spray paint, and I didn’t care whether Justin was enthralled. Instead I got sucked into other people’s interactions with Hosier Lane. I watched tourists like me put on faces for a camera, for a phone. And those were the pictures I wanted. I walked up and down the lane, pausing to watch and listen, waiting for the moment one person raised a camera to another. I fit that pull in the small frame of my phone screen. When someone noticed, usually after, I talked with them, said I like the picture of you taking a picture here. I asked, Do you mind if I take another? Sometimes I would take another. I didn’t ask names or places. I didn’t ask permission.

Melbourne HL Looking At MeThere was a couple with good cameras and good style hanging out at this fantastic orange and blue painting of a woman’s profile, her face surrounded by angles and arsenal, plump lips a slight smile. This couple took turns posing. They looked at one another’s photos. They might have been doing what I was doing, watching everyone else too. At one moment I stood directly across from this couple and she looked at me.

There were two girls, maybe twelve or thirteen, with phones and tall convenience store slurpees. Both wore short shorts and one tugged at her tube top. When either girl posed, it was any of: pop a hip, step up, arch back, lean, slouch, raise arms, pout, barely smile, try on serious. Between poses the two girls conferenced, switched rolls. I asked did they mind and then took a few pictures. One I really like is of the girl in yellow wearing mirrored aviators. She’s pigeon toed and looking up. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands so she drops them to the front of her waist, politely. She looks like a child and she looks like a million models.

There was an Indian family. A young family and a set of grandparents. I would have liked getting a picture of the grandmother in her bright sari. She might look like a dash of paint standing still. I could have asked. Instead I watched. At one point the family wandered away from the young son and I saw this echo: a boy painted on the wall, a boy standing next to the wall.

Melbourne HL 1There were two friends out for the day. I offered to take their picture on one of their phones and one of them offered to take my picture. I didn’t get a good picture of myself. While the one woman snapped photos of me standing in front of Hosier Lane mural, the other kept asking questions. So my face is doing this talking-while-smiling thing that doesn’t look cool or casual. I have a slightly droopy eyelid. One day my face will look old but right now my face just looks tired. I should have posed instead, like the stylish couple, close lipped, head slightly tilted, hands in my front pockets like I walk around like this all day.

We ate at The Hardware Societe, a thirty minute wait for a shared table to learn Agnes was right.

Sometimes Days, Then One Hour

I am in Melbourne now. The day before we flew to Australia to meet friends for Christmas, I learned my grandpa had fallen and his body, weakened by Parkinson’s disease, was unlikely to recover. That afternoon I laid on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, and drifted between tears and sleep. The next morning I called Mom. I wasn’t sure if I needed to be home. Last time I visited Grandpa, we said a kind of goodbye and in the months since I prayed for his heart as he endured.

My own heart did not know what was right when I learned, kindly said, that it was only a matter of time. I am still not certain I did what was right, going to Australia on holiday when the man who set me on the crossbar of ten-speed bike to race down a hill, telling me to hold on the short ride down, returning to the top of the hill for another go, this time taking my brother, before my second, third turns – when that man was dying and I still might go to his side and say again: I remember how strong you were and see how strong you are even in this weakness. And your weakness does not change my love or affection or memory of who you are.

In the airport Justin showed me the email Mom sent that Grandpa had died. I thought what I’d been doing four hours ago. The flight was long. We landed in Queensland and I made it through a full day, woke early to run. For a week I ran with stray thoughts that brushed against prayer and poetry. I started immediately to write a poem I could see coming together, eventually. I wrote and rewrote and supposed at structure, organization for pages and days. Below is the latest draft, written today in a cafe, across from my daughter who sat reading her book. I will return to this, puzzle the best way for this poem.

A couple of weeks before he died, I sat in a different cafe, alone, thinking about Grandpa meeting Grandma, thinking about the care, chance and appointment that line up our lives; thinking the ways we are made to be here now. I am glad for my grandparents, glad for my parents, glad now for my children who will one day have their own moment of wild reflection: all the ones who bring us here now, all the ones who follow.


Maryborough, Queensland

4.Island Plantation Road

I am where I want to be
at the edge of sugarcane fields
under a hot, blue morning,
feeling my heart. The air is
sweet. I stand still long enough
for sweat to salt my arms, legs –
long enough to listen to
how quiet the world is, finally,
long enough to decide
I must go back. The roads back
are  the roads I look for
when I run: roads of
narrow width
single lane stretches
neglected asphalt
gravel
Those roads go where I want

3.Saltwater Creek Road

This must go somewhere to
nowhere, this busy road out
of town, this busy road must
give me a two lane road, at least,
a two lane road that loses
its shoulder, that gives me
a woman and her dogs out
as early as I. This woman and
her shepherding dogs stop. She
tells me the roads cutting
through these fields are
quiet and if I take this one –
There. She points –
I can go right to the creek

2.Walker Street

Far away from me my grandfather
is newly dead, awaiting burial

Maybe this is why I run all
the short paths in this cemetery,
correcting my mistake, thinking
at a distance this is an empty
cemetery. The markers are flat
and the cemetery is full

Luther Valley cemetery is full
of tall, old stones weatherworn so
it is easier to feel rather than read
names and dates etched or raised
Full also of sharply cut new
headstones like the one my family
will stand at when my
grandfather is given back

1.No Through Street

The town is a crosshatch of
wide, crowned roads that end at
field river highway. On a map,
the town’s edges look frayed
I run Lennox, Moreton, Bazaar,
Pallas, Albert, Queen
looking for a way out,
finding instead how this town
wakes, slow in bright, hot air,
slow at summer Christmas

 

Today I Am Thirty-Seven

There was frost on the ground this morning. The grass made silver green, the wooden bridge a slip underfoot. It is autumn – my first in a decade – and the days pull between two seasons with cold nights and colder mornings, crisp afternoons. I ran this morning. I could see my breath but feel my toes. This year I am running all the seasons. I am warned winter is very cold. I am told winter isn’t so bad. I will know winter in another month or two. Now though, the wild green I drank in August, the wild green I’d missed out the desert window, the wild green is going. Tall grasses along the river wave gold and the leaves of trees growing either side of the river and up the hills are the color of campfire. This morning I noticed the pointy elbows and knobby fingers of bare branches. Soon all the trees will be angles and lines against sky.

Today I am thirty-seven. I thought about this while running. I thought I should feel something about thirty-seven. What I feel is okay and okay is peak compared to the inappropriate, hidden emotions of my last decade of birthdays and anniversaries when, instead of remaining buoyantly thankful/ exuberant/ #blessed, I’d often sink in melancholy at to-date regrets. Then at some point late in the day, Justin would see my disappointment and apologize for not getting a gift of messing up dinner plans. I’d sigh, be held, and think I couldn’t explain my sorrow was not a missed dinner out but the whole course of my life. It was much easier to imagine I was pouty about baking my own cake.

Growing up, birthdays were a big deal. Mom asked what we wanted for our birthday dinner. I remember choosing tacos or fettuccini alfredo. From first waking to right before bed, we’d get songs and hugs and kisses. We were celebrated. We were enjoyed. I don’t remember my siblings or myself feeling jealous of one another’s birthdays because each of us had a turn at choosing our day’s activities and menu. I remember making cards or putting together small gifts for Nate and Joanna and opening their gifts to me.

When I turned seven in second grade, my parents gave me a Lisa Frank watch with a set of bright, interchangeable bands that I wore for two or three years. When I turned eleven in sixth grade, I walked hand in hand with Mom at dusk to a blood drive and watched her donate a pint. I ended up resting with my feet up while my sister ate cookies and drank all the offered juice. When I turned sixteen my junior year, my family showed up during second period choir, dressed as clowns and singing happy birthday before Mom pinned a corsage on my sweater. When I turned twenty-one as a senior in college, my roommates and I drove out of town on a quiet country road and watched the Northern lights.

After college I chose a direction I hadn’t quite meant to choose and there I was in the middle of something good I didn’t want, married and teaching in rural Wisconsin. So each year marked another year deeper in this something good I couldn’t see, another year removed from the direction I didn’t take.

I turned twenty-seven in Colombia, celebrated with a party of new friends, celebrated an age I’d long thought a good number to really do something. The something I did was have a baby, so I celebrated twenty-eight waking with my one-month old daughter. I was bleary and hopeful this would work out okay.

At some point, we let go. I do not mourn growing older. I tell friends I want my forties. But I want my forties because I think then I will do whatever it is I imagine doing well: writing a book you read, sending creative and kind children to the world, falling into enviable late marriage comfort.

Years ago my dad wrote “Be there” on the dedication page of my new Bible, my full name stamped in italic gold at the bottom right of the maroon leather cover. And since then I’ve returned to that exhortation to find its fit for many situations as a quiet command to hold steady in the present, with no rush to the next task or conversation, no rush to the next year or season. How can I explain why this birthday – opened with a cold morning run, closed in a warm bed with my husband – was the birthday I was just there for, not sinking in melancholy, not counting misses and ifs. And this birthday: returning from my run to my son singing the first two lines of happy birthday before telling me to come see what they got for me, opening my eyes to find a tiny cactus spiked with purple blooms at my feet, resting against my husband who is just so good to hold, kissing my daughter’s smooth forehead and thinking some birthday soon we’ll be an even height. And this birthday: a hot shower, good coffee, a catch up with a friend, an hour to write, an hour to read. So much in one day. Errands and chores before we woke up to Monday. A late afternoon snit by my daughter who proclaimed that I am no fun, that I ruin all the fun, that I don’t want her to have any fun. Hodge podge dinner. The last flurry of bedtime. Then the day was over and I was that much into my thirty-eighth year, warm in bed next to my husband and glad for okay.

Maybe even better than okay. I want to know why contentment feels a fight. Why for a decade, more, I couldn’t fully ease into the good I had. Why during those years I pinched at the thought of a parallel track where I lived in a drafty walk up, wearing an old wool sweater through the entire winter, forgetting to eat because I consumed stories instead and emerging in spring with a book of my own.

I am okay and occasionally terrified.

I am thirty-seven and finally thank you Jesus at last glad for marriage and children. But I am also thirty seven and keenly aware what I waste. So now I learn a narrow walk of contentment and pursuit. Now I learn a narrow walk of trust. Now I learn do I reap the years of practice, do I reap the years of choosing to stay, do I reap the years of fighting to yield, do I reap the years of sorrow and fear, do I reap the years of tentative joy, do I reap the years of quiet obedience, do I reap the years of defiance, do I reap. At night, I curl into my husband’s warm body, breathe against his skin. This is comfort, to be near and warm, to tell my mind to be here between the sheets and nowhere else, no parallel Sarah untethered, no shadow fright, no ache for what I am not. At night I may lay awake in terror or I may rest.

No Ideas, But In Things

This exercise comes from 3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. 3 AM Epiphany is one of many writing books I’ve browsed in bookstores or spotted on colleagues’ shelves but never bothered reading past a few flipped pages. But a few weeks ago a colleague and I were talking about teaching creative writing and he mentioned how much he loves this book, how great the exercises are for writers. He sounded like me talking about Writing Down The Bones or What If? Later that day I bought the book and found the first exercise I wanted to try.

No Ideas, But In Things

Write a very brief story told only in images – concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people from your prose, just too watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions. 300 words.

The book says more about the exercise itself but this was the direction I reread when beginning again. Two comments more, from the book: The phrase no ideas, but in things comes from William Carlos Williams, who firmly believed in presenting the world the way it looked… And: If you need an operating metaphor for this exercise , think in terms of a silent movie or the moments when a contemporary film truly uses visual storytelling.

This is a challenging exercise. I started with two separate images in my mind: a walk up a hill for coffee and a woman digging in dirt. But then I included the narrator’s thoughts. (Which fails the exercise). And then I blew the 300 word limit by a thousand. But go ahead and do the same, for the practice. Or try writing a few short-short, connected pieces.

Here is the yield.


Isaac walked up the hill for coffee. The walk up the hill was shadowed. On one side of the quiet street was a cement wall painted white and from the other side of the wall trees grew tall enough to shadow the street. On the wide sidewalk where he walked, smaller trees with smooth bark were planted in dirt squares bordered by red brick. The roots of these smooth bark trees were just beginning to lift slabs of sidewalk at a corner to catch the toe of a shoe, make a stutter step. Isaac walked up the hill for coffee and to think a little before returning to campus to pick up his grade twos from P.E. or art or music, one of the specials that gave him this moment to walk up the hill.

He went to a place called Zoo Coffee which served coffees and juices and sandwiches without meat. The barista knew enough English to spare him gestures. She would duck her head a little and turn to tamp espresso grounds, press buttons, add a pump of syrup. He would take his drink, sit at the long table near the front of the cafe. He would take out his phone and scroll through the news, reread an email he should reply to, like photos his sister posts. At two or three other tables, housewives or women his mother’s age sat with their cups and small plates of cake or rolls but he didn’t look at them, only knew  they were there. After ten or so minutes he would push back his chair, bow slightly at the barista who echoed his kamsahamnida. Then he walked back down the hill to campus to prepare his room for the next morning or do paperwork or discover where one of the students hid morning snack. At 2:13 he would pick up his grade twos for the very last part of the school day.

When he walked up the hill he might see an older man with a dog on a leash or a woman pushing a stroller or a man or woman walking with hands clasped at the back. He might not walk up the hill for coffee if the street was loud, if he had to cross a busy intersection, if he bumped into others.

One afternoon he saw an old Korean woman squatting  by a smooth bark tree, trailing a finger over the hardened dirt, around a root. The tree was the first on its block, at the bottom of the hill. Isaac neared the old woman, ready to bow a greeting, but the woman was intent at the pattern she made with the pads of her fingers, quiet waves radiating from the base of the tree. He continued up the hill. She was there when he walked down the hill, coffee in hand. She did not show she heard him walk by.

On Monday morning, after walking his class to art (walking feet, walking feet! Thank you), Isaac checked his phone for messages and emails, saw he had no meetings, nothing he couldn’t do in twenty minutes when he was back, and walked out the back gate, turned right to go up the hill. The old woman was at the fourth tree now, squatting nearest the curb. She must start the day at one side, he thought, and circle her way around the tree as the day goes. Again, the old woman did not look up as Isaac passed her on the way to Zoo Coffee or when he returned, caramel macchiato in hand. He stopped at the bottom of the hill before crossing and turned to watch her. He took a drink of coffee. It was  a little too sweet but he didn’t buy a caramel macchiato every day. Most days he filled his mug at a colleague’s ever brewing pot. He took another drink. The old woman reminded him of his mother or grandmother, both of them gardeners who didn’t squat but knelt at the soil, who spoke to the soil as this old woman was now doing. Isaac couldn’t hear any language sounds but the woman’s lips moved. She nodded agreement or affirmation.

On Tuesday Isaac was right. The old woman was at the fifth tree and on Wednesday, at the sixth tree. Her posture and attentiveness remained the same. Her clothes changed but Isaac wouldn’t have noticed if he were not now watching for this old woman. She wore patterned blouses and pants and this too reminded him of his mother and grandmother – as they wore endless combinations of black and gray, this woman seemed to have a closet composed of wildflower and rose prints. On Thursday the old woman was halfway up the hill at the seventh tree. On Friday she looked up as Isaac passed and said in English, Is here. She patted the dirt with her small palm, erased the waves she’d made. Isaac squatted next to her. What’s here, he asked. What is here? He pointed to the dirt. The old woman began to make waves again. Isaac felt a twinge in his knee. His thighs burned. He wondered how she squatted like that, hours a day he guessed, without her limbs going to needles. He asked again, What is here? but the old woman didn’t seem to hear and when she shifted her weight to move she didn’t look at Isaac to ask with her eyes that he move over too. He stood then, stepped back so the old woman could have her next place. He wiggled his toes to wake his calves, bowed his head in a farewell the old woman didn’t see and walked up the hill to order a caramel macchiato even though he was tired of caramel macchiatos.

He was surprised by the old woman’s English. He wondered if he imagined the English. If his brain reconstructed the old woman’s sounds into a word he could hear. He wanted to know her name. He opened a translation app on his phone, typed

my name is
what is your name

and practiced making his mouth and tongue fit the pronunciations. He looked up

what are you doing

and went to bed thinking of this old woman tending dirt, just drifting when he remembered to email his father in the morning to wish him a happy birthday.

The next day, Friday, Isaac wasn’t certain he would see the old woman. He had a team meeting in the morning and report card comments were due at the end of the day. He typed through lunch and his second prep, pausing only for refills from his colleague’s ever brewing pot. All day Isaac thought of the old woman, of the designs she drew in the dirt. He practiced his phrases in whispers. At the end of the day, a little jittery from a skipped lunch and the ever brewing coffee, he cut through the back gate to see if the old woman was still at the tree she would have been at all day. She was there. Isaac practiced his phrases. They jumbled on his lips. He slowed his steps, took out his phone, opened the app and typed

my name is Isaac

watched the Hangul characters appear. He looked up.

Her head was low on her breast, like her neck was the neck of a duck, able to bend, turn, tuck. She was still. For a moment Isaac thought she was sleeping. Her hands were at the dirt, fingers spread but curled at the knuckles like claws on a perch. The dirt was brushed, fanned, swiped away from the tree roots. There were divots in the packed earth. Pocks. It was then the old woman uncurled her fingers so her hands rested flat. Her nails were broken, peeled back, packed with dirt. She was bleeding. Isaac held his breath without knowing. His thumb moved and a woman’s voice intoned a string of syllables and his name. The old woman’s head swiveled. Isaac felt his empty lungs. She looked at him – she might have glared – and then looked away, but Isaac didn’t understand if she said anything to him in that moment she held his gaze, before her head was back at her breast.

Her shoulders lifted, ribs expanded with a full inhalation which she let go in a shudder. Isaac realized the old woman was crying. He took a breath as full as hers, slid his phone in his back pocket. He stood above this sad woman, wanting to say something but all he knew was hello, thank you and how to say shrimp when ordering kimbap.

Isaac bent a little at the waist, reached a hand to touch the old woman’s shoulder. He hesitated, fingertips hovering where his own shoulders tightened, and then she drew another giant breath so her shoulders rose to his fingertips and he kept his hand steady through her shuddering exhale. She didn’t flinch or turn stone or scoot away. He kept his hand steady on her warm shoulder where a tight cord tied to a delicate knob of bone and they stayed like that for a while until Isaac’s back pinched near the waist from leaning over this old woman, sorry for something he didn’t know.

Every Time I Draft A Piece I Ask Why

Here is something I’ve been thinking, in essay form. Well, in a first draft form I’ll let sit for a while. I always think I’ll let a draft sit, get ready for that magic day when I have the best way to finish the piece. But then I think, For what. Why am I writing this. I get apathetic enough that I don’t bother with question marks. Instead, it’s flat, unanswerable. Why am I writing this. For the piece below, I have an answer: I couldn’t not. There’s a memory that’s hard to look at and spiritual truth I barely touch and as is usual of my personal essay drafts, the writing itself was unpleasant because I think there is something more to say and a better way to say it, but I can’t yet. I hope there is a reason I commit any of this to a page. More, I hope I find a magic day to rework this draft to honor two of my repetends.

With that. I know I am not the only one.


I keep thinking about this boy who died. I was junior in college and he was freshman. We lived in the same residence hall at the edge of campus and fell into step one afternoon. I was a community advisor who put up bulletin boards and hosted ice cream parties and floor meetings but I rarely saw him around the hall. He lived on the third floor, went home on the weekends and ducked his head when walking by the front desk. I remember the day being cold. Maybe an in between day in Wisconsin when autumn is over but air doesn’t yet bite. He had his hands in his front pockets. He was lean like some boys are when they just graduate high school and he walked like he felt too tall, making his shoulders narrow. Maybe because we were walking side by side he could talk a little, tell me he was from a small town on Lake Michigan and that’s where he went every weekend to fish. He had a boat or his father had a boat.

I think we talked about siblings. I think he had a sister still in high school. I think he was studying in the College Of Natural Resources.

I keep thinking about this boy. His name was Nathan. That first afternoon, walking side by side back to our residence hall on an almost winter day, he smiled. I remember feeling like I won because here was this quiet boy who ducked when he walked by people and he’d just smiled at something we said.

He went home on the weekends to take his boat or his father’s boat out on Lake Michigan so I didn’t see him much and had no reason to knock on his door and ask about his day. One night I couldn’t sleep. I laid in bed thinking of his sloping body he hadn’t yet grown into, thinking of that smile I caught when I glanced up.

I thought about boys like that. Boys I’d just met or boys I knew and saw in a different way, suddenly. I constructed so many lives from chance smiles or gestures, from a name called on a roster the first day of a history class, from a long bike ride with childhood friend. At twenty, the years spin out in any direction. I could see myself in Ireland, Alaska or Kenya as easily as I could see myself married to a bank teller, artist or fisherman. When I had class with a boy from Portland I imagined us walking under a shared umbrella. So when I met Nathan, I imagined his whole family I’d never meet. His mother cooked a full breakfast and put an arm around her son’s waist when he came in from an early morning on the lake. Her cheeks flushed like his did. His father was as silent as he was. The house had windows in the right places to send squares of sun on scuffed hardwood. At breakfast his sister and mother talked, pulled Nathan and his father into conversation, and after, each carried his or her own plate and glass to the kitchen counter.

That winter I came in from a night class, carried my bike to the basement room where the residence hall staff had weekly meetings. I opened the door and there was a group of guys having a Bible study. I was surprised. They were surprised. Nathan ducked his head. I rolled my bike to its place against a wall, apologized and left. I thought, He is a brother.

Nathan drowned that spring. He and a friend or cousin were out on the lake when a storm came up and capsized the boat. I remember hearing the boy he was with lived. I remember hearing Nathan saved the boy he was with by pushing him toward floating debris. I remember seeing this story in my mind, the thrash of Nathan’s legs, the heaviness of his wet clothing and boots, the whiteness of his face and hands in the frigid water, the last energy in his limbs propelling another to safety. I remember feeling a little sick. I remember being conflicted that I’d imagined meeting his mother.

I google combinations to find the story again: Nathan uwsp lake michigan drowning, 2001 lake michigan drown uwsp student, uwsp student Nathan drown, uwsp student Nate drown 2001. I can’t find anything. Instead I dredge articles about annual numbers of drownings, reasons why the Great Lakes are dangerous, drunk college students walking into water. There’s an article about another underclassman who killed himself over Thanksgiving weekend that year, after dropping out of college to go live with friends in Madison. I try to remember Nathan’s hometown. I try to remember was it 2000 or 2001. I think about emailing the alumni office but I’m not sure what they could tell me about a freshman (was he a sophomore) who drowned in Lake Michigan before graduating from the College Of Natural Resources, before deciding to move north to Superior or west to Denver, before falling in love and staying awake thinking how to marry this woman, before losing his heart or holding his firstborn, before waking tired each day, before eating slivers of ripe peach on a long summer morning.

I used to think about dying all the time. I’ve wanted death at different times. In middle school I was on a youth group camping trip and a few of us went to a playground, spun around in tire swings and talked about the best way to die. One girl said she wanted to drown because it sounded romantic to drown. She leaned back to watch the sky circle above.

My family camped on Lake Michigan for a few summers, going for a week after the season was over when the water was the warmest it’d be for the year. The campground was nearly empty, the beach ours. Mom talked to us before going into the water. She told us about the undertow and what to do if we got pulled under, how to swim parallel to the shore, not to panic. We were strong swimmers. I went into deep water,  where the waves rolled before taking a cap and crashing. In water up to my chest, I could feel the suck of the water, pulling back into the lake, but my feet didn’t go from under me, the sand didn’t slip. I didn’t drown or almost drown or save anyone from drowning. I put goggles on, sank my belly to the bottom of the lake to pretend I was in the bigger ocean, touching the undulating sand and, for short moments, holding everything in my body still to feel the weight and weightlessness of water and death.

When Nathan died, we must have talked as residence hall staff. One of my friends lived on Nathan’s floor and told me the guys made a bulletin board in remembrance, writing notes about Nathan on small construction paper fish. I heard his parents were coming to clean out his side of a room he shared with another freshman boy. I had this idea that Nathan, now dead, could see the story I’d made up for us. Still when I think of this I am embarrassed, a little defensive, a little angry at all the alternate lives I’ve made and loosed while I wound my way to now – a small apartment in a suburb south of Seoul, a late thirties version of myself I couldn’t have thought up when I was twenty because this present version has stretch marks, Legos underfoot, a pretween daughter. But I keep thinking of this boy who died because he isn’t here to be any version of who he made up when he was out on his boat or his father’s boat each weekend.

We can be rich, easy with fantasy when we are nineteen or twenty. We can’t know any different then. Our years are long.

My brother was teaching in India when one of his students died in a car accident over a break. My brother wrote that as teachers we think we are adding to early parts of a person’s life with the introduction and encouragement of passions or pursuits, the space we make to hear a student’s theory or doubt, the sense we have about a student, that he or she will -. But sometimes we are adding to the last lines of a student’s life.

I think about how to close a piece of writing. I think about the revision and edits I make when I write. What makes a last line. One of my college composition classes I took my junior year, the year I met Nathan and the year he died, my professor told us to write a page from our autobiography. Page two twenty-something. I can’t remember what I wrote but I remember wondering how long the book was. Now I am thirty-six and thinking about Nathan and I can’t answer why that smile stays in my mind, why now I want to understand why he was finished then and I am not now. My page two twenty-something might be years away. I might have written it yesterday. I have this wrong view of how death might work.

A couple of years ago we were visiting my brother and his family in Nairobi, my niece’s friend Anna died. Anna was playing on a jungle gym in the yard of her family’s compound when she fell. She was in a coma for a couple of days. She was brain-dead. My sister-in-law came down the stairs one morning and I saw her tiredness, knew she had been awake praying for this family, praying for her own daughter who was going to lose a good friend. We were in Nairobi for the week after Anna died. At different points, we talked about the accident and death. Anna was eight or nine. She loved Jesus. At Anna’s memorial, her family described her kindness toward others, a sense of compassion already whole in short years, love in her conversation with and care for the needy around her. I look at my own daughter differently. I have this animal need to wrap my body around my daughter, around my son, when I think of either of them leaving this earth. I am not afraid but I am aware.

My sister-in-law, in her grief for this girl, wondered if God is merciful like this, allowing death to spare a greater suffering. Life is hard, she said. She spoke carefully. She spoke like she’d been thinking how to say why Anna died when we believe a God of miracles. And she said what some of us (how many of us) think when a person dies at the cusp of more because we want to think it matters, when a person dies. A death at eight or nineteen is different from a death at eighty-one. There must be reason.

When Nathan died I was sad in an abstract way. I was secure and insecure in my youth. I glanced at Nathan’s death. I was sad for his family but I didn’t know them and felt weird I’d even imagined knowing them at all. The made up visit to his home, the made up rock of his boat or his father’s boat, the made up smiles I’d win. Now I am sad in this way: he was spared but this suffering is sweet. This hard life is sweet. I have wished its end. I have made up escape.

Sometimes I think what I still need to get right. I forget the gospel. I am whole in Christ. The Spirit works in and through me to finish the good work begun. My wrong view of death comes from this idea that it’s the good work in my life that needs to finish – the good work in my small, forgettable life. But the good work spans time and place to tell God’s glory, to show his great power and love and I am a stroke of the pen. I might be a smudge in the margin. I might show up on two pages. I might be a footnote. I believe Nathan and Anna had more good life. They had suffering ahead, and sweetness. They had days of wonder and sorrow and rest ahead.

Nathan and Anna are repetends to me. I think of each irregularly. I did not know Nathan and I did not meet Anna but I think of them. I think of how their lines in the story show up in all sorts of books. How many of us in how many places know their lines in the story and how many of us in how many places are now shaped by their lines in the story, thinking about what it means to love a merciful and frightening God who can work the drowning of a boy, the sudden death of girl into a plot that holds. I don’t know how the plot holds. I haven’t gotten to that part yet.