Other People’s Words

From Mary K~

Something else that Mary and I often share in our letters: seemingly random clippings from magazines or newspapers. However, they are anything but random. Something in that clipping, that page-a-day calendar page, or the scanned page of a devotional, touched the heart of one Mary enough to share it with the other. We will make copies or pick up extra newspapers or magazines to share our published pieces with each other. We are both avid readers, as well as writers. We devour magazines. There are many times the words of another writer resonate with us, and we often share those words.

journals and letters 002

It was only late in the year 2011 that I began writing down words that touched my heart. Unlike some writers, unlike my friend Mary H, I had never kept a journal. I do have nearly 20 years of “day books” hidden away in a cabinet, the engagement books that allow enough space for short comments. Even those are painful to look at now, stark reminders of what I once had, with comments like “60-degrees, out for breakfast with David and then off to Dubuque for shopping while Emily watched Abby. Beautiful day~”

Perhaps it was the example of a mother who left behind notebooks where she’d jotted down favorite sayings, quotes that meant something to her, and her own words, that gave me the idea to begin filling a journal with other people’s words. For several years, the Paper Coterie company had offered generous coupon codes that allowed me to make up these hardcover personalized journals for minimal cost. I have half a dozen personalized journals still in my cabinet. Each time they offered a coupon discount, I’d utilize it for a journal, even making them up for friends and family. (Perhaps it was deal-seekers like me that put them out of business.) I was never sure what I was going to do with these beautiful journals, until December 2011.The chosen journal has a photo on the cover that immediately thrusts me back in time, one taken in my mother’s house the winter after her death.  It was my husband David who encouraged me to use her empty house as a private writer’s retreat. I spent many hours there; sipping tea, listening to music, praying, crying, healing from the loss of a creative mother, and yes, writing.

The author whose words I first chose to inscribe was Phyllis Theroux. The book was appropriately titled The Journal Keeper.

journals and letters 003 journal scan

And what words of Theroux did I choose to write down?

“Thinking about Mother, I compare her to the late stage of a dandelion. All the earlier, fleshy brilliance is gone. Now she is a fluffy, globe of light, holding herself erect as ever but ready, with one puff, to fly away, be gone.” (page 39)

A fluffy globe of light…My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in August 2010. After her diagnosis, she, too, held herself erect, seeming a beautiful globe of light until she died on my birthday in November of that year. Thank you for those perfect words, Phyllis Theroux.  I filled less than half this journal before my husband died in March 2012. One of the last entries was from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water:

“Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” (page 15)

The morning after my husband’s death I began my first “real” journal in earnest, one filled with my own words. Ironically, the quote I had chosen to have inscribed on several of the journals was one that would never be fulfilled with David: “Grow old along with me.” For someone who had never mastered the art of journaling, I filled the first journal rapidly, and then began another one. These two journals also contain the words of others, words from authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Cecil Murphey. There are personal prayers written in these two books, along with Bible verses. Words of comfort and encouragement. Words of faith and strength. Passages from these two journals are included in my book, Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace. I knew it would be more accurate and helpful to others if I was to share the immediate pain of loss, rather than looking back on it.

I’ve gone back to that original 2011 journal now. Sometimes it is words from a novel that captures my attention. Today the words I wrote down were taken from Shelly King’s The Moment of Everything.

After the death of a good friend and mentor of two of the characters, this note was included in a sympathy card:

“There are cards we could send that are already prepared for times like this so we do not have to be. There are books we could recommend to you and groups you could join to help you process your feelings. None of it works. This is grief. It will hurt and hurt until one day it will hurt a little less. Think of that day.” (page 232)

Yes. Exactly. While books written by those who had gone down the road of grief before me did help, it was true that grief was something I just had to get through. And one day, it did hurt a little less. It still blindsides me sometimes, when grief hits with the particular sharpness of that first wound, but I can tell those who are newly grieving the truth: You will not always feel the way you are feeling right now.

And then there is this passage, on what it is for one of the characters to send a handwritten letter:

“Then in the night’s light, I walked to the postal box across from the Dragonfly, opened the door, and dropped in the letter before I could stop myself. After working in software for a decade, I understood the bits and bytes of e-mail, Facebook posts, tweets, and texts, but dropping a piece of paper into a box and it appearing on the other side of the world a few days later? That was true magic.” (page 26)

The magic of a letter... what Mary and I have felt all along~

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