Are you distressed, agitated, worried? Can you identify the source of this discord?
COVID-19, politics, finances, racism, sexism, domestic violence, ageism, family quarrels, job loss, serious illness, confinement, loss of religion/spirituality, boredom, disruption in your plans.
In the past few months, we have had three deaths in our family. We feel devastated, destroyed, terrified. We have played the blame game ad infinitum even though our cognitive selves tell us that we cannot control most matters of life and death.
We talk; we hug; we say many, many times, “I love you:” and we soldier on, realizing that we are not exempt from life’s tragedies — even when they appear in rapid succession.
And there is always talk of peace as we search for it.. Recently, Canadian Margaret Atwood was named the top winner of the International Dayton Literary Peace prizes, hers an award for a lifetime of achievements in using “the power of the written word to promote peace.” You might recognize her as the author of The Handmaiden’s Tale which has provoked discussion recently regarding the erosion of democratic principles in the U.S..
Each fall, I have my students at Edison State Community College explore in a personal experience the obstacles they have faced and the ways in which they have come to peace, or not, with those challenges. I tell them that vacillation is possible in that at times we think we have come to peace with an issue, and a sudden fluctuation tells us that perhaps we have not.
Gabriel Reese of Springfield, Ohio, entitled his essay “A Club I Didn’t Choose to Be In” and details being born with club feet. Following surgeries and casts, he discovered trail riding. He became so successful at it that when he went to sign up for another session at Marmon Valley Farms, Zanesfield, Ohio, he was offered a position which he took as trail guide. He writes, “I have had to work harder than most to achieve what they can easily do. In the end, I work at it until I am capable enough to perform it as well as anyone.” Bravo, Gabriel!
When Rebecca Spencer of Ludlow Falls, Ohio, became suddenly ill in 2015, she learned that she had leukemia, CML, and the expectation according to her early Google searches was that she “should be dead by now or nearing the end” of her life and would experience “one of the most horrific ways to die.”
In her essay entitled “Miracle or Misery?” Spencer writes, “Gleever, the most successful targeted drug for cancer…takes the diagnosis of CML from terminal to something quite survivable, at least for the majority of patients.”
She indicates that she cried when the “first clumps of hair came out in the shower.” It’s been five years since her diagnosis, and currently, Spencer reports, “I have bone pain pretty much constantly, particularly in my legs and arms. Climbing stairs is difficult.” She has difficulty walking long distances and at times uses a wheelchair.
She says can no longer help her husband Chris care for their six acres of land as she used to, but she says, “I can paint the beautiful flowers that I see.”
She concludes her essay by writing, “I appreciate every day. I choose to focus on the miracle that I have received. It outweighs the misery a hundredfold” and “What has always been ‘someday’ has become ‘do it now.’”
In addition to painting, Spencer is pursuing a college arts degree, having tea parties with her granddaughter, Brenna, and enjoying her 6-year-old grandson, Kyler.
As her faculty member at Edison State, I can add that she has just submitted, early of course, an exemplary, A+ collection of poems to give voice to African American who have died at the hands of police offers.
This leads me to a third student’s essay entitled “Rainbow in the Abyss,” written by African American Penny Ross of Springfield, Ohio. Ross writes, “The abyss is not a black hole: it is my black life — my natural hair, my dark brown skin, and my desperation for respect and equality — all the things that somehow frighten many white lives.”
Ross indicates, “White women walk by and clutch their purses tighter or suddenly stop, turn and summon their children to walk in front of them to be safe…from me…the woman in menacing skin.” Further, in stores, she is viewed as “having an unquenchable thirst for stealing,” and property rentals go up when she inquires and jobs suddenly become unavailable.
Ross notes, “When I drive, this endangered skin makes my breathing grow shallow as surreal thoughts of dying become an admission that it is a very real possibility today because a cop has pulled in behind me.”
She recalls the death of George Floyd, “He couldn’t breathe and he said so. He pleaded for his life to the white officer kneeling on his neck. He moaned, called for his deceased mother, then died.”
As the demonstrations began, however, Ross saw hope, as whites “were the new muscle brought to the fight,” severing the white silence, keeping on coming.
And she writes that in spite of the “worsening fervors of hate still to come” in American culture, “I have a peaceful resolution. If in the depths of my abyss, I was sent a rainbow, it is because God is not dead.”
In conclusion, I am privileged to teach creative writing to students who plumb the depths of their souls and use their words to bring peace. Thank you Gabriel, Rebecca, and Penny.