Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Bequest of Wings

by Kerry Blair

As Julie pointed out yesterday, bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the worst things. Right now, a handful of the best people I know are facing the most difficult things I can imagine—cancer, serious illness of a parent, abandonment and divorce, and the death of a child. I wish I knew what to say to any of them.

My life is easy in comparison, but there have been some low points. One of the lowest was the day I was diagnosed with MS. I couldn’t understand why God let this awful thing happen to me. Hadn’t I tried hard enough? Been “good” enough? What? I couldn’t talk to anyone here on earth about my pain and fear and lack of faith, and I was barely on speaking terms with God. About all I could manage in my prayers was, “What now? How do I get through this?”

God answered me in the words of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, who wrote: Read, sweet, how others strove, Till we are stouter; What they renounced, Till we are less afraid. That quatrain became my lifeline. As Emily suggested, I read the words of “brave men” and “celestial women” who “bore the faithful witness” through the ages. As I did I gained perspective and strength.

One woman I met while following Emily's advice was Dame Julian of Norwich. In 1342 she wrote, God allows some of us to fall more heavily and more grievously. And then we, who are not all-wise, think that everything which we have undertaken was all for nothing. But it is not so, for if we did not fall we could not know so completely the wonderful love of our Creator. We shall truly see that we were never hurt in His love, nor were we ever of less value in His sight.

I figured if that was true in the dark ages of the fourteenth century, it was probably still true in the twentieth. I began to look for things I could do instead of mourning everything I couldn’t. I could still sit, for instance—for very long periods of time, in fact—and I had always wanted to write a book . . .

I still search for words of inspiration when I’m afraid. (Frankly, because of CNN that’s pretty much every day.) I also keep a quote from Margery Wilson in my journal. In 1917 the world contemplated the War to End All Wars. Margery wrote: Though life seems to challenge us harshly at times, to make us eat bitter bread with the sweet, nevertheless, if we will stop wailing and look we will see a sustaining arm across our shoulders, the arm of infinite love—and if we listen we can hear a voice whispering, "Deep within you is the strength to bear anything, the nobility to be willing to do so, and the intelligence to create magnificently and beautifully, come what may."

Possibly I should admit that not every piece of writerly advice I cherish is touching and profound. I often quote these words by Walter Brooks’ Freddy the Pig (1953): When life’s at its darkest and everything’s black, I don’t want my friends to come patting my back. I scorn consolation, can’t they let me alone? I just want to snivel, sob, bellow, and groan.

Whether I've chosen to snivel through or survive my own challenges, the written words of others have seen me through the darkest and scariest days of my life. When I’m most stressed, I reach for an old friend on the bookshelf and things seem better right away. A couple of years ago, I took my husband to the hospital with chest pains. Knowing he’d be in tests most of the day, and fearing to be left alone to worry, I snatched up a well-worn paperback to help keep me sane. As I sat in Gary’s cubicle in the emergency room, I struggled to keep my eyes on the pages because I was terrified of all the tubes and machines that were connected to the man I love. Nurses and doctors came and went, and each gave me curious looks. Hadn’t they ever seen anybody read before? Finally, my long-suffering husband sat up and said, “Do you have to read that right now?” Startled, I closed the book. Looking down at the cover I saw that it was a copy of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Oops.

The point is that William, Emily, Margery, et al, have helped me through the darkest, scariest days of my life. Another of Emily’s poems describes me to a T: (S)He ate and drank the precious words, (Her) spirit grew robust; (S)He knew no more that (s)he was poor, Nor that (her) frame was dust. (S)He danced along the dingy days, And this bequest of wings was but a book. What liberty A loosened spirit brings!

Hurray for authors, I say. God bless us, every one.


7 Comments:

At 9/08/2006 1:09 PM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

"Hurray for authors, I say. God bless us, every one"


Here, here. Very good advice.

 
At 9/08/2006 1:37 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I've forgotten who wrote these lines (maybe someone can remind me) but they are my slogan whenever something bad happens to me: "I'll lay me down to bleed awhile then rise and fight again." The laying down to bleed usually consists of lots of chocolate and feeling sorry for myself, and then I bounce back better than ever. Amazing the power of poetry.

Fabulous blog, Kerry. Did I mention you're awesome?

 
At 9/08/2006 3:49 PM, Blogger Cheri said...

Excellent blog as always. =) Like you, I have collected a few favorite books and sayings that help when life seems to get the upper hand. In a college class years ago, I was challenged to make a collection of inspirational quotes, poetry, etc. It's still a treasure. I keep it on my computer desk and from time to time, glance through the contents. Three of my favorites:

"Keep your face to the sunshine and all shadows fall behind."
Helen Keller

All sunshine makes the desert.
Arabian Proverb

"If you can smile when things go wrong and say it doesn't matter,
If you can laugh off cares and woe and trouble makes you fatter,
If you can keep a cheerful face when all around are blue,
Then have you head examined, Bud, there's something wrong with you."

=D

A little humor goes a long way when things get overwhelming. Thanks for sharing your gift of laughter with so many of us. Your books always inspire smiles.

 
At 9/08/2006 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anura Ranidae said...

I was told, "cheer up, things could be worse." I cheered up and sure enough,they got worse.

 
At 9/09/2006 1:15 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry,

You are one of the few writers who can catch me so totally off guard with your humor that I laugh out loud. Your story of reading while your husband was in the hospital reminded me of a story that happened to my sister.

She was in Weight Watchers and had a really good weigh-in. As a reward she decided to go to Jack in the Box (a fast food place) and get their ultimate cheeseburger. It is a huge burger with three kinds of cheese.

The whole time she is ordering the burger, shake, and fries, the guy at the counter has this huge smile. She was thinking, "What a friendly guy." Until she got home and realized she was still wearing her weight watchers name tag on the front of her shirt.

Oops.

 
At 9/09/2006 12:55 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I love your sister's story, Jeff! Those things happen to me all the time. I once spoke at a women's conference with the price tag hanging out the back collar of my dress. When I sat down after speaking, the stake RS president said, "You got a great deal on that dress! Is the sale still on at Dillards?"

But that was more a sheesh than an oops . . .

 
At 1/24/2009 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to start a Margery Wilson fan club; she's really plugged in to a high frequency. You get kudos for quoting her.

 

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