Day 26: Dear writers

*Day 26 in the Dear Gratitude project is by yours truly again–only four more days of this project left!*

Dear writers,

You have shaped who I am, and you’ve shaped what I do.

When I began to read

When I began to read

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ann M. Martin, E.B. White, Francine Pascal, and the rest of you who wrote the children’s literature I still love. I carried your creations with me everywhere. I crawled under my bed, books in hand, with a flashlight night after night. I fell asleep there, midway through a fascinating story that transported me to Wilbur’s pen or to Sweet Valley High or to the woods of Minnesota.

Because of you, I started writing my own stories, complete with intricate concrete descriptions of characters and settings. I stole phrases from you and learned to incorporate figures of speech and theme and symbols into my stories. My mom thought I was a genius; I’m sure my stories weren’t much better than any other fifth grader’s. But her encouragement led me to write more, and as my former creative writing professor, Andrea Hollander, wrote on my poems countless times: “Keep writing!”

So I did.

I kept reading, too, because I discovered more of you as I grew older, and reading your words helped me write my own. I developed my own taste for literature, and I pooh-poohed the notion that I ought to read classics for the sake of reading classics. I probably annoyed my college professors at the small, private, liberal arts school I attended, who touted the likes of Faulkner and Shakespeare incessantly. I had no real use for those guys. I knew what I liked, and I did my best to avoid wasting time reading things I didn’t like. I tried reading awful books like Wuthering Heights on multiple occasions–my mom always taught me to try something more than once before deciding to cross it off my list. Those same professors introduced me to some of you who are now my favorites–Cormac McCarthy, Sherwood Anderson, Chaucer, Nye, Kinnell, Wordsworth, and Steinbeck.

I stopped spending time with  all of you after graduation. I was sick of you, honestly. I needed a break.

I took one for several years. Then you, Tolkien, reminded me how wonderful it felt to curl up in a warm blanket on a cold night, mug of steaming cocoa in hand, and turn the musty pages of an old book to the tune of my cat’s contented purr. I was hooked again. I started reading all the books I’d bought in college but had only half-read due to time constraints. To my surprise, I liked some of them. I formed relationships with more of you–Welty and Joyce, to name a few. I dug into non-fiction, too, and my perceptions of the world were altered by you: John Eldredge, Wendell Berry, and Dan Allender.

Thanks to all of you–writers who moved me–I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s in English Language and Literature. And now I’m teaching students how to write, how to use words as tools, how to shape the world with language.

Thank you, writers. Thank you for teaching me, inspiring me, transporting me, entertaining me, and changing me.

I hope my words do the same for someone else someday.

Day 11: Dear Peacemakers

*Big thanks to my friend and former college roommate, Sarah Donaghy, for sharing her grateful thoughts on Day 11 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

The hardest part about being a guest blogger this month was deciding to whom or what I should write my letter of gratitude. I dwell in gratitude. Even in times when nothing is going right, and I see challenges on every front, I still feel grateful. When I choose to sit in disappointment, anger, pain, or sadness, I still feel grateful. Living in gratitude is a choice, and it’s a practice that works for me. So, as I looked forward to writing this post, I’ve spent the last few days with lots of ideas rattling around my head… dear hugs, dear change, dear Mom, dear adventure, dear garden full of weeds, dear Mary Oliver, dear loss, dear name of friend, dear name of another friend, dear body, dear education, dear Louis CK, dear pets, dear modern appliances, and so on.

Over the past few days I have also received a number of reminders that Veteran’s Day is coming up. The first was when a member of the local food club asked if the Monday pick-up would be rescheduled due to the holiday. I looked at him blankly. “What holiday?” I thought. He read my mind. The second was when an aunt let me know that a package she mailed to me would arrive on Tuesday since the USPS won’t be making its rounds on Monday. The third was the cover of the Sunday newspaper’s magazine section promoting a special report inside titled, “What Did You Do in the War, Mommy?” about the challenges servicewomen who are mothers face in coming home after a deployment.

It then occurred to me that Bethany would be publishing my letter on Veteran’s Day. Thus began the second hardest part of my task… how to address my letter and what I would say in a letter expressing my gratitude.

 

Dear Veterans – Thank you.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – You talked about “the war” like New Yorkers talk about “the city”… sure, there are other cities, but none of them compare to your city. The war defined you, and the war never really ended for you, and thus, the war is something that defined and never really ended for my mom and her siblings as well. A generation removed, the war – your war – certainly impacted my life as it was a major influence in the way my mother lived and parented. While I remember many an afternoon sitting on the blue sectional couch in front of the picture window looking at the Bridger Mountains and listening to your war stories, the first things that come to mind when I think of you as my grandpa are your grilled cheese sandwiches, the way your jeans hung on you, your love of ice cream, riding in your truck to check on the cows, your hugs, and your incredible generosity – to me and to complete strangers. I hope there are no wars wherever you are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing you directly but I know it was a pleasure for those who did, particularly your family. You were also in the war… the same war and yet, it seems it was an entirely different experience for you. You rarely, if ever, spoke of your experience. In fact, one of the few “war stories” recounted on that side of the family is about your wife, my Grandma Lulu, taking the train across the country – from New York City (the city) to Seattle – to see you when you were stateside, a visit during which, I think the story goes, my father, your first child, was planted. So while I’m sure the war had more of an impact on your life than you spoke about upon return, it’s not what comes to mind when I think of you as my grandpa, and I’m confident saying it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when your children think of you as their father. I hope that you and my dad are enjoying each other again, and I hope there are no wars wherever you guys are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Man I Met in a Bar a Few Months Ago – I only met you once, but you have the honor of being someone I will likely always remember because I was celebrating the launch of RadSab that night. I only remember a handful of things you told me about yourself, and I don’t recall if it was Iraq or Afghanistan or with what branch of the military, but you said you were there a few years ago. I couldn’t help but think of how that must have been for your daughters – I remember you have two of them, girls old enough to have known you were away and likely why you were away and how hard that must have been for them… how hard that must have been for you.

 

Or

 

Dear Couple I Recently Had the Opportunity to Reconnect With – You were amazingly open and honest with a group of mostly strangers, and having your participation was my favorite part of our discussion course. You guys are a reminder to me that people’s stories don’t start at the point where I meet them. Something I didn’t know about you, Mr., was that you were a Marine, and I appreciate what you shared about that experience. I’m not sure if that was before or after the Mrs. became such, but I couldn’t help but think of how that recent part of your young life must factor into your marriage. I love how brave you are with each other, and I look forward to knowing both of you more.

 

Those are all important things to say, especially thank you, to people who have touched my life in one way or another. And thank you is always enough, but it’s simply too short when Bethany the Blog Boss has asked for a page.

Drawing on some loosely planted Quaker roots, I’ve decided to go with…

 

Dear Peacemakers,

Thank you. You have my gratitude.

I think peace begins within each of us. For me, dwelling in gratitude, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating joy are essential.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 

014When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

With our voices, our wallets, our votes, and our service, we each have opportunities to sow seeds of peace in our communities, in our country, in our world.

Thank you, Peacemakers. You have my gratitude.

Love and good wishes,

Sarah