Most Father's Days are fine for me. I'm far on the other side of the lonely river, crossed many years ago when I removed myself from an abusive home and family life. By the grace of God, with loving support from good friends, family, and exceptional counselors, I emerged from a pit of unexpressed sorrow and pain resulting from childhood trauma.
But every now and then I hear the voice of a small child, the child I once was. When this happens, I listen. Sometimes I share what I hear. Today is one of those days. And if, for whatever reason, you have a sad child inside you too, then this is for you.
Last weekend I hosted a writers retreat. It felt like running a marathon. Because it was a marathon. Of sorts. I prepared for several months in advance. The week prior, I devoted every spare minute to this endeavor. But the Runner's (Writer's?) High made it totally worth it.
I'll write more details about the event in follow up posts. For now, I'd like to share the result of a writing exercise from Friday's workshop. Ann Cannon and Louise Plummer led this workshop. They were amazing! And, yes, I paid them cold, hard cash for their time. Louise said she was glad it was payday because she just bought a new iPad. You're welcome, Louise. Ann said she wants me for her next cruise director. Thank you, Ann! (I didn't pay her to say that.) It really was a lot of fun.
We were assigned several timed writing exercises during the first workshop. For this exercise Louise and Ann gave a prompt, something like "a time of transition in your life" then set a timer for a specific interval (I think it was three minutes for this one) and students wrote non-stop until the buzzer rang. If we got stuck or couldn't think of anything, we wrote whatever words came to mind or chose a word or two to fill the dead space. One woman used "blah, blah, blah." When she read aloud, these filler-words actually added to the peice. It was quite remarkable. Anyway, we had to keep writing. Remember this while you read below. It might make more sense this way.
Honestly, I don't remember exactly what the prompt was for this exercise because I used my own, taken from a text message sent moments before the exercise began, by a dear friend in the Northwest.
Here's what came of that prompt:
"What can I say that will mean what you want it to mean? Who cares what you or I or anyone wants, we just live, and hope the sky stays clear long enough to make our way along the path. You've asked too much of me. I can't do this. I want to lay down now, here on the dark soil where rabbits have crossed the path into the hedge. Were they eaten by wild dogs? Did they bear young? What has become of the soft brown things we once were? Where have our dreams gone? You ask too much of me. I don't even know what purple looks like. How can I write a color? How can a color be a mood? The only way to tell the truth is with a question. No answers here, just sounds in the dark. Mountains can't speak, no matter what the poets say."
Two years ago I was fortunate to have a poem win a particularly lovely award, which included an original oil painting inspired by the poem, painted by a local artist. The poetry and art were published in a small volume in the fall of 2012. Although, this is not the art created for the poem, it is my next favorite piece from the event and was chosen for the cover of the book.
A friend of mine asked where she could read the poem. This is for you, Caroline. Thanks for asking.
Winter heard me call your name but the air was thick with smell of rotting honeydew the night my child lay ill and dying. You wrapped me in your sweater. I believed you for a moment when you said everything would be all right. The moon covered her face in ash. With morning, spring was gone. I stayed cold indoors, you made angels in the snow.
When I read the poem at the art event, several people cried. One woman who had lost a child, asked me if the poem was autobiographical. I cried with her for a moment, then told her about the poem.
At first, I wondered if some ancient, long-gone ancestor was telling her story through me. It felt so vivid. A woman, speaking to her husband, who offers his sweater for comfort. They are losing a child. Perhaps their only child. When I wrote it I wept.
This poem remained on the dry-erase board in my kitchen for weeks. I kept looking at it and wondering about it. Several months later I discovered the meaning.
The child is innocence - a girl child, the most vulnerable part of society, something precious and dear. The woman is the feminine aspect of the soul, the gestating, inward-turning, receptive, inconsolable, mourning element of any human being. The yin, so-to-speak. The man is the masculine aspect of the soul, the strong part, the expressive, outward-turning, action-taker who moves the body to "do something" in the face of loss, the part which makes us get up, get out, and create beauty from ashes. The yang.
This poem is about each of us. It speaks of the loss of something precious and perhaps irreclaimable and about how we respond to that loss. Every response is holy. The turning in, the moving out.
The poem is about making angels in the snow, when part of us wants to just lay down and die. On its face, the poem seems to be about death, but, really, it's about life.