Category Archives: Journal

The Time Will Come

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, And say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

The Beauty of the Earth

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.


Rachel Carson

Credit: Beth-Alison Berggren

The Choices I Make

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My daughter said it with me standing right there.  “My mother,” she said, “is not a cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

I was startled at the description of what I am not, but I couldn’t possibly take offense.  In the first place, she said it so cheerfully.  In the second, what she said is so true.

I was a bread-baking-from-scratch, hands-on-up-to-my-elbows mother.  But that was a long time ago.  And the first years of that kind of full-throttle commitment came before I went to work.  The work I’m referring to is my day after day, year after year commitment to writing.

Writing was only a guilty hobby until the aforementioned daughter, who was the younger of my children, started first grade.  But in the space her absence opened for me, I decided to make my writing my work.

In those years before my children’s books had garnered much notice, writing was an ideal career for a stay-at-home mom.  I was there, right there, every time my kids came through the door.  I might be at the typewriter—my early books were written on a manual, portable Smith Corona typewriter that had been my high school graduation gift in 1956—but I was there.

Sometimes, inevitably, my two children and my occasional foster children resented that typewriter, though they did come to appreciate its issue.

When Peter was in sixth or seventh grade, he said to me one day, “You know, Mom.  Kids at school talk to me all the time about your books.”

“What kids?” I asked.

“Oh”—and he ducked his head and blushed a bit—“girls.”

When Beth-Alison was very young, she accepted her mother-the-writer as she accepted the rest of the fabric of her life.  By the time she entered junior high, though, she was beginning to resent the time I spent off in storyland.

One day in response to her complaints I said, “Do you know what your life would be like if I weren’t writing?  You would be my job.  Every day when you got home from school I’d be at the door waiting for you.  ‘Tell me about your day.’ I’d say. ‘Tell me everything you did.’  And you would hate it!”

She grew up knowing she never wanted to be a writer.  In fact, having witnessed my long, slow process with so little result, she always said she couldn’t think of a worse job.  But she wanted very much to be a self-employed, working-out-of-her-home mother.  And she made that happen.

They were both interesting if not always useful critics of my work, too.

Beth-Alison used to beg me to write just one best seller.  “So our family will have some money.”  (Their dad is an Episcopal priest.  Not much money in that.)  “After that,” she always promised me, “you can go back to writing what you want.”

Peter once said, “Mom, when you write about sex, you write about it like it’s no big deal.  If you’d write about it like it was a big deal, every kid in school would read your books.”

I listened to them both and went on writing what is given to me to write.

By the time grandchildren arrived, my career had come to be a more complex entity.  I was teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, traveling back and forth from Minneapolis, and traveling frequently to lecture, too.

I missed the birth of my sole granddaughter in a gaggle of grandsons because I was in Vermont when she arrived.  And for their entire lives I have been, I’ll admit, a busy grandma.  If not always busy out there in the world, then busy at home pecking away at my computer.

Still, I did manage to gather them up—mostly the ones who were available to me by living close—and take them to the Children’s Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra and the Arboretum and the zoo and sometimes even to the indoor amusement park at the Mall of America.  (In case you have never experienced an indoor amusement park, I can tell you it fits my vision of hell perfectly.)

Marion and Grandchildren

When each grandchild, near or far, turned nine, we went on an intergenerational Elderhostel trip.

Do you hear a note of self-justification in my voice?

Usually, though, I’ll admit I’ve been here at my desk pecking away at a keyboard.

And aware every day that this is the choice I’m making.

The grandchildren are mostly grown now, in college or launched into the world, and I love them and am intrigued by them and proud of them and sometimes just a little sad about them, as well.  I know I missed a lot by not being a “cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

What brings up this reverie is a conversation I had recently with a writer friend who is caring for her infant grandchild a couple of days a week.  “Sometimes,” I said, “I regret I didn’t do more of that.”

“Sometimes,” she replied, “I regret that I didn’t take my writing more seriously sooner, that I don’t take it seriously enough now.”

And I thought, For every choice . . . a gain, a loss.

Am I sad about the choices I’ve made?  Not at all.  But wouldn’t it be fine if life allowed us to have it both ways?

A Dream, a Hope, a Demand for the New Year

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It isn’t so much my dream for the New Year, or even my hope.  It’s more a demand.  But sometimes it feels as though I might as well demand that the Earth stop its spin.

I want peace.  Meaningful peace.  Peace in which the richest and most powerful nation in the world stops—actually stops—spreading armaments and troops and plots and assassinations and political turmoil and economic hardship across the planet.

I’ve been dreaming that dream since I was a young adult and first began to understand the insidious role my country—my country!—plays on the world stage.  I dream and I despair.

Surely it is naïve, as a citizen of that marauding country, to ask for world peace.   At the very least, it is a woman’s dream.  Even worse, perhaps, it’s the dream of a woman who writes children’s books.  Who could be less in touch with the real world?

Certainly, it’s a dream dashed every election cycle when peace is never a choice, because every contender vying on the ballot will take us down the same terrible path.

I realize, of course, that I’m not alone.  Most of us love peace, want peace.  But do we demand it?

Decade after decade, election cycle after election cycle, in this beloved and privileged country, we vote for and then passively follow leaders who promulgate war, destabilize struggling countries, bully their way across the international stage.  If we don’t exactly agree with what they are doing, we look the other way, because . . . well, where else is there to look?

In 1953 President Eisenhower, a military man as well as President, gave a speech entitled, “A Chance for Peace.”  That’s when he coined the now ubiquitous term, “the military-industrial complex.”  His words have been revered for more than half a century.

Here is the way that speech concluded:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Who in our government is holding up such figures today?  Who is asking the questions those figures demand?  Who even recognizes the reality of that cross?

At the beginning of this New Year, many of us here in the United States—and not only women and children’s writers—dream and hope for peace in this beleaguered world.  Isn’t it time that we, all of us who regret the way our nation plays out its wealth and power across the planet, do more than dream and hope?

Eisenhower’s words have been revered for decades.  Every one of us who wants peace must demand that our government, finally, oh-so-belatedly, listen to those words . . . and to us.

Love

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling, not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends and enemies. Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth… For this reason, loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We’re not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice — not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity — a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives.

 

Isabel Carter Heyward