Nature Reveals Wisdom for Our Younger Generation

Our Women’s Writing Circle promptIf the world were on the brink of ending, what wisdom would you give the younger generation?elicited several inspiring essays, including this from author, hiker and photographer Ginger Murphy.

While I have spent much of my time in solitude during these pandemic months, nature has been my constant companion. Solace and sanity are her gifts any time I walk, sit or garden outside. Hours spent weeding, digging and pruning have led me to observe changes over these months that are deeply reassuring.

Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

I am especially attuned to the large, red maple tree in my back garden which now stretches her sinuous limbs high above my three-story stucco twin home. When I moved to Phoenixville 17 years ago, her highest limbs barely reached the top of the first story. My daily morning ritual consists of brewing a pot of coffee, settling in at my kitchen table with a steaming cup of the black brew and gazing out the window at this tree’s growing and ever-changing form. Her current leafless state reveals long, dark branches stretching earnestly in all directions toward the sun that showers her generously from this southern exposure.

My neighbor, an avid bird watcher, has suspended a long cylindrical bird feeder on one of the branches which extends across the fence which runs along our property line. To deter the neighborhood squirrels from raiding this avian restaurant, Chuck has installed a large, floppy green disc about six inches about the feeder. Any squirrel attempting the reach it quickly discovers that using the disc as a stepping stone to the feeder will only lead to an unceremonious fall into the flower beds below. Nonetheless, this does not seem to deter the younger squirrels from investigating the feeder on a regular basis. The inevitable consternation proves to be a source of fascination for my fifteen-year-old cat Josephine who often perches in my kitchen window to watch the show.

This scene unfolds on a daily basis and provides amusement and reassurance in its constancy. I later climb the stairs to my second-floor office to embark on my work-related rituals: turning on my computer, composing my list of priorities for the day and reviewing my constituent cases. Before I read my emails, I often glance at the news headlines which inevitably report gloomy pandemic statistics, stormy political dynamics and the ravages of violent weather related to climate change somewhere in the world. I can feel the muscles in my lower back start to tense as I skim these grim snippets.

Particularly as a person who lives alone, I have felt emotionally vulnerable during the early months of the pandemic when we were advised to stay home to avoid the virus. Left alone with only my own thoughts and headlines like these, how could I possibly feel hopeful?

Ginger’s tree

It’s been a very long almost two years that we’ve endured the uncertainty of a world that constantly feels like it’s on the brink of impending disaster from a health emergency, changing climate and sometimes very cruel and violent behavior we observe in our fellow human beings. At this point, what wisdom would I give our younger generation?

Adopt a tree. Maybe it’s a big maple like mine in your own back yard. Maybe it’s a sapling you plant with other volunteers in your town park. Possibly your tree is a towering white oak like the one I visit on my hikes in a nearby nature preserve. Visit your tree on a regular basis. Notice how it grows, how its foliage changes with the seasons and how it weathers the storms. Like trees, we can’t choose the weather. We can only adapt and, as you watch your tree over time, you will notice it has mastered this lesson and has much to teach you.

About the author: Ginger Murphy is an ardent believer in the healing power of nature. A long-time resident of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, she is also an avid hiker and photographer, spending many restorative hours walking  trails along the Schuylkill River and exploring parks across the region. English teacher, grant writer and nonprofit administrator are a few of the positions she has held in her professional life. Ginger completed her undergraduate work in English at Wesleyan University and holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Her short story “A Daughter’s Dilemma” is featured in The Life Unexpected An Anthology of Stories and Poems from the Women’s Writing Circle.

Simplicity and the Creative Life

2022 is shaping up to be an eerie replay of 2021. Disruptions, cancellations and a feeling that things are on hold again pervade. When I go into the supermarket, black masks, the Darth Vader kind if you follow the advice and ditch the cloth mask for the N95, cover smiles.

Unfortunately, I felt I had no choice but to cancel our January read around of Women’s Writing Circle. After so long, we had finally broken the isolation—as one writer put it, “It’s almost a miracle” —meeting around a lighted candle in the library after more than a year. Although January is the month when the women are most invested and eager to make writing a daily routine, we again rely on our own fortitude and discipline, rather than community, to make that happen. My hope is that we return to the Circle by early spring. But for now …

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

Maybe, it’s time to simplify, to create, something psychologists agree is a way to reduce anxiety. As Franz Kafka said, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Photo by Trang Pham on Pexels.com

Whether writing, listening to music, taking a walk, painting a watercolor, or simply imagining a new place, a new way of living, creativity reduces anxiety.

My friend said to me the other day when he called from the Midwest, “This is a dangerous country to live in. Too many people don’t care how their actions affect others.” There’s something to be said for sitting still, waiting this out, he said. We shared stories. A vaccinated friend who had tested positive, jumped on a plane anyway because testing isn’t required on domestic flights … and he had no patience to rent a car and drive the 800 miles home.

Margaret Atwood said, one word after another and another is POWER. A writer takes a real-life event and recreates through imagination a memory, a new take on a relationship, a moment of being that crystallizes into truth.

A story invokes another story and another, but patience is necessary. Brenda Ueland said, “If you write, good ideas must come welling up into you so that you have something to write. If good ideas do not come at once, or for a long time, do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down the ideas no matter how insignificant they are. But do not feel, anymore, guilty about idleness and solitude.”

As a person who often bought into that worn mantra ‘Make each day count’, whether through writing, completing a home improvement project, going to work, raising children, I find pleasure in a drive past fields reflecting winter’s luminous turquoise and gold palette. Although I’ve made the same drive hundreds of times, I move a little slower now, take more notice. At the gym last week, a woman felt I wasn’t moving quickly enough as we put away our weights. “Move it, Susan,” she said.  Over the last two years I’ve learned the value of slowing down. I said this to her. She shrugged and rolled her eyes. Everyone moves at their own pace. For me, a page well crafted, a flock of geese, a conversation with a friend, a workout at the gym is enough. I feel the anxiety fall away. What could be simpler than that?

A Writer Thinks ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Recently, I visited my local bookshop and picked up a copy of Mary Oliver’s Devotions, a compilation of her best poetry spanning fifty years. A morning at the beach, a sparrow singing on a tree branch, her poems brim with the lyricism of everyday living. Considering we’re in Advent, one poem particularly captivated me.

The Poet Thinks About the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

***

I like to think that no matter how small or unimportant we may feel in the scheme of things, Oliver’s poem is a reminder that each of us carries the other on his back. Which brings me to the Frank Capra Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Just last week my son’s new neighbor moved into the apartment below him. An 87-year-old former Marine, the man had lost his wife to Covid in March. Now he lives alone. His daughter warned my son that “he likes to turn up the volume on the TV.” A few nights ago, as he pulled up in his car, Daniel heard the man’s TV blaring as far as the parking lot. He knocked on the door to ask him to lower it and a few moments later, the man opened the door and invited him in. He was watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I often tried to get my sons to watch that movie as a family, but maybe because there were so many new films that came out during the Christmas holidays when they were growing up, we never did sit down together. Now, with his new neighbor, Daniel watched Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed live the quintessential moments of loss, love and the power of community.

Last night, I tuned in on the movie, which is streaming on Amazon. While the story is a bit old-fashioned, the message that life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped or expected resonates. But as Stewart’s character George Bailey, a man on the verge of suicide learns, our blessings, if we look, are many. Bailey “didn’t understand” until the end that his humble life changed the lives of countless others.

A dark December night and an unexpected invitation from a neighbor … it can be a wonderful life. Like Oliver’s little donkey, we lift one “dusty hoof” and move forward, carrying that stranger on our back, hopefully, with love.

This post also appeared in The Writer’s Corner at: http://www.stmarkshb.org

The Magic of Collaboration

I didn’t plan to watch Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back but I couldn’t resist. Disney Plus offered a week of free viewing and as one who grew up with the Beatles, I put aside my feeling that we shouldn’t reanalyze magic.

Cobbled out of old footage moldering on steel reels in the basement of Twickenham Studios, the star of Get Back is collaboration of the creative spirit. Four became as one, but only after hard work, sweat, a whole lot of smoking and drinking and Harrison walking out at one point and saying he quit. After conversations, stroking ruffled egos, more smoking and drinking, the music emerged from the rooftop. In January, 1969, twenty-one days of studio sessions culminated in the final live performance of the Beatles on the rooftop of Apple Headquarters on Savile Row. The interplay between Lennon and McCartney and their familiarity with the other’s creative process, along with their deep respect for each other moved me. While each had diverged into distinct styles by then, they appreciated the other, Lennon nodding to McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” and McCartney tapping his foot to Lennon’s “Dig a Pony” as they worked on the Let It Be album. While George Harrison kept trying to stake his claim to artistic recognition with his own songwriting, he found himself drowned out by the unique Lennon and McCartney team, although his guitar riffs in “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” have become iconic. At one session we hear him in the background strumming the chords of a new melody he’s playing around with; that song became “Something. “

To hear a song like “Get Back” emerge, one painstaking chord and lyric at a time, offered a new appreciation for my idols. I often thought the music flowed from the Beatles like honey from a tree. Instead, the documentary shed light on the grueling work of creating art. It’s often been said that McCartney must dream songs and lyrics in his sleep because he’s so prolific, but even he didn’t have the words “JoJo left his home in Tucson Arizona” for the first of many, many tries. Reflection, trial and error, playing around with nonsense words and chords, there’s a lesson there to let the work guide you.

I thought about my own work and the collaboration I’ve experienced with other writers. I always felt each of us brought our own voice to a project—thinking about our anthologies Slants of Light and The Life Unexpected. The end result was only as good as the respect and give and take that went into it, and the changes one writer proposed to a story that another writer might not have thought, even though it was her work.

Since we restarted the Women’s Writing Circle, I’ve experienced the collaborative spirit of goodwill. Last meeting, I read a piece and a writer said to me, how about putting this sentence at the beginning of the description, instead of the end? She was right. It made a better flow. Collaborative author teams abound from writers and ghostwriters to screen writers and comedy teams. I hired two developmental editors and asked a friend to beta read my current manuscript. Collaboration amounts to more than polishing and revision; it’s the fuel to keep going, the pat on the back, the words, ‘job well done’, or have you thought of trying this? Every time I think I know what I’m doing, collaboration shows a better way. A beat with no melody, a melody with no beat. You can’t do it alone. That’s the lesson of The Beatles: Get Back.

Gratitude and a November Moon

We live in rancorous times. A friend called them strange and fearful. That’s why I got up at 3:53 a.m. this morning to look at the November moon eclipse. I needed something, something magical. I looked outside the window and saw a dark orange orb with silver sliver of light. To get a better look, I put on coat and hat. Lily, my Lab, and I stood in the backyard. I had read somewhere that this eclipse won’t come again for 980 years. Wikipedia says: This was the longest partial lunar eclipse since 1440, and the longest until 2669. Even Mary Queen of Scots or Henry VIII hadn’t been alive to witness it.

Last week our Women’s Writing Circle met. As always, we shared stories in a spirit of camaraderie, craft and inspiration. One feels a little less insignificant in a community of kindred spirits, as in, I’m not alone and this is a meaningful way to spend a morning. I had spent much of the week writing and I read an excerpt from my novel. It went well, although someone suggested she had never before heard about the type of woman I wrote, a widow in her fifties feeling foolish in front of her teenage son when she calls him to pick her up after leaving a man at a restaurant following his abusive remark. Another woman said the piece was both sad and yet the portrait of a woman made of steel. Another woman had recently dipped her toe into online dating like the woman in the piece and said, I’ve started doing it. Goal accomplished, something resonated. A woman handed me a bouquet of roses, one white and two dark pink, after she read remembrances of her mother and thanked me for bringing us together. The candle glowed in the center of the Circle. Oh, these stories of love, grief, loss and just how absurd life can be. I felt touched by the flowers. Outside the rain and the sun played off each other in a November dance of light and shadow.

Everything I’ve written will be forgotten someday. I write because it’s as necessary as breathing. I urge other writers to value their voice, revel in putting pen to page, reject negative repercussions. I shared Stephen King’s rules of writing. “Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea,” he writes. “Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.” Write for the pure joy of the thing, he says. If you tap into the joy, you can do it forever.

Optimism is much needed during days short of joy. As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m not going to rehash the gratitude blog post I’ve written in the past, although I am grateful for my life. In these strange and fearful times, I’m grateful for a November moon that comes once in a lifetime. A moon with shining sliver of light hung high in an imponderable sky.

The Dance of Life and Death

Recently, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times “What I Believe About Life After Death” by Anglican priest, Tish Harrison Warren, which she wrote following the tragic death of a fellow Anglican priest and his 22-year-old son in an automobile accident. “I hate death. I have never made my peace with it and I never will. I don’t want to live in a world where everything good suddenly ends. Both had so much left to live.” Death, she said, represented “a journey interrupted”, much like Jesus’ death when he still had so much more he could have “explained, healed, and done.”

The column got me thinking that I don’t fear death as much as I used to. Maybe because I’m older now. Who am I to complain, living seventy years when others die so young? Or, perhaps, because I have seen loved ones die—my husband, my parents, my brother, my best friend who has Alzheimer’s and suffers a living death—death seems the natural order of things. Like leaves falling to earth in a blaze of glory, autumn’s poignant beauty is, after all, a celebration of death. As poet Emily Dickinson wrote: “The maple wears a gayer scarf, the field a crimson gown.

I’m a Christian. Our faith offers hope in the belief of life after death. And as Warren writes, we have good reason to believe this because of “the witness of the disciples and others who lived and died for their claim that they (and somewhere around 500 others) had seen Jesus alive again and spoken to and touched him.”

The untimely death of my husband from cancer at the age of forty-seven forged much of my own thoughts about life and death. John and I were planning a 15th wedding anniversary to Italy, we had two young sons and everything to live for. Although twenty-seven years have passed, memories remain of the day he lay dying and spoke of angels approaching down a corridor of light. Was it the morphine? Who am I to say? I also remember the day before she died, my mother calling her parents, her hands reaching above her head as if she could see and grasp them. 

A couple weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to an online Jungian lecture called “Aging Soulfully.” Swiss psychoanalyst and philosopher Carl Jung’s theory of life and death promotes aging as a journey toward a final destination. Death teaches us in the second half of life to let go of our egos and material possessions and give up control of others. 

Hindus believe in reincarnation. When I traveled to Nepal, I saw priests in saffron robes carrying wrapped corpses to funeral pyres above the Bagmati River, leading to the Ganges. As the smoke curled skyward, the spirit was released from the body to live again in another living being.

As Advent approaches, Christians enter a state of longing, an expectation of light in the darkness. If death is darkness, then light reminds us something extraordinary can and does happen on a cold winter’s night. Just as leaves fall to the ground and the barren branches of winter bud anew in spring, life and death form a paradoxical partnership, an interconnected dance of light and dark. Why did someone tragically die before their time? Why do we have to die? Comfort, at least for me, lies in believing there exists that corridor of light toward a reunion with loved ones.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. … When I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.” John 8:12

Susan G. Weidener is the author of two memoirs and a novel, and a former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer. She offers writing workshops and teaches memoir and fiction and facilitates the Women’s Writing Circle, the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. A member of St. Mark’s Honey Brook for seven years, Susan lives in Chester Springs. She blogs at: http://www.susangweidener.com/

The Magic of the Writing Practice

My manuscript has come back from my editor. We’ve talked on the phone about her comments and my vision for the book. An editor moves you toward a goal of incorporating new and better writing. Someone reads your work and offers objective criticism based, hopefully, on their own experience as a professional in the writing business. She wants to see this expanded, that delved into. My editor, although not a writer herself, comes from a solid background of working with Big Five publishers and authors from diverse backgrounds.

A writer, if she’s smart, profits from criticism. After receiving her developmental edit, I began to revise, combine chapters, add new writing to my novel, tentatively titled Ava’s Story: A Woman Alone. One of her criticisms that Ava seemed too focused on her relationships with men, made me smile. As an older widowed woman, Ava had dipped a toe more than once into the dating pool and knew widows and divorcees talking about relationships. But also, because my editor is married, we laughed that sometimes she envies her single friends.  She wants to know more about the life of single mother, of woman alone. She wants more of Ava. “There’s a fine line,” she said, “between a character feeling loneliness, yet her strength admired by the reader.”

Her observation that the spiritual seeking side of Ava needs greater exploration resonated. I look forward to developing this aspect of Ava’s journey as a woman who ponders the “exciting sea change” that comes with reflection and a rich inner life.

An editor needs to offer encouragement. “Overall, I really enjoyed reading this,” she wrote. “You have a wonderful voice and are an extremely talented writer.” Several sections of the novel, dealing with a friend’s Alzheimer’s and Ava’s childhood, she labeled “exquisite writing.” She added: “This story will surely touch many readers grappling with love and loss, aging and the search for meaning in this life.” I breathed a sigh of relief. When it comes to editing, all of us feel a bit like beginners.

Which brings me to our Women’s Writing Circle last weekend, much of which centered on the craft of writing, while offering validation. Difficulties, longing, loss, grief and joy beckon as we row on in what is often a healing journey, and a creative pleasure. Readback lines to the writer, what resonated, yes, this is a form of editing. It’s a commitment to the craft to take the risk … to read our work, or have another read it. Through the magic of the writing practice we develop stories to their fullest potential. As our writers did, a writer moves toward those moments of being that lead to understanding life by putting pen to paper … writing a poem about autumn leaves, a reflection on a September day at the beach with only waves and no swimmers, growing up in Pittsburgh with its empty manufacturing sites and silent smokestacks. Or for me, revising a novel where a woman remembers a rainy day at the library with her father. These moments where life and art come together offer the magic of the writing practice.

How about you? Do you have an editing experience you can share?

When a Writer Languishes

Lately, it seems I’ve been hearing from a lot of writers that they’re languishing—they don’t know what to write, let alone feel the energy to write. Everything from Covid, to health setbacks, to exhaustion with their day jobs, adds to the fatigue. In my case, it has to do with not a whole lot happening. I feel a sense of restlessness some days. Things feel ‘ho hum’ and I ponder making changes, but lack the energy.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for my novel to come back from the editor, at which point, I think I’ll be motivated to work again. But this thing about writing, as I tell other writers, is often tied up in success … how many books we’ve sold, or how many readers follow us on social media. “Success” is knowing your audience, staying tuned to what’s marketable … breaking through a very competitive market where everyone has a “printing press” at their fingertips. Then there’s “success” that comes with figuring the story out, constructing the narrative arc, deep diving into psychological terrain, especially for memoir writers.

Last night, a friend and I went to an outdoor event where a writer of Western fiction gave a talk and reading. A lovely evening here in the Philadelphia area, we sat at picnic tables and ate barbecue from the local brewery.  I had never heard of the author before, but my friend had and said his books were a favorite of her father and grandfather. “They were easy reads,” she recalled. “Comfort reads … books they read before going to bed at night.”  The author had built a successful career around a sheriff and a cast of characters and his books had been picked up by cable. What struck me was when he said the last book wrote itself six months before his publisher’s deadline and he’s already working on the next story in the series. That happened to me once or twice where the stories wrote themselves, but this latest book, a novel, now out to an editor, which continues the story of my character Ava Stuart, has been a bit of a slog. My momentum, too, is often slowed by considerations of how great a monetary investment I want to make in publishing the book.  As I listened to this author talk about his copy editor and publisher, a partner by his side when he tours, I thought … I have none of that.

I’m not making excuses for my own languishing, but I am aware what I’m up against. Sometimes, the writing flows, other times, not. I’m also my own marketer and publicist. My writing has focused on loss and grief, transformation and renewal. It’s not just story and dialogue, but a narrative reflection and meditation on life.

Maybe I’ve set the bar too high, but I wouldn’t write anything else. And not every writer, even the most successful ones whose books became television series and movies, is imaginative or a great literary genius. I’ll never have my books turned into a cable TV series and I don’t expect to find an agent, but at least I’m getting the work—my voice—out there.  As my friend said after the reading last night, she loves books. She grew up in a house where books found their way into everyone’s life. She has never read a book that hasn’t offered her a lesson of some kind. A lesson she could apply to her own life. I thought how true that was for me, too, and how I’ve worked hard at passing on what little wisdom I have to others through my own writing. So when a writer languishes, maybe it’s time to remember what got us into this crazy business in the first place. You have to write. And nobody else can do it for you.

Remembering You on September 11

The baby wasn’t due for three weeks, but babies don’t arrive on schedule, or at least, not two hours before a 40th birthday bash. Invites gone out to friends and family. Too late to cancel. While the baby and I snuggled in the hospital, you went home and passed out cigars. A son on your birthday! What a gift! And then, worn out from the latest round of chemotherapy, you bid our guests goodnight and fell into a deep sleep.

Fourteen years later. Our son’s birthday … and yours … the day the planes hit the Twin Towers. I got to the newsroom around 9 o’clock. My editor sat at a desk, eyes glued to the TV screen. We watched in disbelief as a plane flew into the North Tower … and then another plane struck the South Tower. Outside, a spectacularly glorious day mocked the horror just 90 miles north of us … bodies falling from the sky, charred, ashen faces riven with tears. I’m sorry but we won’t be able to celebrate your birthday tonight. As a single mother who earned her living as a reporter, I had to work, of course. I felt sadness, the death of innocence for you, our son. No one to take my place that haunting September, 11. Order pizza, I said. Stay inside with your brother. Ok. I love you.

Life, the way I had expected it, had pretty much ended seven years before, although your sons and I had spun a home of strength and abundance, kindred spirits. Maybe because you took me to places no one else did, I loved you almost from the start. Montreal … Quebec, blue-gray skies above the St. Lawrence. Those first crazy weeks of meeting, arguing, making up, making love, driving back from Canada in a pounding rainstorm. You were so intense, but cute in a manly, vulnerable way. Although we met in April, we knew our fate by September, and you slipped a diamond on my finger. I wasn’t interested in anything after that but you, and—happily—you with me. We loved exploring the countryside, paths winding through sun-dappled woods … Flirtation Walk curving above the Hudson River where you remembered long-lost dreams of glory and honor. We spoke of new dreams, a new life to come. The children we would have. Roads to take. Places to see.

Cooler weather is on the way. I feel it in the morning as I sit at my picnic table, reading, writing, listening to the cicada’s fading summer song. Pale yellow leaves drift to earth. What would you say? What does it mean to survive? Life is short, you say. I learned from grief to write of you, of us. It’s a difficult world. It’s a difficult life. But at least for a time, I forget the tragedy and remember September 11 as the gift of new life on your birthday.

After the Fall a Room Beckons

As many of you who read my Facebook page know, I recently took a nasty fall. Nasty because it came without warning and happened so fast. I was literally standing on a grassy field on a sunny Thursday morning one minute, holding my dog’s leash, and the next stepping down wrong on a curb, slipping and feeling my face and head slam into the concrete. I knew right away I had been seriously injured. I sat on the roadway dazed, my dog staring at me. As blood rolled from my face and splattered my cell phone screen, my hands shook so badly I could barely call my sons. I should mention that the last time I was in a hospital was 34 years ago with the birth of my younger son. And except for an occasional head cold and sinus infection, I had never been seriously ill in all that time. Doctors scare me, hospitals scare me. But when help finally did arrive and it did, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who pulled over and called an ambulance, and my son arriving minutes later, I am healing … albeit with a very sore shoulder and wrist, a couple stitches in my forehead, some bruises and skin abrasions and, most likely, a root canal of my front tooth after it was loosened by the force of impact of face on concrete.


As I watched the blood flow from my eyebrow and lip onto my hands and my cellphone screen that day, I experienced a moment of crisis. Time and age had conspired to make me realize how fragile we are and how it can all change in a heartbeat. Of course, I learned this years ago with the death of my husband from cancer at the age of forty-seven, which I wrote about in my memoir Again in a Heartbeat. Although X-rays revealed no broken bones, the thought of how a sudden fall on concrete could have been so much worse, haunted me and still does. The trauma lingers.

Both my sons’ speedy arrival to the ER, the friends who expressed well wishes, prayers and hope for a quick recovery, who sent cards, stopped by with wine, chicken soup and a blender … yes, I’ve come on board the smoothie train, albeit five or six years late … fill me with gratitude.

Although being on a liquid and soft diet for two weeks as my tooth heals doesn’t help and my shoulder aches at night, I grapple to feel the energy before the accident. It isn’t there. Healing takes time. The thought of our writing group meeting again … took root. After ten years of facilitating the Women’s Writing Circle, I thought that chapter had been closed. Over the last 18 months, many women asked me if we would restart. I always said no, I didn’t think so. I suppose the change in heart goes to feelings of irrelevance, of feeling invisible as an older woman, of the death of a writing colleague, of thinking maybe I need this as much as they do. Writing, after all, is a touchstone to what is true, to what matters. It’s a connection with others.

Chester Springs Library in Chester County, Pennsylvania

Friendship, family, the kindness of a stranger who just happened to pull up in his SUV as I sat on the roadway bleeding, offer lessons in grace. As serendipity would have it, I walked into the local library one recent day and by chance remembered a room in the back with ochre and burnt-orange walls, a stone fireplace and windows looking out on a wooded hillside. Would it be possible? As it turned out, the answer was ‘yes’. The library community room was available. As Virginia Woolf said, a woman needs a room of her own. Now we have ours. And so next month when our writing group meets in that room, I might feel the energy return. No matter your age, a life without meaning, without connection and reaching out to others is more injurious, more fatal, than a fall.

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