We Have Room

 

refugee children, host border children, welcome the stranger, angels unaware,

All images thanks to wikimedia commons.

There may be no more powerful image in art, no more important message in scripture, than open arms. Welcoming the stranger is a basis of civilization, especially if that stranger is a refugee and always if that stranger is a child.

“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Christianity, Deuteronomy 10: 19

“Charity—to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of pity—is the spring of virtue.” Jainsim/Kundakunda, Pancastikaya 137

“When the Holy One loves a man, He sends him a present in the shape of a poor man, so that he should perform some good deed to him, through the merit of which he may draw a cord of grace.” Judaism. Zohar, Genesis 104a

“One should give even from a scanty store to him who asks.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 224

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christianity. Hebrews 13.1

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”  Islam. Quran 4:36

“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu.” Nelson Mandela, discussing the southern Africa tradition of Ubuntu

“See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.” Native American religions. A Winnebago Father’s Precepts

“`0 Ke aloha Ke Kuleana o kahi malihini. Love is the host in strange lands.”  Hawaiian saying

Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill [lest he die]. Deliver people from danger as quickly as you must free a sparrow from a tight noose. Be compassionate to orphans and relieve widows. Respect the old and help the poor. Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way

 

child 2

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Whether scripture or statue inscription, we all know it’s easier to state our principles than adhere to them. I’m as weak as the next person in actually living up to what I believe.

I’ve vowed to keep politics out of this site, so I won’t be talking about lies fostered by divisive media or shockingly cruel attitudes toward refugees of any age. I’ll only say that it takes an extraordinary act of love to scrape together the coyote fees to send one’s child away in hopes of a safe haven. It takes inestimable courage for that child to walk through deserts, ride the tops of trains, and face down thieves along the way in hopes of real freedom.

My husband and I did some soul-searching. We talked to our kids. And we decided we cannot stand by while refugee children turn themselves in at the border only to be treated like criminals. We have room to host refugee children.

We applied to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. We were told placements might be for a few months or they might be permanent. So we re-imagined our lives. Now that our kids are college students and young adults we thought we were done raising children, but we can go back to homemade popsicles and toys on the floor and books read aloud. We have our own problems with unemployment and a not-remotely-profitable small farm, but what we have can always stretch. There’s a place in our home and our hearts.

That doesn’t mean we have a greeting card view of this. These children will be traumatized, experience culture shock, and face learning a new language. We’ll have plenty of adapting to do as well.

Lately before falling asleep, I look ahead to rows of family pictures stretching into the future. Those pictures seem to hold two dark-haired faces newly dear to me, and eventually, more of their relatives joining them and becoming part of our extended family, on for generations, with babies in arms growing to stand tall, my husband and me fading into old age and beyond. It’s a good vision.

Right now it looks like that vision won’t come true. I just got an email from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It said, in part, 

After exploring the nationwide LIRS foster care program network, I am sorry to share with you that LIRS does not have a foster care program in the geographic area that you are located. If at a future time an opportunity arises, we will reach out to you at that time.

I wrote back, asking if there was some way I could help set up a program in our area. Apparently the only option is applying for a grant through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which I admit is probably past me. So now I’m applying to other agencies.

I only mention our quest in hopes that someone out there may qualify even if we don’t. Here are resources to investigate.

Office of Refugee Resettlement

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bethany Refugee Care

Texas Interfaith Center
refugees, host border children,

 

Dreaming of Halos

what's a halo mean, auras,

Louis Welden Hawkins – The Haloes, 1894

Dreams are a stairway to what’s beyond our ordinary awareness. That’s true of daytime dreams—aspirations that become more achievable as we help each other make our wishes come alive.  But here I mean dream dreams, you know, ones the dictionary defines as a “series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.”

Some of us more easily recall dreams than others. Apparently this has to do with reactivity in certain regions of the brain, although experts insist we can train ourselves to more effectively remember dreams.

No matter the facts, I like to talk about dreams. I’m fascinated by cultures where dreams are discussed and used as a way of tapping into a stream of wisdom that’s forgotten in so-called advanced societies.

And I love to get together with friends for dreamwork sessions where we share and investigate our dreams, something we do far too infrequently but always find illuminating.

If I had better follow-through for this passion I’d be one of those people who keep illustrated dream journals where the guidance found in dreams is recognized. Alas, I’m not. I only write down dreams when they linger in my head long after I’ve woken, in a not-remotely-arty Word doc.  Though I started this particular doc back in 2000, I’ve recorded only a few dreams each year. Most of the time they ramble along in weirdly disjointed anti-logic, as dreams tend to do. But several feel like teachings. Here’s one from August 2007 that stays with me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A dark-haired child in medieval dress, somewhere between five and eight years old and with a wise aspect, was my guide in this brief dream.

She showed me a number of different paintings. They rose up before me from nowhere with complete darkness around them. Most were icons or close-ups of religious paintings, all with halos around people’s heads.

I thought to myself that the halos seemed like auras, trying to notice which were painted with solid lines and which were more diffuse. The moment I tried to apply logic the pictures stopped.

The child explained. She used words that were simple, beautiful, and had the resonance of the ages behind them. I cannot recall most of what she said, as it was well beyond my understanding, but I’ve retained the following meaning.

The accepted beliefs and worldview of an era form a sort of perimeter around each person. This is the way of people. Those who have been called mystics and saints are people who perceive what’s beyond these boundaries. This perception, this apprehension of something greater, causes the perimeter itself to glow. The breaching of what’s closed is powerful energy.

I wish I could express it better. In the dream I could feel what pulsed at the juncture of small human reality and larger Truth as a kind of electricity or creative force. It emitted light. The energy was generative and alive with possibility. I was awed to glimpse it, even as dream material.

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. Carl Jung

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Resources for those of you fascinated by the dream wisdom accessible to us all.

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff

anything by Carl Jung, such as The Essential Jung

anything by pioneer of Active Dreaming, Robert Moss

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream by Andrea Rock

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant (sci-fi world where reality is shaped by dreams)

energy of halos,

Antonio Mancini- Self-Portrait, 1883

You’re Having A Perfect Day

today is perfect, unique day, gratitude reasons,

ilovemcl.deviantart.com

A hundred million babies are being soothed in loving arms, lulled to sleep by songs in every language. Those gently nurtured babies will grow up to change our lives in ways too marvelous to imagine.

children change the world, imagine future,

siobhan68.deviantart.com

Today Muslims pray, “Praise be to the Lord of the Universe who has created us and made us into tribes and nations. That we may know each other, not that we may despise each other.” Cloistered nuns petition God that our world be blessed with the wine of Christ’s love and peace. Tibetan Buddhists practice tonglen, breathing in the suffering of others and breathing out happiness for all beings.  Individuals meditate, chant, pray, or contemplate nature while sending light to each soul on earth. People of all faiths dance and sing in Dances of Universal Peace.

Right now, artists are creating something that never before existed. Their medium may be cake batter, dance steps, paint, tiny gems, huge beams, words, reclaimed trash, wool, glass, musical notes, or curved light. They bring vision into reality. The way they see transforms the way we see.

art, vision into reality, art shapes world,

onebadcat.net

Right now people in crisis are rising up, acting out of deep regard for one another in an ongoing testament to the compassion that defines us. Every second millions of people are selflessly working around the world to advance ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights, political accountability, and peace. Untold ordinary acts of kindness hold us together as we nurture the youngest and tend to the oldest, share with those in need, and weave the web of mutuality that holds us together.

reasons for gratitude, inspiration, appreciate today,

samlim.deviantart.com

Right now people assumed to be dead are reviving, changed forever after by a near-death experience.  They reawaken to a life less focused on material success or narrow beliefs, and instead emphasize love, curiosity, and awe.

living in awe, it's all love,

flickr.com/photos/qthomasbower

Right now you are fueled by a perfect circle: sunlight, soil, and the seed’s mysterious will. At this moment your extraordinary body is replacing millions of cells, pumping quarts of blood, actively defending your immunity, releasing precisely timed hormones and enzymes, operating on rhythms well beyond your perceptions.

perfect body, how body works,

gajitz.com

Today in an unimaginably vast universe, clouds of interstellar dust reflect the light of nearby stars. We are made of elements forged inside of stars that died out long before our own solar system emerged.

we are made of stars, perfect day,

nasa.gov

Each of us is unique, yet we are one being.

What an amazing day.

Staring Down Worry

mystical experience of fear, metaphysical encounter with darkness, overcoming evil, facing worry, staring at Satan, prince of darkness in my room,

Image courtesy of pitrisek.deviantart.com

Something happened the night Worry appeared to me.

Some of us are chronic worriers. There’s probably an adaptive reason for this, since humans who envisioned potential dangers would be more likely to survive and pass on their genes. But saber-toothed tigers aren’t lurking by our front doors these days. I know for a fact that worry generates misery while producing absolutely no benefit. Giving it up, however, isn’t an easy matter. Worry runs in our heads like movies of disaster to come, unbidden yet powerful, making some of us wary of the smallest choices and some of us heedless of real danger.

I worried from the earliest time I can remember. It may have an adaptive start in my life too. As a tiny child I spent many nights struggling to breathe through asthma attacks. When I was five years old I got a bit of food caught in my esophagus and stayed awake all night spitting my saliva into a bowl, since even a moment’s inattention caused it to run down my windpipe and sent me into fits of choking, until a surgeon removed it the next day. The year I turned nine my grandparents all died, catapulting me into years of obsessive worry that everyone else I loved would die too. At 13 I was assaulted by an adult and the focus of my worry widened as I spent years searching for the causes of evil and suffering. Worry continued to be my companion when I hit my 20’s. Each of my babies were born with medical problems. The unknown dangers threatening even the most innocent lives suddenly lived in my house. Chances are my chronic insomnia has roots in all this worry.

One night as I lay awake worrying I had an experience that profoundly changed me. That night I had plenty of things to worry about: serious concerns about my children’s health, our finances, and other problems. Normally I fought off worry with gratitude—focusing on the comfort of my family sleeping safely nearby and the many blessings in my life. But worry was there haunting my mind and hollowing my body.

Suddenly as a car crash, something happened. I know it sounds bizarre but it was as real as the lamp on my desk is now. I became aware of a huge black column next to my bed. It was comprised of the most immense energy I’d ever experienced. It was dark and powerful with a presence that seemed alive and completely aware of my thoughts. I had the sense that it was of such infinite size and strength that it went through the floor and out the roof, stretching far in both directions. I should have been more frightened, but the moment this column appeared I realized, as if the message hit all my cells at once, that I had summoned this darkness.

It was born of my own intense worry. It was a profound lesson that went through me in the way wisdom does, filling not just our brains but also our bodies and souls. Lying there, I resolved to bring forth every ounce of light I could muster.

The instant I thought to do this, whatever that column was disappeared.

I woke my husband to tell him. He kindly assured me that I was nuts. Until this post I’ve only told one other friend. But in today’s atmosphere of worry, I wanted to share this image—of fear so huge that it manifests next to you. It taught me that worry is a kind of unintentional evil. It presupposes things will go wrong. It’s the opposite of faith.

I’m not entirely cured of worrying nor would I ever change those earlier years of worry. They’ve made me stronger, more open to the beauty found just beyond despair, and left me with a positive quest. But ever since that moment, years ago, I have made a conscious effort to reorient myself. Ironically, my family has been through times more difficult than I could have imagined back when this happened—crime, financial hardship, loss, and grief. But I know the antidote—to shine forth with all the light I can. Some days I’m practically a parasite on optimism. But really, if all my moments of hope coalesce into some kind of vision, I can’t wait to see it.

metaphysical experience of evil, starting at evil, facing Satan, summoning fear, transcending worry, transcending fear, overcoming worry, renewing optimism,

Image courtesy of m0thyyku.deviantart.com

Love Religion

A dear friend travels every chance she gets and her home is adorned with wonderfully evocative paintings, carvings, and sculptures inspired by different faiths. But she thinks she shouldn’t be drawn to such artwork. She appreciated its beauty when she practiced the religion of her childhood, now that she is an agnostic she is drawn to it even more. She wonders if her intense interest is strange.

sacred art, beauty in religion,

Theotokos of Korsun skete.com

I don’t think it’s strange at all.

love common to all faiths,

6th century synagogue mosaic

We humans are wired to feel reverence. Many of us feel an extra current running through sacred art, music, dance, and ritual. We sense an inexpressible oneness through meditation, prayer, and communion with nature. Some understand it within a particular religion, some feel it across a spectrum. And some simply chalk it up to an overactive pineal gland. To me, reverence is part of who we are as a species. I am continually fascinated as I explore the way we express it across faiths, cultures, and time periods.

seeing sacred in all faiths, love common to all religion,

Goddess Saraswati exoticindiaart.com

Sometimes I’m even paid to do so. A few years ago I wrote a weekly religion column for The Plain Dealer. Each piece included a description of a worship service and an interview with a member of that particular church, synagogue, mosque, temple, fellowship, or other gathering.

Illuminated parchment

I used a decidedly unjournalistic tactic. As I participated in the service, I waited to fall in love with it. Maybe love isn’t the right word. Maybe fall in awe. Then I wrote about whatever twanged my heart.

beauty in sacred art,

Christ and the Apostles - Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, c. 1890

I consider myself pretty grounded in my own beliefs. And I come equipped with a skepticism meter, the kind that lifts my eyebrows at televangelists promising salvation by donation and lifts them just as high at products like energy vortex water guaranteed to activate your chakras.

San Benito Retablo http://www.colonialarts.com

But the love approach worked for me. One week I’d be standing with a crowd of worshippers in a century-old church, so moved by a gospel choir that I could no longer think about the music but only feel it. The next week I’d be sitting crossed-legged in an ornate Hindu temple as ancient prayers were chanted, sensing the deep pull of wisdom carried across thousands of years.

beauty in divine art,

Kalachakra thangka

A reverent approach made it easier to write the articles but rarely spared me from making bumbling mistakes. I thought I could take part in each service unobtrusively. Instead I managed to be glaringly obvious, sometimes offensive. I dressed conservatively for a Mormon temple only to attract quite a few quizzical looks. Only then did I notice that I was the only woman wearing a sweater and pants. Every other female over the age of two was wearing a skirt. I wore a skirt to the next assignment, a Coptic Orthodox church. As I sat absorbing the old world beauty of that sanctuary, a woman with hauntingly dark eyes looked at me pointedly and often. I tried to figure out what about my person was in violation. Headcovering, check. No visible cleavage, check. Then I realized that others had slipped off their shoes once they stepped into the pews, honoring the holy ground of their church. Only my blasphemous clogs remained on. My feet failed me again at a Hindu temple. I’d gotten there early and spent nearly three hours cross-legged on the floor. I noticed that other people sat very carefully but I couldn’t quite discern what rules they were using so I tucked my feet under my knees. After the first two hours my knees couldn’t take it and I stretched my legs out for a respite. I was later told that the soles of my feet were aimed at Lord Ganesha, a major slur.

Bhairava Mask exoticindiaart.com

I approach with reverence even if I often end up as the fool (falling well short of a holy fool). It doesn’t matter because I also found something I didn’t expect: a remarkable oneness across faiths. Every person I interviewed about religion expressed the sort of tolerance and open-hearted interest in other religions that, not long ago, would have been considered heretical. I also witnessed sharing of traditions and methods that may not have been overtly ecumenical but seemed to be a steady movement toward acknowledging the core of all faith. Love. In fact that’s what many people said to me. “It’s all about love.”

The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence

Someday I may do some traveling with my friend to see the world of faith through art, as she does. I expect to see beautiful expressions of reverence. I also expect to find love as the defining characteristic of all faiths.

Engel Margret Hofheinz-Döring

The Love Religion

The inner space inside

that we call the heart

has become many different

living scenes and stories.

A pasture for sleek gazelles,

a monastery for Christian monks,

a temple with Shiva dancing,

a kaaba for pilgrimage.

The tablets of Moses are there,

the Qur’an, the Vedas,

the sutras, and the gospels.

Love is the religion in me.

Whichever way love’s camel goes,

that way becomes my faith,

the source of beauty, and a light

of sacredness over everything.

Ibn Arabi
Sufi philosopher   (1165 –1240)

How The Secret Garden Saved Me

inner life of children, kids' religious worries, what kids hide from their parents,

My mother gave me an old clothbound book when I was nine years old.  It was her childhood copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I felt a sudden tug of connection to the little girl my mother once was, especially when I found her name carefully penciled on the inside cover.  Right away, I signed my name under hers.

Although written in 1911 and clotted with Yorkshire dialect, that book became an essential nutrient to me.  It told the story of orphaned Mary Lennox who was sent to live with her silent brooding uncle on the English moor. Little Mary had no lessons imposed on her and was given the opportunity to explore.  I envied her freedom.  A character named Dickon befriended animals so easily that they gathered at his feet and ate from his hand. I, too, liked to go in the forest behind our house in hopes that woodland creatures there would come to accept me.  And I understood Mary’s response when her uncle inquired if she wanted anything. He suggested toys or dolls.  Instead she asked, “Might I have a bit of earth?”

More than my favorite book, The Secret Garden provided comfort at a time when I could find no other solace.  The year I received my mother’s copy was also the year that one after another of my grandparents succumbed to long, painful illnesses. By the time I turned ten, all my grandparents had died.

I’d watched them struggle for each breath but it hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t get better. That’s what doctors and medicine were for. That’s what prayer was for. Now we would never have Sunday dinner together again. The seasons would come and go without canning applesauce or planting bulbs or going to the lake with my grandparents as we always did. I couldn’t stop thinking about death.

children's literature and positive mental health, saved by a book, children find meaning in fiction,

Other children probably weather grief with more resilience but that year was a dividing line for me. The blithe happiness of my childhood came to a halt. I couldn’t bear the idea that everyone I loved would die some day—my pet rabbits, my friends, and worst of all, my parents. My mother assured me that God simply called people home to heaven when it was their time. I kept asking why, if God were all-powerful, would He allow people like my grandparents to suffer so horribly before they died. She said His wisdom was beyond our understanding. Her answers left me with more and more questions. I could see asking them only intensified the sorrow she felt. So I tried to keep my worries to myself.

Now added to my fear of this unknown thing called death a new bleakness was added. Where I once prayed and worshipped without doubts, I was set adrift somewhere beyond my parents’ beliefs. Religion seemed piteously small when confronted with bigger dilemmas. And more of them occurred to me each day. What was the purpose of existence in a universe of unimaginably vast time and space? How did everything start when it had to come from somewhere? How did our tiny lives matter? I didn’t like the thought that adults believed in something that made no sense. I felt I was standing in a blizzard outside the warmth of answers that faith provided. It was lonely.

I tried to reconstruct my comfortably safe worldview with the tools I’d been taught were the most powerful: good behavior and prayer. I knew I wasn’t really the good girl I seemed to be. I was a picky eater, I argued with my sister, and I was lazy about chores. So I tried hard to be better, to be so worthy that no one else I loved would be taken away. The effort was a useful distraction from my preoccupation with big questions about death, meaninglessness, and infinity.

And I prayed, fiercely and in my own way, using pictures in my head and silent words. It was a gamble because I was no longer sure that God existed or if He did how on the job He was, but I had to do my best to keep my family alive. Here’s how my keep-them-alive game worked. If I thought of people I loved I had to pray for them. This was somewhat less burdensome at school because I was busy. It was overwhelming when my parents went out for the evening. I thought of my mother and father constantly, each time silently praying that they would come home safely. I summoned up images of my parents driving, chatting with their friends, driving home, then walking in the door. My whole body could feel the relief of their imaginary return. But as the evening wore on my prayers got more fervent and I took up a position watching cars go down the street. Their return was always later than I expected, probably because I was constantly willing them home. As soon as their car pulled in the driveway I ran to bed, feeling a sense of blessed completeness I couldn’t explain. They were back. Everything was okay.

It was exhausting.

importance of stories to girls, what books mean to kids,

I couldn’t imagine how but my parents weren’t fooled by the cheery act I put on. My mother told me that sometimes people need more help getting over their grief. She made an appointment for me to see a psychotherapist. I knew full well what this meant. I’d read my share of children’s books where unfortunate characters are locked up in institutions or sent away for their own good. It rarely went well for them. I was determined to act as un-crazy as possible. The day of my first appointment my mother made me wear a summer dress, sweater, and saddle shoes—the clunkiest fashion statement imaginable even to my ten-year-old sensibilities.

My mother usually stayed with me in the pediatrician’s office so I expected the same. Instead I was ushered in to see the doctor by myself. An older lady sat behind a large desk. She asked me to sit facing her in a chair much too large for me. I sat, my throat clenched with so much tension that it was hard to swallow. She asked me how I felt about coming in. I knew it wasn’t polite to admit my true feelings. Kids constantly have to filter what they do and say to please adults. So even though I feared and despised everything about the appointment I told her I was fine and didn’t need to be there and I was perfectly happy except for the embarrassing outfit I was wearing. I said it nicely. In fact I thought my comment about the outfit was a light-hearted joke. The doctor turned it into the topic of a lengthy question and answer session. She seemed to think I hated my mother for making me wear clothes I didn’t like. I couldn’t imagine that she’d had a mother recently or she would know that mothers make you do all sorts of things you don’t want to do. Eat all your dinner, clean your room, write thank you notes, well the list was endless. Frankly a dorky outfit was the least of it. Clearly I would have to filter what I said even more carefully.

Next she got out a series of large black and white photographs. She said it was a fun kind of test. I always got good grades on tests at school but the rules were pretty flimsy for this one. All I had to do was look at the pictures and tell her a story about what was happening. That included what happened right before the picture was taken and what would happen immediately afterwards. The first picture showed a dark-haired woman walking by herself on a beach. She didn’t look all that happy.Right behind her was a man with his arms reaching up in such a way that he seemed ready to choke her. The look on his face was creepy as well as dangerous. But I put the lightest tone possible in my voice and told the doctor that it was the woman’s birthday and she didn’t know her friend had come to surprise her. He was going to put his hands over her eyes and ask her to guess who and she’d be delighted. Nearly every picture was equally disturbing. I churned through them with Pollyanna-ish stories in my attempt to demonstrate just how mentally healthy I could be.

Next she brought up my grandparents’ deaths. The questions she asked were so upsetting and intrusive that I couldn’t answer. I shouldn’t have been shocked but I was. Having a stranger try to get me to tell her things about those who were dead alarmed my whole body. I could feel every inch of the chair touching me. The smell of the office, dusty and airless, made me want to choke. Although I willed them away, tears kept springing up in my eyes, and I set my mouth as tightly closed as I could.

The doctor changed her tactics back to the earlier conversation about my mother. I tried to unlock my mouth into a polite smile but I desperately wanted to run out the door. I knew my mother would be waiting and ready with a comforting hug. All I needed to do was just hold on until the appointment was over. Then the doctor made a statement so insane that it seemed whole adult world might be slipping away on a raft built without logic. She said I was upset because I wanted my mother dead.

That was it. I was willing to sacrifice the time I’d invested in good girl behavior but I would never go back there. I would do whatever it took. I would throw fits if necessary but I would not speak to that doctor again. On the drive home and all through supper I tried to figure out how to best make my stand. I decided to be logical and calm, although I wanted more than anything else to climb into my mother’s lap. That evening I sat with my mother, the person I prayed for most often, and lost my struggle to keeping from crying. I told her the unspeakable thing the doctor had said. My mother was gratifyingly appalled. She hugged me for a long time and then we talked as if we were on one side and the doctor on the other. It was delicious.

My mother called the doctor the next day and afterwards confirmed that I was a good judge of character. I would not have to go back. I overheard her telling my father that the doctor “didn’t have her head screwed on tight.” But my mother did think the doctor was right about one thing. I wasn’t getting over my grandparents’ deaths.

That wasn’t it. The loss of my grandparents had tossed me into a realm of questions I couldn’t ask and worries that faith couldn’t explain. I knew my parents were concerned about me so I ramped up the cheerful act. Masking my fears actually helped, at least during the day. But at night I couldn’t sleep. If I didn’t work hard to steer my mind relentlessly toward peaceful thoughts I’d feel as if I were falling into dark nothingness. The galaxies we learned about in fourth grade, black and endless, seemed like a void that would swallow up everything I knew. On the worst nights I could feel the fabric of the ordinary world stretched thin over a much larger unknown. Then I couldn’t even cry myself to sleep.

So I resorted to the distraction of reading. As soon as the rest of my family went to bed I turned my light back on. Most often I chose The Secret Garden. I turned to the same passages over and over. I read about the garden that seemed dead in the early spring chill until Mary cleared away branches and leaves to find tender green sprouts in the soil. I read about the crippled boy whose limitations Mary refused to accept and of his triumphant recovery in that garden. I read about her sorrowful uncle who awakened to joy after years of despair. Then I could sleep.

~

I don’t regret the fears and doubts of my childhood. They set me on a richly rewarding lifelong path of seeking answers to big questions. But I didn’t realize why I turned to The Secret Garden until I found the book years later. I opened it to see two childish signatures, my mother’s and my own. Rereading it, I recognized the passages that sustained me when I felt most lost. Each one was about about redemption, nature’s wisdom, and offered what I needed most of all, simple hope.

If I could meet a person from history I’d choose Frances Hodgson Burnett. I now know about the losses she suffered, the despair she fought, and the writing that was her life’s work. I’d tell her, a bit shyly, that I make a living as a writer too. I don’t think I could express how profoundly her book calmed a little girl too upset to sleep but I’d want her to know that her words were a soothing balm during those dark nights.

And I’d tell her that The Secret Garden didn’t just save me, it also shaped my future. Today I live on a small farm where my children have no lessons imposed, just like Mary. The animals here eat from my hand, as those in the book did from Dickon’s hand. Maybe I’d simply say, “Frances, our land is named after lines you wrote. We call it Bit of Earth Farm.”

Laura Grace Weldon