Counterweight

I pulled into the driveway of my close friend’s small brick house one autumn afternoon, the air thick and humid, stuck in transition from summer heat. She wasn’t home, but her neighbors’ kids ran and yelled at one another in the front yard next door, enjoying their first few moments of freedom after school.

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I jiggled the doorknob and prayed it would open. It turned without hesitation—I exhaled and let myself in. I could have imagined it, but a strange hush filled the rooms as I determinedly made my way to her bedroom, contrasting with the intermittent boom firing in my chest.

The handgun lay exactly where she’d told me I might find it. My hands shook as I dismantled the weapon; I felt silly for this. You’ve killed a deer, for Pete’s sake, Bethany. This is just a handgun.

But I’ve never dismantled a handgun at my friend’s home and held it for safekeeping after she placed it next to her own head the night before, contemplating pulling the trigger.

One small handgun never felt so heavy in my hands.

It was just one moment in one afternoon, in response to one action taken in one moment on one evening, yet the impact of hearing Dickinson’s carriage wheels screeching to a halt has not yet faded. I will never know why my friend chose not to pull that trigger, but thank God she didn’t.

This week, the Ozarks were hit with a line of thunderstorms I’d categorize as a deluge. I waded to my car in my rain boots after a meeting and drove home at 7:30 in the darkness, listening to Iron & Wine’s Trapeze Singer.  Another dear soul I love deeply and had to release came to mind, and I literally could not breathe. This was a problem since I was in the process of operating a vehicle in the midst of a downpour. I nearly stopped driving and clutched my chest, tears falling. I’m sure I was making what my friend Tara calls “the ugly cry face,” but I couldn’t help it. For a few seconds, the grief of losing someone invaluable overwhelmed me.

282244_518566098082_1117807_nA few days ago while the sun rose and glistened across the horizon, I stood in my backyard, which is nestled deep in the woods, and I noticed the spindly spider webs connecting trees on the hillside waving and dancing in the wind, the dew on each silk thread reflecting light with every tiny movement. Dry leaves fell among them and rustled through the recently raked yard.

I thought about grabbing my camera and attempting to capture this beautiful moment, but I knew it would be in vain. Even the best photographs are poor mirrors of our experiences; life is meant to be lived.

As painful as it is to grieve, to remember, to work through and process trauma, to watch people suffer, and to suffer myself, I don’t want to stop living. I never want to lose the chance to experience beauty that can’t be captured.

Those brief, beautiful moments are enough to serve as a counterweight for me, and I’m grateful for that.

One of my favorite poems, which resonates with me, is “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa.

“… What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string
is beyond me.  Maybe the hills
grew weary &  leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.”

 

Illumination

*Today’s beautiful post is written by my friend and frequent contributor Debra Dickey. I’m so thankful for Debra’s insights and for her willingness to share them.*

Illumination

For light to flood the darkness;

The hidden to be revealed;

The honorable to prevail,

Luminescence to fill minds and spirits.63910_552312649722_1189983164_n

For moonbeams and sunlight to be precursors

To God’s Light

That will infuse all mankind,

That will illuminate paths,

That will distribute warmth into hearts and lives.

A burnish that will create intuitive relationships with God,

An autogenetic will to know His Ways,

And an inherent desire for God’s Grace and Glory.

The longing to be within the radiant glow

That exudes from His Presence.

The yearning to absorb His Essence into ourselves

To receive the Heavenly Empowerment that is promised us.

The vision to recognize His instruction;

The insight to see His leading.

To be in the center of the frequency

That energetically influences our senses,

Guides us with His Resplendence,

Shelters and Protects us by His Might,

And makes Miracles happen.

Sight and beyond, unearthly.

Brightness in colors of vivid learning.

Crystalline prisms of faith.

Glistening drops of Favor

Within the gifts and talents He has given us.

Enlightenment for knowledge.

Clarity and discernment

From His Brilliant Eminence

Received as blessings;

Ambient refractions of His Honor and Majesty

For those who search for Wisdom in His Purpose.

And seek His Abounding Love.

 “There are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  -Shakespeare

“Now we see through a glass, darkly . . . .”  I Cor. 13:12

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended (conquered) it not.” John 1:5

Day 28–The best he could

I’m very thankful to the guest writers who participated in the “28 days of love” project this month. It’s been inspiring to read about the various ways love and gratitude coincide in so many very different people’s lives. I had guest writers lined up every day, but a few people weren’t able to write their posts, and it left me wondering what to do about today’s post, the last of the series.

I have a nice generic piece about gratitude sitting in front of me on my desk that I thought about posting. It’s very well-written , but when I sat down to post it, something gave me pause. It was that same nagging feeling I get when I know something isn’t right or when God is trying to get my attention in that mysterious, silent way of His. So I took my hands off the keyboard, folded them in my lap for a moment, and said a very short prayer.

“God, if there’s something else you want me to write about, let me know right now.”

He answered.

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

“Your dad.”

Then I wished I hadn’t asked.

It’s not easy to write about. It never has been.

Once I attended a poetry workshop at Lyon College by my former professor, Andrea Hollander Budy, and a visiting writer, Peter Abbs, whose beautiful, smooth recitations still echo in my ears when I read his poetry seven years later.

One of our assignments was to write a poem, in similar fashion to one of his, about gifts we’d received from someone significant in our lives. I wrote about my mom and all the ways she’d impacted me. I know the poem hides in the recesses of a maroon binder in the bottom of a storage box in our quilting house next door, but I don’t have the time to find it today. Each stanza begins, “From my mother” and then lists a gift I’ve received from her, namely lessons and principles she has passed on to me.

The last stanza, which has haunted me since writing it, is about my father.

“From my father,

nothing

worth having

or wanting.”

When I read the poem aloud after listening to beautiful odes to wonderful people by the other aspiring poets at the workshop, Peter Abbs had the reaction I always shoot for when writing last lines to poems.

“Hmmmm.”

What heavy words I’d written.

Sadly, they were true.

My father has nine biological children. He is currently raising one of them. The others were raised by their mothers or other generous people without financial support. He was consumed with other things. Drugs, namely.

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

My father is an addict. His addiction has led him to make countless poor decisions, hurtful decisions, which have cost him his relationships with almost all of his children and most of his grandchildren, not to mention the mothers of his children, his friends, and his other family members. During his periods of sobriety, he is brilliant, hilarious, animated, inspiring, loving, and thoughtful. During the periods when he is ravaged by addiction, he is not.

About five years ago, my father faced legal consequences for his addiction-related actions. He began attending 12-step meetings, and it changed his life. At the same time, I was working the steps in my own 12-step program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. I reached the point of making a list of people I needed to make amends to. My father fell into the category of “maybe never,” meaning I knew I owed him an amends, but I was not ready yet, and I might never be.

God decided to move my dad up on the list, though. I began to feel that nagging feeling about making amends to my father. I called him on my way home from a meeting one night and managed to choke out the words.

“Dad, I need to make an amends to you. I have hated you my whole life for what you have done and haven’t done for me and my sisters. I hated you for the way you treated my mom. I want you to know I forgive you, and I know you have an addiction, and please let me know if there’s something I can do to make it up to you.”

Silence.

Then words wet with tears came through.

“You don’t need to do anything for me. I owe you an amends.”

So that day, in 2008, we made mutual amends to one another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely at peace with my father. Well into my late 20s, I had no desire to attempt to form some warm and fuzzy father-daughter bond with him. That seemed unrealistic. But I felt good knowing that we’d cleared the air between us, and we occasionally talked on the phone, and it wasn’t as awkward as it had been my whole life. When I said “I love you,” I meant it. I no longer felt forced to say “I love you” to someone who I felt had not demonstrated real love to me.

Things changed. My dad’s addiction got the best of him again. He served a prison sentence. He willingly placed his two youngest children in the care of other people. And the little girl in me felt her head drop in disappointment. It seemed the same old story just picked up where it had left off.

Today, I choose to refrain from contacting my father, and he knows why. But I see things a little differently today than I used to.

In my heart, thanks to my own spiritual growth and work in my recovery program, I’ve written a new closing stanza to that heavy poem.

“From my father,

four sisters and four brothers.

A shining memory of gifts

wrapped in aluminum foil

under a miniature Christmas tree.

A moment of complete

safety on the back of his Harley,

eyes closed, hugging him close

at five years old.

The most fun I’ve ever had

playing softball.

A dozen roses at 29,

the card reading, ‘Daddy loves you.’

From my father,

the best love

he could give

at the time

with what he had.”

The most meaningful bouquet I've ever received

The most meaningful bouquet I’ve ever received

 

Beyond Lucky

Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, my former professor and fabulous author, for agreeing to write for the Daily Dose of Gratitude blog.

Beyond Lucky

My maternal grandmother’s name was Emma.  She could shine a sunbeam through my gloomiest thought, sprinkle a soft rain onto my smoldering temper, and splash a dash of magic into my most ordinary day.  She was short on formal education, but long on experience when it came to nurturing young children.  Though I dearly loved my grandmother, I didn’t consider myself fortunate to be placed in her care from the time I was three until I started first grade.  I felt I was missing out on getting an education because everyone else in my family left me behind when they went to school each morning.  It took me years to realize that my grandmother was providing me with the education of a lifetime.

 

Emma Wheelis Norris, 1910-1989, Teresa Burns Murphy's grandmother

While my grandmother read to me, sang to me, and engaged me in conversation, her greatest strengths as an early childhood educator were encouraging me to participate in imaginative play and captivating me with her storytelling.  One of my favorite flights of fancy was pretending to be my grandmother’s dog, an activity she fostered by talking to me in such a friendly voice I was convinced I was her little pet dog.  She’d put my “dog” bowl on the floor, so I could lap water from it.  Then I’d lie down on my special “dog” rug so she could sprinkle some of her good-smelling powder on me “to get rid of the fleas.”  Once I was flea-free, I’d lie still while she ironed the white shirts my father wore to his job as a teacher, the blouses my mother wore to her college classes, and the puffy-sleeved dresses my sister wore to elementary school.  As she ironed, my grandmother regaled me with stories about what her life was like when she went to school in the early twentieth century.

“When I was a little girl,” my grandmother would say, “my hair was so long I could sit on it.  Mama used to take hold of my hair and yank that brush through it so rough I’d cry.”

This was how the story of my grandmother’s school day always began.  Even now I can see my grandmother as a girl – little Emma with tears streaming down her cheeks, sitting in front of a fireplace in a straight-backed wooden chair as her mother pulled her long, sand-colored hair into two thick braids.  When her hair was braided, Emma picked up her lunch bucket and walked out into the cool morning air.  The sun was not yet shining on the flat delta farmlands; only the moon and stars lit the path Emma took through the thickets and briar patches.  Emma’s feet would come down on something that felt like a copperhead snake.  Just as the slithering devil was about to strike her ankle, she’d look down and see a branch fallen from one of the trees that bordered her path.  She breathed a little easier once she got off that path and onto the gravel road that took her to school, but she was still in the dark woods.  As Emma walked along that road, the moon and stars faded into a foggy dawn.  In the mist she saw a panther ahead.  He was sitting by the side of the road, poised and ready to pounce.  She crept closer to him, never once taking her eyes off him, showing him she was not afraid.  When she got close enough to that old panther to look him in the eye, she saw a hollowed-out stump.  She had to stop a minute while her thudding heart slowed down.

In the story my grandmother always made it to school safe and sound, but her telling of the trek there was nonetheless riveting.  Sadly, I also knew how the story of her schooling ended – she didn’t have the opportunity to finish school.

“Get an education,” she always told me.  “Nobody can take it away from you.”

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, summer after first grade

I followed my grandmother’s advice and eventually earned a doctorate in education.  Through the process of my formal education, I learned that my grandmother’s methods for educating me were “research-based.”  In fact, many experts in the field have long advocated fostering learning through imaginative play and storytelling – activities America’s public schools have all but abandoned in favor of more highly prescriptive modes of  instruction and an obsession with standardized testing.  Though the political winds of change seem to be shifting in the direction of allowing teachers more autonomy in shaping their students’ learning experiences, the price American children have paid in recent years has been a high one.  All good teachers know there are teachable moments that if missed can never be retrieved.  While I was under her tutelage, my grandmother seized those moments daily.  Having received such a vibrant early education has left me feeling beyond lucky.

Teresa Burns Murphy is the author of a novel, THE SECRET TO FLYING (TigerEye Publications, 2011).  Her short fiction has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Pulse Literary Journal, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, and Westview.  She won the 1996 WORDS (Arkansas Literary Society) Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2006 Kate Braverman Short Story Prize and the 2009 Janice Farrell Poetry Prize.  Her short story, “Halloween Gift,” was recently published in an anthology of Washington, D.C.-area women’s writing, AMAZING GRACES (Paycock Press, 2012).  To read an excerpt from THE SECRET TO FLYING, visit her website at www.teresaburnsmurphy.com.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, author. Photo by Margaret Murphy.