Monthly Archives: December 2007

Where the Heart Is


After a long morning of Christmas shopping that involved traipsing from store to store and in and out of register lines (sheer torture for a four year old), we had just gotten back into the car when Caleb asked me, “Mom, where are we going next?”

“Home,” I replied.

“Oh, good. I love home, Mom,” he said, a note of relief in his voice. “It’s warm, and it smells good, with no monsters and no lightning storms. Sweet home, sweet home!”

(How cute is that?)

A Word on Words


I’ve always been a reader.

As a child, I used to stay up late at night, long after goodnights had been exchanged, reading books in the dim triangle of light cast from the hallway outside my room. Finally my parents gave in to the inevitable and installed a little reading light on my bed, allowing me to spend many of the hours between dusk and dawn lost in the labyrinthine passages of my favorite fictional worlds.

In school, I read while I walked down the hallway, finding the choppy waters of narrative conflict a lot easier to navigate than the shark-infested seas of junior high. Many days I missed getting off at my bus stop because I had my nose deep in a novel, years and miles and adventurous lifetimes away from the prosaic details of rural transportation in the Georgia school system.

From my lofty perch atop a pile of books, I learned how different two points of view can be. I developed a bittersweet understanding of the refining power of suffering. I traveled–not just to other people’s countries, but in other people’s heads. I stepped into whole other lives, trying them on the way a child tries on costumes.

I have had a library card as long as I can remember, and I’m a regular visitor there even now, when reading for pleasure is a treat that many adults have left behind. Though my “habit” is under control (I haven’t missed a bus stop in years), there are still times when a book sweeps me up in its whirling embrace, a tornado of beautifully turned phrases and arresting plot development, only setting me down when the last page has been turned. Those sorts of books are always over too quickly.

Occasionally, a book comes along that makes me fall in love in the first ten pages. Quite apart from the plot or the characters, it throws its net over me, and I know in an instant that, whatever happens before I reach the end, I’m going to love this book.

It’s about the words. Oh, how I delight in words! And some authors just have a way with them, as if they’re painting a masterpiece, or composing an aria. They swirl them about and fling them into the air for the sheer joy of seeing them fall across the page, a beam of light illuminating a feeling or a thought that the rest of us instantly recognize, though we couldn’t have expressed it just so in a million years of trying. A lot of writers can tell a story, but only a few can sing one like that. It’s like the difference between a plain juice glass and an intricately scrolled wine goblet. They serve the same purpose, and they’re made out of the same thing, but one of them lifts the experience into a whole other realm.

Nicholas Sparks has always struck me like that.  And Robert James Waller.  And recently I discovered Leif Enger within his delicious feast of a novel, Peace Like a River.  Now I’m reading The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and only a few pages into it I’m getting that wonderful feeling again.

I know it’s a kind of jealousy, this intense admiration, but it’s not the kind that burns you up inside.  It’s the kind that makes you glad that the bar is set high, that there is such a thing as excellence in the world, because it gives you something to reach for, whether you touch it or not.

Meanwhile, there are the words.  What a gift.  I want to swim in them.

This Little Light of Mine


I firmly resolved to have all of my holiday packages mailed out by December 1st this year, so naturally, this morning, eleven days later, found me at the post office, scrambling wildly to get three very large boxes out of my trunk and balanced on top of each other in such a way that I could carry them while still holding a four year old’s hand tightly in mine as we crossed the icy parking lot.

The he showed up: my hero. He was a middle-aged man, dressed for working in some downtown office building, smiling warmly and surrounded by a faint corona of angelic light as he asked, “Can I give you a hand with those?” The heavenly gleam was joined by the clear sound of an otherworldly hallelujah choir as I eagerly accepted his offer of help. I carried a box under one arm and steered Caleb to the post office doors while my benefactor hoisted the other two packages. We landed them in a stack on the countertop inside, and with a heartfelt “Have a great day!” he was gone, probably on his way to rescue a trapped child from a burning building or thwart Lex Luthor’s latest evil plot.

Good Samaritans. They’re out there. And never do their glowing good deeds stand out in starker relief than during this crazy, hustle-bustle season of love, goodwill, and bloody gladiator death matches over the last Cyber Stompin’ Bumblebee Transformer in stock.

I’d like to thank a few of them.

To my post office rescuer: Thank you for noticing what a hard time I was having juggling all those packages. Thank you for stopping in the middle of whatever else you were doing this morning and giving me three minutes, a smile, and two very needed helping hands. You were Christmas spirit personified.

To the lady who let me pull out in front of her when it looked like the horrible rush hour traffic was going to keep me locked in the gas station parking lot forever: Thank you for thinking of your fellow drivers. Thank you for pausing for a moment on your journey home from the office to help someone else get home faster, too. Thank you for the friendly wave you gave me and the understanding smile that made my tensed up shoulders and craning neck instantly relax.

To the older gentleman in front of me in the checkout line: Thank you for the sweet, spontaneous gesture of paying for my items along with your own. I wasn’t expecting that, and your “Merry Christmas!” and jaunty salute as you walked away sealed the silly grin on my face. I know it was only a few dollars for you, but it meant a fuller stocking for my kiddo, and a growing sense of gratitude in me. I hope you whistled Christmas carols all the way home.

To the three guys from my apartment building who helped me carry in a month’s worth of groceries last week: Thank you for lending your strong backs and arms to one very tired mom, fresh from wrestling a young child through several stores in an increasing state of grumpiness. I know you had just come back from playing basketball, and were probably tired yourselves, but you offered your help cheerfully anyway.

To the anonymous gift giver from church who paid for Paul and I to enjoy a night out at Wolf Lodge that first lean year we lived here, when we barely had money for rent:  Thank you for seeing how much we needed a date night, and for providing a wonderful one.  I’ve never had such delicious steak!  And it tasted even better knowing that it was the generous offering of a heart that gave for giving’s sake, without expectation of return.  That was a rough winter, and the loving family that surrounded us reflected a lot of warmth into our lives.

To the guy who pushed me out of the snow bank I was stuck in:  Thank you for stopping to help when you saw another helpless Idaho transplant hung up in the snow like a tourist.  Thanks for not laughing when I accidentally gunned the engine and dug myself in even deeper.  This Georgia girl is still learning a few things about driving on snow and ice, and you made me feel better.  Thanks to you, I got to school in time to pick Katie up.

To all good Samaritans: I’m glad you’re out there, shining your light, spreading your joy, lifting people’s spirits, and giving of yourselves so freely and without reservation that it clearly comes naturally. Whether it’s changing a flat tire or returning a shopping cart to the cart corral, the kindness you’ve shown has really made a difference. I promise to pass it on!


Have you met (or been) a good Samaritan?

Jury Duty, Redux


“It’s a jury duty summons,” Paul announced as he riffled through yesterday’s stack of mail.

“Ha!” I said, “I guess it’s your turn now!”

“Nope. It’s for you.”

“What?” I seized the official-looking document and flipped it over. Sure enough, there was my name. “But I just served! I thought they couldn’t call me again for two years!”

So what’s the deal? This summons is for a United States District Court, while the last one was for a Grand Jury. Is that why I’m getting tapped again? Or did they just make a mistake? I’m a little confused, but I guess I’ll try to iron it all out on Monday, when the offices are open. I’m hoping it’s just a clerical error.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to shirk my civic duty. If it weren’t for having to arrange child care, get someone to pick Katie up at school, and juggle our one car with Paul so he can get to work, I might actually be excited about a little break from the normal laundry and dishes routine. Unfortunately, though, it takes a lot of shuffling to get our ducks in a row, and the unpredictable nature of jury duty makes it worse. You don’t even find out until the night before if you have to show up at all. And if you do get selected for a jury, there’s no way to know how long the case is going to drag out.

So I guess I had better start thinking of ways to make myself less appealing as a potential juror.

I think this calls for a Top Ten list. And with that, I give you:

Top Ten Ways to Get Out of Jury Duty

10. Show up wearing a Charles Manson tee shirt and carrying a dog-eared copy of “Helter Skelter”. Every so often, giggle for no reason.

9. As the judge reads the list of charges, count them down on your fingers, loudly saying “check” after each one.

8. Fake narcolepsy.

7. Bring your kids with you. Be sure to feed them a hearty breakfast of Nerds and Twinkies first.

6. Wait until the judge asks you a routine jury polling question, then stand up and shout, “You can’t handle the truth!”

5. Ask to see the breastfeeding facilities.

4. Start booing and hissing whenever the defense attorney gets up to make a statement.

3. When you’re asked to take the juror’s oath, insist on translating it into Klingon.

2. Whisper loudly to the potential juror beside you: “This show was so much better when Jerry Orbach was on it!”

1. Wear this.