15 June 2006

I say, an essay!

Oh, my. I did it. I can't believe I wrote the whole thing. I started last night 'round midnight and I didn't shower today (though I did go out into public when I had to, visiting teaching, even), and I didn't wear so much as a French woman's smidgen of makeup, and I didn't do most of what I was "supposed to" because I had words burning a hole in my brain.

I should be sleeping now instead of talking about it, but I will quickly say that if I hadn't gone to my clinic yesterday and had my latest and as-yet-unnamed-On-Bright-Street epiphany, I would have divied up the day into little improvement-oriented chunks that would have kept me under control, made me brush my teeth, and ruined everything. I would have missed the deadline for submissons, June 15th, today.

I'm not saying I did it big. I just did it. At the end of the first draft I looked it over and said, See, self? I can do this, and nobody suffered for it, except for maybe my sweet little visiting teaching companion who had to sit next to me on the couch.

There's not enough time or brain activity left in me to go into explanations about why this is personally a big deal, this starting and finishing of a few paragraphs. Blah blah blah. Here's the essay already. I hope it fits the bill for the Irreantum folks. I won't hold my breath--the important thing is that the words are cooling on the page now, and no longer sizzling away in my head.


BREAD OF HEAVEN

The call came early, and as most everyone knows, when the phone sounds before the sun, you vault from your bed and sleep takes a hasty turn to panic: Hello! Who's died? On this particular morning, April 6th, there was no death to report yet, but a weary stalwart voice on the other end of the line politely breathed woe into my ear: We're in the emergency room. Leslie's had a stroke. Please come.

Oh, Kitty. Yes. Yes, we're on our way.


Night yielded to a misting morning, and Rob and I drove to the hospital in disheveled unshowered solemnity. April 6th. Today is Christ's birthday, I thought. Of course He has invited Leslie to His table. What a gift to have a favored son come home; a celebration is surely being prepared. But here with us, as if to reveal the mortal brightness that was being extinguished, the heavy sky, hungry for sun, turned grey and slow with weeping.

There he was and there she was, just like always, except that his saying and seeing had ceased, and nothing was left but the labor of his breathing on a borrowed bed, between the unnatural light above and the cold, aseptic tile beneath. Whispers and blessings, loves and prayers, tears and pain, we few labored alongside him without knowing how.

What can I do? What do you need? Help, let me help.

Tansi, then. Tansi needs her morning walk. It will be her first walk with the unanswerable anxiety of absence. Is there even the smallest comfort for a cherished, grieving pet? She'll want tending.

Warbling song. It occurred to me that perhaps this I would miss most about Leslie. Funny to apprehend that the great man touched my heart most deeply singing snatches of contented tunes while seeing to everyday comings and goings--standing in the backyard, watching Tansi play; locking up the house and loading into the car; bringing in trash cans and taking them out; walking slowly with Kitty and friends through a restaurant parking lot. I never recognized his meandering melodies; I believed them to be his own irrepressible inventions.

On her own threshold I encircled Tansi's neck with the familiarity of her leash and spoke kindly. She was tense and confused, sick inside as I was. Stepping through the doorway and urging Tansi forward, all I could think was that Leslie would be singing now. He would sing to Tansi as they walked the long drive and trudged down Carterville Road, following their customary route. The certainty of it filled my head. Alright, I thought, then I will sing for you today, my good pup.

I laughed at myself, a justifiably reluctant alto. Never mind that. I could warble too for an occasion like this, only without the charm. What should I sing? I know none of Leslie's songs. Surely he would croon sweet melodies known to old Welshmen, but strange to radio ears. Nothing came to me. Nothing. Then a little something, just a single hymn that lodged in my mind:

Guide us, o thou great Jehovah,
Guide us to the promised land.
We are weak, but thou art able;
Hold us with thy pow'rful hand.
Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit,
Feed us till the Savior comes.
Feed us till the Savior comes.

Open, Jesus, Zion's fountains;
Let her richest blessings come.
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Guard us to this holy home.
Great Redeemer, great Redeemer,
Bring, oh, bring the welcome day!
Bring, oh, bring the welcome day!

When the earth begins to tremble,
Bid our fearful thoughts be still;
When thy judgments spread destruction,
Keep us safe on Zion's hill,
Singing praises, singing praises,
Songs of glory unto thee,
Songs of glory unto thee.


I cried as I raised my poor voice. Would Leslie balk at a Restoration paean? I felt foolish in my solo as I passed neighbors' houses--a stranger in black, singing a song of worship while walking a troubled dog--but I carried on. The hymn left no room for another anthem, so I repeated it, jumbling the verses–that didn't matter. Tears spilled from me. I kept time with my footfalls and imagined how Leslie would sing such a hymn. Where would he and this little Welsh Terrier wander together, and how? I yielded to my companion’s tuggings, mimicked Leslie’s pace and his endearments, and gave to Tansi as many memories as I could. The song flowed from me and Tansi and I relaxed. There was a spirit of comfort with us.

Late in the evening, after a devilishly hard day’s work, Leslie went quietly home to feast at his Master’s table and celebrate in good company the beauty of nascence. We who stayed behind scattered, our stomachs burning, beneath the blackened sky.

The question of song arose again as funeral plans began to unfold. He and she had agreed that their services should be conducted after the manner of their Latter-day Saint friends and colleagues, but Kitty was fretful about having to sing their soulless songs. First one friend, then another, was given the job of making musical selections; a new widow’s mind is understandably cloudy. No matter. The task appropriately fell to Wally, who appeared the next day, kindled, dependable, and reverent, with his choices. He thought it right to sing a traditional Welsh hymn to end the service . . . Cwm Rhondda? It was familiar to both faiths. Oh! Yes, Kitty answered, please, Leslie would love that. And what was the tune Wally began to sing then? The same that had the day before taken hold of my mind and rolled off my lips to soothe two forlorn creatures. A rush of connection filled me, and I knew that a generous nature was its source.

The correspondence didn’t stop there. Reading the traditional text of Cwm Rhondda I felt afresh the surge of interconnection as I realized this hymn was Bread of Heaven, the subject of one of Leslie’s final, marvelous, unpublished poems. I’d read that poem and read it again, and I’d loved it.

So the hymn we share was Leslie’s long before I knew it was mine. It began where he began and where my family began, in Wales. He grew to love the song in chapel. He learned a mischief to its tune in his mother’s kitchen. He chanted it with mates at football matches after dodgy rulings by referees. His fathers sang it in coal mines. I sang it to his dog. And we all wailed it soulfully to heaven in benediction to his life.

In a month and a half, it was Leslie’s birthday. It was a day to spend with Kitty, but other family business called us out of state. It was a bittersweet trip–another early morning but not so grey as the last one we’d risen to meet, a quiet drive into unfamiliar territory, and a new life to consider. We joined our clan for a baby's blessing, little Scout’s first occasion wearing handed-down ancestral white. Her father blessed her with the poetry of love and priesthood. As a family we shared the feast of the sacrament table and were filled. And then, miraculously, we sang, Guide us, o, thou great Jehovah, guide us to the promised land. We are weak, but though art able; hold us with thy pow’rful hand. When the regular congregation, that justifiably reluctant choir of Saints, reached the chorus, it couldn’t be helped; I had to sing out, overflowing, Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more (want no more). Feed me till I want no more. My tears fell then and again at home when I held my tiny niece. Privately I warbled the hymn for her, once more with the Welsh refrain, in the hope that she would always remember, feel connected, and be fed.

23 comments:

Jamie said...

So, so beautiful. I LOVE when birth and death cross, to hold a baby at a funeral.

Kevin (my original Leslie connection) died two weeks after Adeline was born. I held her tight at his funeral.

Thanks for recording this, Geo. I will treasure that song now.

Jenny said...

Oh, Georgia, this is absolutely stunning. What a beautiful piece for all to read, particularly those that were aquainted with Leslie. l,jenny

Geo said...

Thank you both so much, ladies!

J'oga said...

That was lovely and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

Johanna said...

wordfig: this is just beautiful and moving. That song will always have more meaning for me now, too. I write notes of meaningful times when hymns were sung in my little hymnbook so I can remember when I come across them again--I will add this. I'm glad you reminded me. And I'm printing this up for Scout's folder/scrapbook. ox.

compulsive writer said...

Perfect!

Thank you.

Becca said...

thanks for sharing this georgia. it really is wonderful, beautiful.

Geo said...

Such kind, encouraging words, and all from women whose opinions I value so highly. Thank you!

Bluebell said...

What an incredible story, and so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it.

Emmie said...

Lovely, lovely.

Rachel said...

georgia--

you are meant to be a writer! your diction is perfect, your balance of real events and reflection is amazing, and this experience is captured so beautifully! you need to start writing more and submitting professionally.

really, i know that the experience is amazing, all of the connections with the hymn, etc, but you have captured it in a stunning way. tears were welling up. if yours is not a selected submission, i will boycott the publication. truthfully.

i loved hearing leslie norris speak while i was at byu, and in a contemporary poetry senior seminar, his collected poems was one of 8 volumes we studied all semester. i must say that "hudson's geese" has always been a favorite, and i've thought about how he is probably circling over kitty, just as in the poem. i also love "belonging," and this post is making me want to pull out my collected poems right this instant!

do you have a copy of the unpublished poem? can you post it? or is that taboo?

thanks for a fabulous read.

Melody said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melody said...

What a perfect gift to the gentle Welsh poet. You fashioned a worthy work of art. He and his sweetheart must be pleased. (I was thinking about hudson's geese too) I didn't know him, but when I heard him read a few years ago at a friend's funeral I wished I did...thank you for giving me a vision of him. And thank you for your kind remarks on my blog. God bless you.

compulsive writer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
compulsive writer said...

(Sorry, I cannot live with my own typos)

Geo--Melody is coming to the seance, too. You simply must meet each other. Is that OK?

Geo said...

Everyone: Thank you!! Your incredibly positive comments are almost overwhelming to me, but I like them so very, very much, vain fool that I am! It's wonderful to feel that maybe something is being read and understood in the same spirit in which it was written. I appreciate you all for chiming in. You can't guess how much. All da love as been good timing--certainly helped me over the weekend during a printing disaster. (One win, one lose--balance is restored to the universe.)

rachel: That poem is not something I think I can post here just yet, but I can tell you it will be in print in the not-too-distant future . . . . Stay tuned.

The students in Rob's letterpress class at the Y are finishing up broadsides this week for their final project of the semester, and Rob assigned them to all choose a Leslie poem to interpret. We're pretty excited to see what they come up with. Seem's like everyone really likes Hudson's Geese. Have you ever read "A Visitation of Welshmen"?

c.w.: You and I could never have been roommates in college then because I am a walking typo. YOu would have booted me out of the house.

Yes, of course Melody must come to the seance. Spooks-R-Us!

melody: I haven't had the guts to show this to Kitty yet. Don't know if I will. I guess if it makes the cut for that publication, then I'll confess, but I don't know if would make her sad. As for Leslie, I can only hope that if he ever finds time in his busy schedule to peek over my particular shoulder, I hope he smiles to know that I noticed a few things.

By the way, c.w. lent me some of your poetry and I am enjoying it muchly!

DogMan said...

Oh, I have a lot of reading to do! I was able to spend a while browsing your blog today, and I'm a better person for it! lol. Great posts! I hope all is well.

Geo said...

DogMan! Hey, you're still out there in the ether (and in the city too?)! Thanks for remembering me. Have you got your nose to the blogstone again? I'll drop in and see if you do. Hope we connect again!

Lianne said...

I am new to this blog, having found you via Melody. I am jealous that you have all bonded, and I"m joining the club.

Your writing is beautiful and this essary (which I assume is for the Church writing contest) should WIN!!!

We Utah County Bloggers should stick together.

Julie said...

I am late posting because I've been gone, but I had to tell you how beautiful your essay is. After reading Melody's latest post and this one, I find my heart calming after a stressful week of being on vacation with three young sons. Thank you for writing so beautifully your thoughts on life and death.

Jamie said...

Georgia, I should have asked first, but I had to tell you that I printed this out and mailed it to anther Welsh darling of mine. I don't know if you remember me talking about the Grays, a senior couple from my mission who grew up in Wales, then raised their family in California after joining the church (they have been together since they were 13 years old--71 years!). Well, we have kept in touch these 14 years and my poor dear Grampa Gray died last week. His cute wife (who sounds just like Merriweather the fairy on Disney's Sleeping Beauty) left me a long voice mail apologizing for telling me so belatedly and over the phone (as if I would be bothered by her calling, as if she didn't have so many other things to think about last week). I listened to her message and started to cry and then I tried to collect lots of cool things to send to cheer her up at her new assisted living apartment. Your essay was one of the things and I hope that's okay with you. I know it will make her happy.

~j. said...

geo, I'm floored. That is so wonderful. Thank you for sharing it.

Geo said...

Hi. Sorry, ladies. I've been in orbit around the earth for a few weeks. I love you for leaving your generous comments. It bugs me that I didn't respond sooner, but as I said, I've been out to launch.

Liane: It appears to be an ongoing bonding thing, one that has only just begun for me. The others know each other quite well. Gratefully, it doesn't seem to be a club or a clique--I'm fairly allergic to those. Thanks for your compliment about the essay. I agree that we local bloggerettes really should meet and greet each other on some kind of regular basis. It's lovely to find other Mo-gals who share through their writing.

Julie: I am still looking forward to meeting you et al. That was such a nice comment. Thanks, you nice ghost you.

James: Wow, well of course I don't mind, though I'm a bit a-blush (don't ask me why--I mean I posted it here and submitted it too, right?). I hope it was received well by your friend. Thanks for liking it.

~j: Thanks!!