Thankfully, April arrived in Kentucky. Trees that had been battered and broken by the ice storms somehow managed to sprout leaves in the most hopeful shade of green.
Cherry trees blossomed pale pink. Forsythia bushes erupted bright yellow. Daffodils and tulips pushed up through the darkness and dirt, poked their heads out, and held their cheerful faces up to the sun.
Nearly every church marquis announced: He is Risen!
A robin redbreast built a nest and laid four eggs on our back porch.
Our old dog and our young dog reached an understanding: The old dog is The Boss.
And this was enough for me. It strengthened me. It gave me hope.
It gave me enough strength and hope to haul off and turn in my latest middle-grade novel (my third), to my literary agent. He didn’t refuse to read it. He didn’t say anything remotely like, “I’ve given up on you—you are a one-hit hack.” And this, too, strengthened me and gave me hope.
I felt so good the next morning, I left the house, and lifted my face to the sun, like the daffodils and tulips! “Hello! Hello!” I said merrily to the sky. (I told you: There’s no such thing as a mentally healthy writer!)
I left the house some more. My husband and I visited our new house, still under construction, often, and you’ll never believe what happened: We began to think that our new house would be finished at some point, and that we would still be alive to live in it! Hooray!
I continued leaving the house. I noticed that I felt better when I got out of my nine square feet of space—and my own head, where I live much of the time, I’m told.
I felt so good, I left the house and went all the way to San Francisco, for nine days—to attend a business conference with my husband.
In San Francisco, I was privileged to hear Patrick Henry Hughes speak and perform. For those of you who don’t know, Patrick Henry Hughes is a man who was born without eyes and without the ability to straighten his arms and legs—and I’d been worried about my hair! Patrick is blind and unable to walk. He is also a virtuoso pianist, vocalist, and trumpet player. Honestly, as far as I can tell, Patrick is an outstanding musician, student, and human-being, in every way—he obviously does not waste time worrying about his hair! (To learn more, visit Patrick’s website at http://www.patrickhenryhughes.com/ .) Anyway, as I listened to Patrick, I began to realize that I’d been a teensy bit consumed by my own “stuff”. Bad. Bad. Bad.
I decided my hair was fine. Actually, I decided I was lucky to have hair—and eyes, and arms and legs, all of which work just fine.
The next night, my husband and I ate dinner with a marvelous man, who’d recently had a cancerous brain tumor the size of a golf ball removed from his head. He generously told us the story of his unimaginable illness, and his miraculous recovery. And when I say “miraculous”, I am using a word the man’s own doctors use, for he was cured—without any radiation or chemotherapy. All evidence of the cancer simply vanished, not only from his body, but from his genetic coding as well. (He said there had been A LOT of praying.) As I listened to him, I realized that not only had I been completely consumed by my own “stuff”, but it was all small, petty, ridiculous stuff.
So, I decided to let go of it, all of it—even the bookstore thing—mostly. I forgave Miss Haughty High Heels. Okay, well, I’m trying—really hard!—to forgive Miss Haughty High Heels. Okay, okay: I think I’m open to forgiving Miss Haughty High Heels. Someday. But I let everything else go. Really.
The next day, from the balcony of our San Francisco hotel room, this is what I saw:
My husband and I returned to Kentucky just in time for Easter.
The Easter Bunny stopped by our house, leaving polka-dotted rain boots filled with candy and a matching umbrella, for Laurel.
Laurel wore her rain boots—rain or shine—everyday for two weeks. When I pointed out that it wasn’t raining, she wore them anyway. When kids at school pointed out that it wasn’t raining, she didn’t care a whit. “I just love my rain boots, Mama! I just love them!” she told me one afternoon in the car. Then she asked, “Did you have a pair of rain boots you loved when you were my age?”
I thought about this. “No,” I said.
“You didn’t have any rain boots?” Laurel said, sad for me, over my lack of rain boots.
“I had them,” I said. “I just didn’t like them. Back then, all raincoats and rain boots were the same—all bright, shiny yellow—and I hated them. I wore them to school only once each year.”
“Nana-Mama only made you wear them once?” Laurel said, incredulous. (She calls my mother Nana-Mama.)
“That’s all she could do,” I explained, “because the first time I was forced to wear my raincoat and rain boots to school each year, I took them off and put them in the lost and found box—at school. My mother constantly reminded me to bring my stuff home. I purposely forgot—for the entire year. Then, at the end of each school year, my teacher would go through the lost and found box, holding items up and asking, ‘Whose is this?’ When she got to my raincoat and rain boots, I kept quiet and looked around the classroom, as if to say, ‘Yeah, whose dumb coat and boots?’ I never brought them home. Ever.”
“Omigosh!” Laurel shrieked. “What did Nana-Mama say?”
“Nothing,” I said. “She still doesn’t know.”
“Omigosh!” Laurel said again.
I smiled and nodded. Then, I added, “That’s why all your coats and jackets have your name written in them—in permanent ink.”
We laughed and laughed together, in the late afternoon sunshine, though perhaps for different reasons—I suspect that Laurel plans to tell Nana Mama on me, at the first opportunity.
The baby birds on our back porch hatched. Soon, they will learn to fly.
And far too soon, Laurel will learn to fly, too. She’ll fly away. But she will always return to me, in bright, shining moments like these. I hope. I hope. I hope.
I hope I learn to fly, too.
But what I know is this: Whether I am loved or hated by HarperCollins, Random House, or random bookstore employees, I am loved by my family and friends. And I will still write, for them, and for myself. Surprisingly, this is enough. This is more than enough.
What I know is that winter comes and brings with it snow and ice, death and decay—and sometimes mental illness. But spring always returns, to wash winter away, usher in Easter, rain boots, flowers, baby birds, and hope.
I am grateful. My cup runneth over, with laughter and love, happiness and hope.