Tag Archives: Love

When Love Conquers Death

The Christmas my son, Peter, my first child, turned three was, of course, the first time he was old enough to make sense out of the Santa story.  And being the child he was, Peter made too much sense out of it.

“Mommy,” he said to me when I came into his bedroom on Christmas morning, “did Santa Claus really tiptoe into my room and put those things in my stocking”—having no fireplace in our Texas home, I had hung his stocking on the end of his bed—“or did you do it?”

I seem to be incapable—unfortunately, in this case—of telling a direct lie, especially to a child.  And so I admitted that I had done it, and then I spun a story about Santa Claus as the spirit of giving, etc., etc., none of which interested him in the least.  He had the information he’d asked for.  Mommy had filled his stocking.

So when his younger sister, Beth-Alison, grew old enough to comprehend the Santa story, she had her big brother close at hand, delighted to let her know that it was all a big game the grown-ups were playing.  There was no Santa.

She once told me that was the worst thing I ever did as a parent, depriving her of the brief chance other children have to believe in Santa.  I defended myself by saying, “If that’s truly the worst thing I ever did, you’re pretty damned lucky.”

I only wish it were.

But what is it about truth-telling and Santa?  If Peter’s question had been less direct, I might have found a way to respond without spoiling the fun.  Because the truth of Santa isn’t about who did the tiptoeing.  It’s about what the gifts honor.

However close or far we are from the real Christmas story, what is meant to be honored in this season is the victory of love over death.

And that’s a truth we search for, every one of us of every faith or no faith at all, our entire lives.

Peter & Beth-Alison

The Peter who so determinedly and mischievously—he was good at both determination and mischief—spoiled his little sister’s Santa story, died almost eleven years ago.  At age 42, he left little behind except his wife and three sons, living proof of his ability to love.

Peter died after a long illness that robbed him inexorably of body and mind, and dying, he went to such an unknowable place that none of us who loved him could follow.  Yet if I was unable to truly accompany his death, that three-year-old Christmas morning still lives in me.  “Mama, did Santa Claus really . . .”

And so much else lives in me, too.  And in his father and his sister.  And in my beloved daughter-in-law.  And in those three adored grandsons.

Can love conquer death, even if you don’t believe in Santa . . . in more than Santa?

When Peter’s father is gone, when I am gone, too, so much of his Peterness will be gone with us.

And yet I believe in the imperfect love that brought my son into the world.

And I believe in the imperfect love that will live still in those he created, in those he touched.

“Mommy, did Santa really . . . ?”

If I could return to that surprise moment with the perspective of age, I would answer his question differently.

“Yes, my son!  Yes!  Love tiptoed into your room.”

The Thing is to Love Life

The thing is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it,

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it…

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you again.

Credit: Lufra | morguefile.com

Ellen Bass

Love is…

girl looking in mirror“Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.”
−Iris Murdoch

What Do I Mean?

“You should write a memoir.”

Various folks have said that to me over the years, and always I’ve had the same response: “I couldn’t possibly do that. I’ve made it a firm rule of my writing life never to write about people I know, and how could I write a memoir without invading the privacy of those who have shared my life?”

But then one day for reasons that had nothing to do with memoirs, I wrote a verse entitled “Remembering Peter.” It was about my son, his coming into the world and his leaving it, and once I’d gotten past having said some things “aloud” that I hadn’t spoken before, I had a realization. I could write a memoir this way, by dipping into my life then stepping back again, by revealing myself in small glimpses without exposing more than I chose to about anyone else.

And from that moment I began writing a memoir in verse, playing with the material granted me by my own life.

7_22glasscastleWriting my untitled memoir was fun, more writing fun than I’ve had for a long time. And when I shared what I was doing with others, the pieces elicited a strong response. I was off and running!

But about the time I had really settled into the work, I realized I had a problem. I had lots of individual verses, but no overall frame. All was tied together by being part of the substance of my life, but except for the fact that I could sort what I was writing into a vaguely chronological order, the pieces had no relation to one another, no purpose.

What is the point of my life, after all, except that it has happened/is happening? What’s the hook? Why should anyone, beyond the small handful of folks who know me well enough to care about my history, bother to read this odd piece?

7_22mennoniteAsking a question like that is very close to asking What is the meaning of my life? A question that I suddenly find extraordinarily awkward to answer.

Most days I know what I’m doing with my life. I’m loving. I’m learning. I’m keeping up with the day-by-day maintenance required to keep body and home and relationships together. I’m doing the good work that has been given to me, creating meaning out of words, out of story. But none of that justifies a memoir. Well, it may justify writing one, just because the writing serves me, but why should anyone read it?

The question I’m left with is both simple and extraordinarily difficult to answer: What do I mean?

7_22GraceofSilenceSo I’ve been reading memoirs and recalling those I’ve already read. Some like Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress take pain and turn it into humor. I admire such ability, but it’s not mine. Some use the substance of their lives to examine a much larger question, like Michele Norris (The Grace of Silence) uses her life—and her father’s—to consider racism. But what would my question be? And then there are memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love that manage to combine laughs with deep questions . . .

My reading has brought me no closer to finding the point of translating my own life into words. And maybe, finally, I will have to decide that there is no point. But before I do, I am here asking. Do you have a memoir to recommend, one that you love, one that might inform my vision? After all, writing, all writing, is as much about imitation as it is about innovation.

And I’m wide open.