As I celebrate 38 years, it’s interesting to look at how perspectives change from year to year: how priorities change, how little things aren’t so little, big things aren’t so big… and how some things never change.  Among those things are love, beauty, song, faith, hope – though these may appear in different ways, their essence does not change.  In honor of the birthday of a favorite poet of mine, I will repost a blog entry from December 10, 2007.  And you’ll see why this entry earned its title.

The Thing with Feathers

I love simplicity. It is often in the “simple” that the profound depths of life can be glimpsed, I think. So it is that my favorite poet (whose birthday I share) is known for her simplicity. Nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson is known for the short, lyrical verse that was simple on one level, but somewhat profound for those who wish to dig deeper. A lover of nature, Dickinson could paint exquisite pictures with her words. One of my favorites – one that flits through my mind quite frequently, in fact – is the poem I refer to in today’s title:

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

(Two more brief stanzas complete the poem.)

I would love to know the point in life at which Emily penned this particular poem. She is often remembered as a hermit of sorts, one who rarely traveled and who became more reclusive as she became older. Reading more about Dickinson’s life, though, I found that the vast majority of her adult life was spent at the family home in Amherst not simply due to Emily’s love of solitude, but because her father needed her to stay there as the caregiver of her mother, frequently described as an invalid. So how had Dickinson experienced the “hope” she wrote of, the little bird that perched on her soul and didn’t give up its song? The next stanza goes on to tell us that the little bird’s song is sweetest amidst difficulty, that it would take quite a storm to knock the bird from its perch.

The picture of the tiny, impossibly strong bird may seem unlikely. Though we weren’t talking of poetry, a study group I’m a part of was recently reading Romans 5:3-4, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” And our conversation had us wondering – why suffering? Couldn’t we just skip that step?

During Thanksgiving time, I mentioned how I couldn’t be thankful for MS, but I know that, in many ways, my life is richer because of it. As Emily told us of the bird’s song that is sweetest amidst the gale, the song of hope that became stronger when faced with struggle. Emily Dickinson died at the age of 56, having written well over a thousand poems, with 800 of them hand bound into books of her own… and less than a dozen published during her lifetime. I am indeed thankful that despite (or because of) Emily Dickinson’s own struggle with family illness, personal illness, depression and loss, she left behind her own volumes of verse. Emily Dickinson is still known as one of the foremost American poets, with so much of her inner struggle “invisible” to those around her until after her death 120 years ago. She didn’t mention the reasons for the hope to flourish in the midst of these issues, but reading Romans 5 along with her verse does indeed paint a picture of hope that we have: perhaps hope for physical healing, but more importantly that hope for peace while facing life’s storms. Romans 5:3-4 is not complete without the following verse, which goes on to promise that this hope will not disappoint us.

So happy birthday Emily (she was born Decembeer 10, 1830)! My wish for each of you is that you find that hope, even when facing life’s storms.

Truth in fiction

One of my favorite types of literature is “juvenile literature,” that which is intended for older children.  I read some of my favorite books as a child, and Madeleine L’Engle still remains on my favorite list, not just because I enjoy fantasy, but because of the truth and beauty that can be found between those pages.  Why?  I think L’Engle explained this well in her autobiographical A Circle of Quiet: “lf it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.  If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books.  And words.”

In July, my older brother introduced me to a new author to add to my “favorite” list.  I am glad that I hadn’t read Andrew Peterson’s work before July, as the first book of The Wingfeather Saga left me wanting more, and I have been able to experience book two, North! Or Be Eaten less than two months after the first.  Though these are considered juvenile literature, I found beautiful truth and imagery within.  And one truth within was a truth that is missing from too many of the books that crowd our shelves: our Maker has a plan for our lives.  On page 143 of this work, a bookseller states this well.  “Whether crushed or sheltered by the Maker’s hand, ‘tis beneath it we go, from breath to death.”  (warning: if you have not yet read these books, the review below does contain spoilers of the first one.  Not the second, though… how fair would that be?  It would be like a certain older brother of mine who used to give away the ending of a book as I was starting it.  Not nice.)

Lest this story sound simple, allow me to explain.  Here is a little synopsis of the book:

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them.

Their escape brings readers to the very brink of Fingap Falls, over the Stony Mountains, and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.

Finding they’re royalty, as wonderful as this may sound, did bring on responsibility, not all of it welcome.  12-year-old Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, faced this question as they started their escape.  “Is it worth it? he asked himself.  Was it worth his losing his own life in order to learn the truth about who he was and who he was becoming?  Yes.” (p 79)  Among other things, this book was the story of Janner and his very unusual coming of age.

In the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Igiby children were told their roles, intended since birth.  Janner, the throne warden, was not to be king – that was his younger brother Tink.  No, Janner’s role was to act as protector of the king, to keep him safe. Reading how Janner acted as caregiver to an unwilling brother and how the weakest of the three children, their young sister who needed a crutch to walk, overcame the largest of their physical obstacles … these aspects spoke to me personally, falling into the “Invisible Issues” theme of this blog.  And yes, I needed a few tissues along the way.

Andrew Peterson’s storytelling was gripping, his style engaging, and his characters memorable.  The story is one of love, redemption, family, responsibility, honor, and so much more.  And you know what?  I think Madeleine L’Engle would have liked it.

Anne’s anniversary – a year later

Exactly one year ago today, I got to visit Green Gables, Prince Edward Island. We went with a group of more than 30 on Lightrider, a double-decker bus, and what an experience this was! I have to include a couple of photos, of course, and I will also follow with a post about Anne from my former blog. There is a lot I can learn from the life of fictional Anne and her very real author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The entry below was first published on January 10, 2008.

100 years later, and still sparkling

Prince Edward Island will host centennial celebrations this year for Anne‘s publication. I’m not sure why, but the authors I’ve grown to love are all people with “invisible issues” of their own. As I wrote a few months ago, Madeleine L’Engle’s most well-known and awarded book, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected by publishers eight times before it was put aside to collect dust (until it was resurrected by another interested publisher). It is hard to believe that one of the most celebrated and well-known books of a century ago had a similar history. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was handwritten then typed on her “old second-hand typewriter that never makes the capitals plain and won’t print ‘w’ at all” (from volume 1 of Montgomery’s selected journals). Ms. Montgomery had several short stories and poems published before that time, but this was her first full-length book, so Maud, as she went by, decided the manuscript must not be worthwhile. And she put it aside.

What would lead her to do this? And why was such a bright young lady using a secondhand typewriter with some letters that wouldn’t work? Despite the cheery disposition of many of her characters, Maud did not live a charmed life by any means. Much like her beloved character, her mother died when Maud was very young. Unlike Anne, Maud did have a father still living, a father who went across the country to make a new life and later settle in Saskatchewan. Lucy Maud stayed on Prince Edward Island, where she lived with her mother’s parents, her Grandma Lucy and Grandfather Alexander Macneill. She lived near and grew to love her cousins, one of the families living at a house called “Green Gables,” but L. M. Montgomery is described on page 17 of Annotated Anne of Green Gables as fine physically, but “emotionally starved.” And a century ago, Maud’s relatives’ views were not unusual. She was a female, her parents weren’t here, and a girl – or young lady – was not expected to need, accomplish or become much of anything. So it was that her grandfather, who passed away when Maud was in her early 20’s, left nothing in his will to his wife or granddaughter, but to the males of the family. Then ten years later, in 1908, something happened that would have surprised her grandfather: her first book was published. In fact, Anne of Green Gables was so popular that it went through thirty-two printings in the first five years. Unlike many other books, it has not gone out of print after a hundred years.

The character Anne herself lived the first part of her life filled with issues that weren’t even “invisible.” Orphaned as an infant, Anne spent her growing years either in an orphanage or in homes as a servant of sorts. She went to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when the brother and sister had sent for a boy orphan, one who could help on the farm. Then came Anne. She wasn’t a boy, and thus wasn’t really wanted, much like Maud felt through her growing years. It became apparent, though, that Anne, much like her author, had much to offer the world. Some of those special gifts were ones she had cultivated during life’s struggles.

So a hundred years have passed… and who would have thought that little dreamer Maud would bring to the printed page one of literature’s most beloved heroines? Anne is known and loved in Canada, America, and in nations around the world. If you go to Prince Edward Island, you’ll likely see as many tourists from Japan as America. This book has been translated into 36 languages, and people are just as enthusiastic about is as they were when it was first published, if not more so. In fact, one exciting thing about 2008 is that there will be special celebrations this summer, marking the centennial of Anne’s publication. (In fact, a bus tour with Lightrider will embark to PEI for eight days in June. There are a few spaces left, and I can get information for you if you’re interested!)

As she read reviews of her work in 1908, Maud wrote, as can be seen in her first volume of published journals, “…Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism….” Though her life held further shadows, I am thankful that Lucy Maud Montgomery was able to rise above those to share this message of optimism. Both through her life and her writing, Lucy Maud Montgomery left a sparkle in this world that is well worth celebrating!

So we did return from my “dream trip” to PEI, and it is fun to reflect back on that special time we had. It was neat to see Maud’s community, to see the legacy that remains in the spirit of the island. I will share other thoughts in days to come – and if you have any questions about our trip, I will warn you that once I start sharing about something dear to my heart, it can be hard to put on the brakes. 😉

about this blog…

Why a blog? Thie actually isn’t new… it stared more than two years ago. Our local newspaper asked for area bloggers, and my husband actually thought I could bring an interesting perspective, one that people needed to hear.

Why a blog?  This actually isn’t new… it started more than two years ago.  Our local newspaper asked for area bloggers, and my husband actually thought I could bring an interesting perspective, one that people needed to hear.  Our chat brought forth a title, “Invisible Issues,” as we so often come into contact with roadblocks that aren’t easily noticeable.  As a person living with MS, one whose mobility is becoming challenged in ways that can be a bit frustrating, I submitted the idea to the newspaper.  And a blog was born.  The paper published this for quite some time, and I submitted one to three postings a week… then the newspaper was sold to different owners, and the blog changed form.  My seventy or so posts (which I thankfully saved on my own hard drive) were gone… and their set-up no longer had archives.  Also, the blogger had to email in a submission to the editorial board, for it to be approved then posted (sometimes a few days later).

Because my posts would be printed in the newspaper (only a part, but with a link to the online site), I continued… but not as frequently.  A blog is meant to be able to have a little – or a big – post, sometimes timely… and able to be edited.  If I saw a typo, I emailed it to an editor who would then change the little error.  Then came last week.  After submitting a post, I found that I couldn’t see it online without a username and password.  And one had to pay a newspaper subscription fee to have the said arrangement.  So basically, I was volunteering to create a blog that people couldn’t access without paying a fee.  (And I couldn’t see my own post until the system came through to assign me a username and password – it took more than a day, and my typos stayed there.  And the system they’re using gives a numerical password, one you can’t change to something memorable.)

If I’m to write a blog, I would like it to be accessible (accessibility is one thing I write about).  Our newspaper, like newspapers around the country, is struggling to make ends meet.  However, I think it is shooting itself in the foot by asking consumers to pay to view online content.  I know that this didn’t even work for  The New York Times, so I’m not quite sure why they think it will work in east central Indiana.  In this age of instant news and access, people will find other news sources that are available free of charge.

So there is my bit of an introduction.  One thing I did get from the paper a few months back was permission to use my previous posts in ways I wished.  So… I’ll be reposting some of my favorites in the coming weeks.  I tend to write in an informal, conversational style, so I’ll likely bop in at times with just a few sentences about life, and at times with a few paragraphs.  But I do like to write, so instead of having lots of  “this would make a fun blog topic” thoughts that go by the wayside, I’ll try to actually type them out.

Here goes – thanks for coming along for the ride.  I will try to not just make us think, but also make us smile.