The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

October 30, 2018

I Could Have Done More

I’m sorry but I do not know who to give credit for this beautiful photo.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, of The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, spoke words that pierced me. He said:

“I could only save some. The people in the back of the sanctuary, I could not save. I carry that regret with me and I will the rest of my life, that I could have done more, and that I was not able to do that. That’s my burden to carry.”

During an even darker time in the world’s history and in the history of the Jews, Oskar Schindler said similar words. “I could have done more. I could have saved one more.

Their words made me think: What more could I have done? Maybe they pierce you, too. What more could you have done?

Back in 1790, George Washington wrote the following in a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The children of Abraham, and every peace-loving person in America, should be able to safely take shelter under their own tree, in their own home or school or workplace. Certainly, they should be safe in their house of worship.

Many years ago, I learned a strategy for coping with anger. Before I say words that can never be unsaid, I need to take some time out, take a walk around the block or count to twenty, anything to give my emotions a chance to cool down.

Our nation needs to take a time out.

I will never write anything one way or the other that expresses my political opinions because I don’t want to add to the noise or alienate people who may see things differently. But I do read and I listen to others’ words.

Our country is like a tinderbox ready to explode. I have friends and family I dearly love who are polarized on both ends of the spectrum. Many of these friends spew their opinions in such hateful language that if I said I voted for the other side, they probably would no longer consider me their friend.

Some may read this and think they agree with me. “Yes, it’s all because of the Republicans.” Others will say, “So true; it’s the Democrats’ fault.” But if they think either of those things, they’re not hearing me. I will say it again. Both sides have contributed to the tinderbox.

As Americans, we need to take a walk around the block. We need to remember what we have in common, why we love our country, what we love about each other.

In the film Schindler’s List, Itzhak Stern quotes from the Talmud. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

We can do more. We can save one life. We can stop the hatred.

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October 24, 2018

Use Your Imagination

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In 1929, Albert Einstein was asked by a Saturday Evening Post interviewer if he trusted more in imagination or knowledge. Einstein said, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Children seem to be born with vivid imaginations and insatiable curiosity, but when they grow to adulthood, they often have to be reminded to “Use your imagination.” Why is that? Over time, we can let our imagination, a beautiful gift of creativity from our Creator-God, get squelched or die of atrophy.

Kris Kringle, in Miracle on 34th Street, asked the child, Susan, if she knew what imagination is. She said, “That’s when you see things that aren’t really there.”

“Well, not exactly. No, to me the imagination is a place all by itself. A very wonderful country. You’ve heard of the British Nation and the French Nation. Well, this is the Imagi Nation. Once you get there you can do almost anything you want.”

My parents encouraged and even celebrated my “over-active” imagination. We moved to the country where there were no girls to play with when I was four years old. No problem. I invented my own friends.

Debbie Whooby and Donna Hook were my constant companions. When we’d go for a ride in the car, my older brother had to scrunch against the door to make room for my two invisible friends. Debbie and Donna helped me make the transition to country life and kindergarten.

Debbie and Donna barrettes from my father

Now, as a so-called grown-up, I get to return to my childhood. I have the best job in the world! OK, I don’t get paid for my job–so it might be a stretch call it a “job”–but I do love what I do.

I have discovered how much I enjoy writing fiction. I have the power to create people and towns and whole worlds. A character may be tall with red hair and a contagious laugh one day, and then after I take out my giant eraser, I can turn her into a short brunette bookworm or a medium-height blonde political activist.

I get to create imaginary friends again!

My invisible characters write my stories. They visit me as I go about my day, looking over my shoulder and saying things like, “I would never say that.” They come to me in my sleep and keep me awake with all their racket. When I sit down to type, their stories unfold and take twists that I, as the Author, never saw coming.

I’m about to start the last novel in my young adult series of three, from a specific time and place in history–Romania in the 1980s. Historical fiction is a return to my roots.

My very first novel (finished at age 10), called Revolutionary Anne, was about a girl who lived in Phillie while her father served at Valley Forge. I wrote this masterpiece on the banks of the Choptank River across from my childhood home, the place where my mind was free to soar to any setting in any time period.

Imagination encircles the world. It enables you to do almost anything you want.

 

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September 26, 2018

Calling Yourself a Writer

I took my first tentative steps on shaky legs one year ago. That’s when I quit my less-than-fulfilling full-time job (no, I did not retire) and started cobbling together part-time writing gigs. My job title on social media had to change. So, what should I call myself?

Adjunct college instructor? I taught one class (my first one ever), loved it, and learned more than my students. But since my pay was comparable to a kid’s delivering newspapers, I decided to part company with that position.

Should I label myself as Writing tutor? Editor? Speaker? These titles only show glimpses of what I do.

Nothing else fit, so I took the plunge. I decided it was time to identify as Writer.

Why is that so hard to do? A decade ago, I published a memoir and since then, I’ve had many short stories, essays, and articles in print. I’ve written two novels in a series of three. When I received my Master of Art in Writing degree, shouldn’t that qualify me to bear the title?

I write. I should be called a writer. Right?

Writers carry enough angst as it is. We tend to be an introspective lot. Calling yourself a writer connotes that you think you’re a good writer—which is subjective and seems to depend solely on the number of likes and comments (engagements) you can drum up on social media.

If it’s your occupation, does that mean you actually get paid to do it? When I think of the hours it takes to write and revise and revise a novel, the months and years it takes to find an agent and go through the publishing process, I doubt I’ll live long enough to see the non-red ink side of the ledger.

Writing is a passion. It comes from a deep place in our soul. Writers write because we must. For me, it’s a calling. I believe God put the desire to write in me. The ideas that come to my when I dream or when I walk, could that be his voice whispering to me?

Writing is hard work. I spend hours upstairs in my little garret office, transforming letters into words and pouring them out as sentences on my laptop every day (well, almost). My garret is the cheapskate’s version of being holed up in a mountain cabin. Even though it’s actually a corner of my guest room, I get so caught up in what I do that I forget where I am and I lose track of time. What? Didn’t you eat dinner last night? Even my sleep is disrupted by characters I invented. That’s not how I would say it.

A writer has to set up structure where there is none. Drudge up momentum on your own, without a team spurring you on. Be productive when there’s nothing to show for it. Get things done when you have no time to do them.

My first year nearly down, I doubted my Writer status. I wondered if I should have kept my (was it really so boring?) administrative job. The teaching gig took all my time and energy in the fall. Being the medical shuttle driver and caregiver for three people drained me in the spring. Spanning all four seasons, I served on the Grand Jury, which provided a wealth of fodder for future stories, if only the judge hadn’t said something about having to kill me if I repeated any of it.

And then came July, and Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The sick people in my life were finally healthy enough for me to proclaim July as My Month: Don’t Bother Me Unless You’re Dying. The accountability of the camp kicked me in the butt and kick-started my stalled momentum on the second novel.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I wrapped up my first year calling myself a Writer on a positive note. I finished my second novel and an agent is considering the first one. That’s not too shabby.

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August 30, 2018

Learning Gratitude from Other Cultures

Today, my article about learning gratitude is featured in The Redbud Post‘s issue on learning from other cultures. You can read the article here. I recount one of my memories from my time in Romania that is dearest to my heart.

Taryn R. Hutchison, Writer writes, “I’ve learned that all people are the same. Everyone wants to be loved, to do something significant and to protect and provide for their children. Everyone is created in God’s image and carries a God-shaped vacuum in their heart.”

Two sweet things have come out of this for me. First of all, I’ve posted about my decision to force my book, We Wait You, into retirement and send it to the Nursing Home for Old Books. Since then, I’ve been grieving the loss of it in print form.

Immediately after I made the decision and scheduled the date to cut off its oxygen, this article was selected. It includes an excerpt from We Wait You, so I felt like my book was given one more chance at life.

Another funny connection is I’d repressed the name of the girl in this excerpt, since we referred to her as She Cry Now, the phrase she loved to speak. Her real name is Adriana. Adriana is also the name of the title character in the trilogy I’m writing. (I knew I loved this name!)

Adriana, the elderly woman we called The Kissing Lady, and my book have all been granted one more chance to speak. That’s something I’m grateful for.

Words can live on and they can outlive us.

 

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August 22, 2018

The Call of Home


I’ve lived a lot of places. Each time, I’ve
come as an outsider and had to shoulder my way in. Each time, I’ve found people to love, reasons to like the place, but always, I remained Other. Never one of Them.

There is only one place in the world where I am one of Them. You have a place like that, too. For me, it’s the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The place I spent the first 23 years of my life. The place of my birth. 

No matter how far I roam or how many decades pass between visits, the call to home is always present, guiding my path back like a lighthouse foghorn. My parents moved away when I lived in Eastern Europe, packing up my home base and my reason to return for holidays along with their boxes. Yet I’ve learned that whether I have relatives there or not, the Land of Pleasant Living will always be my home.

Last week, I came back to my home town of Harmony (what an idyllic name!), back to the places and people who helped form me. People who shaped me as a person: my values, my spiritual life, my history. People who showed me the heart of God. I am who I am because of the ones I love, who loved me, in that place I call home.

For each of us, there’s a certain type of geography that feels right, that looks the way we think the world should look. It’s the place from which we first peered out at the world. Mountains speak to some, deserts to others. For me, the voice that calls to me is the voice of water.

Home means lazy, winding rivers with lush green banks, marshes dotted with cattails, miles of flat farmland squeezed between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, skies filled with Canadian geese flying in V-formation. Every time I cross the Bay Bridge, I feel that old familiar thrill as I smell the briny salt water. Home. I’ve come home.

There’s no place else that I fit. In Europe, I stuck out as an American. Living in the West, I missed the history and oldness of the East. In the South, I realize I don’t understand what people are saying half the time, their speech shrouded in indirectness and aphorisms. People in North Carolina probably think of me as an abrupt New Englander, but that only shows me they don’t know any true Northeasterners.

The people I grew up with, mid-Atlantic folks who stagger either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, have a bit of an identity crisis. The North doesn’t claim us and the South calls us Yanks. We are neither. We are our own people.

In Eastern Europe, my teammates and I would think of a descriptive word to encapsulate the cultural identity of our various countries. We didn’t do this to pigeonhole people or over-generalize, but just to help us get a handle on what people valued in the places we found ourselves. For instance, the word I came up with for Romania was hospitable and for the Czech Republic it was analytical.

In the unhurried Land of Pleasant Living, we are who we are. We don’t put on airs, we’re not pretentious. I think the word I’d use is authentic.

A week ago, on a weathered wooden picnic table on a rickety dock, I ate the food I long for when I’m away–authentic Maryland crab cakes, not the woefully inadequate wannabes I find in other states. The real thing.

Like Maryland crab cakes, the Eastern Shore is the real thing. I’m proud to call it “Home.”

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