Healing: 20 Prominent Authors Write about Inspirational Moments of Regaining Healthby Lee Gutkind (Editor), Lee Gutkind
The powerful essays in this book
At some time in our lives, most of us have been in need of healing -- whether physical recovery from illness or rebounding from an emotional wound. In Healing, twenty distinguished writers offer inspiration for such times of crisis with their compelling personal accounts of regaining health and stability in the face of adversity.
The powerful essays in this book encompass a wide range of experiences. In "Night Rhythms," John T. Price describes how he made peace with his brother's death by helping children hospitalized with cerebral palsy sleep through the night. In "Last Things," Debra Spark writes about living with and caring for her sister as she struggles with cancer. And in "Falling into Life," Leonard Kriegel seeks strength in the memories of his successful childhood battle against polio as he grows weak in old age.
With contributions by such renowned voices as Diane Ackerman, Oliver Sacks, Tracy Kidder, and Anatole Broyard, this remarkable anthology offers invaluable insight into the epiphany of recovery: the memorable burst of clarity and recognition that marks our healing moments.
Read an Excerpt
Although rich with devices, Carol Sanford's essay is crisp and unadorned. She employs a ruddy gold blanket as a vehicle to mark the passing of time, along with her journal, which effectively captures her present-day life. The tragic death of her son is announced with simple clarity. She and her husband rebuild their life with the building of a log cabin serving as an effective metaphor. Her magic moment arrives when her son is enveloped in the cosmosand she is able to finally let him go.
bed, blanket, window
It's morning. Before I open my eyes in the loft of our unheated log cabin, I feel chilly September air teasing my nose. The cabin smells of new pine. I am warm lying beside my husband, Glenn, under a fifty-year-old wool blanket whose color I've always thought of as burnt gold. This is a blanket that knows my history.
When I lived under my parents' roof, my bedroom was in the attic, where no heat warmed the air in winter unless the stairway door stayed open. I shared that room with my older sister. The walls were unfinished knotty-pine boards, and between our built-in twin beds, a small window opened out onto the world. What I saw from there most evenings was a sunset that bled trails of purple, pink, and orange above the flat farmland to the west and north. That view made me sure I wanted to be a writer, but writing was hard work in a frigid room. Mom bought full-sized, thick wool blankets from Montgomery Ward and put them on our beds. My sister's green blanket seemed more desirable to me than mine, whichwasburnt golda shade or two darker than my topaz birthstone ring. I had a sense that the green and gold symbolized the different lives my sister and I would lead, and perhaps green was exactly right for her; she has lived a life of considerable happiness, harmony, and financial well-being.
Some time would pass before I could know what burnt gold might mean for me.
Glenn and I are in the long process of building this cabin. Everywhere you look you feel warmed inside by the soft glow of pine logs and boards, which I have spent much of the summer sanding and sealing. We sleep on an air mattress, our temporary bed, which we've positioned directly under a skylight that opens. This strange window, bordered by pine rafters and horizontal tongue-and-groove knotty pine, offers us one view: up. Some nights it is a mirror for love-making as well as an invitation to the night. Stars appear, as if to us alone, through the dark silhouettes of oak leaves.
Over the years, I learned to appreciate the warmth of my blanket; I hated to crawl out from under it on frosty mornings to dress, although I loved school. There I made friends easily, gregariously, yet at home I was a quiet, sensitive child. Heavy abuse of alcohol in our household caused me to spend hours in my room where the best coping mechanisms I could come up with were reading and keeping a diary in which I laid out weekly plans for self-improvement (longer study hours, better grades, weight loss, Bible reading, prayers before bed). The subtext was always the family secret. My inner life, constantly burnished by painful emotion, became very important to me.
But there in my room, under the blanket, far more than downstairs with my family or at school, I felt comfortable with my changing, bleeding body. Beneath its weight I could ponder and worry about other things, like sex. There I could pretend to feel the would-be babies inside me as I lay curled like a fetus to conserve body heat. They were invisible beings safe in my belly, and only a few of them would be born. I wanted four children, like my mother who had achieved the perfect symmetry of two girls and then two boys.
Last night we lay here tired after long hours of hard work, content to recount the day's accomplishments and make a verbal list of all the things we will do today: begin the ceramic tile project, apply polyurethane to the cedar trim intended for the kitchen windows, move some black dirt from down by the river to next spring's strawberry patch, put an extra coat of water repellent on the deck because winter is coming.
My gold blanket went with me to college, where it lay at the foot of more than one bunk bed in more than one shoe-box-size room, and on into marriage. Then for several years it stayed at the back of an attic closet in the home my first husband and I built in the country to raise our family. There I slept in a second-story bedroom with a view of sky and picturesque trees. I covered our bed with the popular looka fuzzy, olive green spread. By then, at twenty-five, I'd had two boys and a girl, and three seemed enough even though I thrived on being a mother. When our daughter was still in diapers we began to spend part of every August camped on Lake Charlevoix in northwest Michigan, and the blanket came in handy.
I decided to launder it myself after several summers because I felt that dry cleaning would be too expensive. I suppose I didn't really care if it was ruined; I still had reservations about the color, and I didn't like its rough texture either. The blanket was limp when I pulled it from the washing machine and lugged it to the clothesline, but its deep gold-brown remained intact. I didn't throw it out, even though I preferred that things look bright and glossy in those daysincluding my marriage. There, an old emptiness was multiplying itself, until finally I had to acknowledge the anguish of a failed relationship, and then live with it. I followed the lead of women in my family, who bear their sorrows silently.
That marriage lasted for twenty-three years and when I left, the blanket went with me. It was truly mine, preceding all joint ownership and older than two other such items I took along: a Samsonite suitcase and a manual Smith Corona typewriter, both high school graduation presents. For the next two years I kept these things in the basement of the apartment building I lived in, and there the blanket picked up a large mildew stain I was never able to get out. I slept in a twin-size bed on the first floor of the building, where my bedroom window looked out on city traffic. In many ways I was lucky, but that period of being singlecarrying the stigma of divorce and living alone for the first time in my lifewas a time of agony. My days were full of the friction of guilt versus right path, of old values versus true values, of the wife-mother role versus the role of a new woman. I was in such pain I couldn't have guessed that the trial by fire was yet to come ...
Some mornings when I wake, even here in this haven, even three years and more after the accident, my first realization is that my child is dead. Other mornings I am conscious of it before I wake, and that's somehow better. I'm less inclined to be physically aware of my womb's emptiness, how it gapes like a crater carved by hard shock. Yes, my second son, my middle child, is gone.
This man beside memy second husband and soul matestirs now. I lie still so he'll rest a few minutes longer. A light sleeper, he wakes often in the night to remember his dreams and listen to me breathe.
The sudden death of your child stops everything. You hear the terrible news, become enveloped in protective shock, and wake up later unable to grasp how you are to go on living. For me, time's passage meant nothing. Clocks inferred madnesstick, tick, tickor Chinese water torture: plop ... plop ... plop ... plop.... The hangman's hood had come down over my head quickly, and I could see nothing as I waited in numbness for my own death.
We helped save ourselves by buying land with trees and a river running the length of it. My husband's long-standing dream was to build a log cabin, and at fifty-four he felt the time had come. But we didn't rush into construction. With the death of a loved one you learn in a new way that a rich, evolving process matters far more than the end product. How you live is more critical than how, or even when, you die.
We first canoed the river and played in the pine forest like children pretending to set up housekeeping. We became acquainted with the deer and wild turkeys. We took down a dead cherry tree and transplanted small spruce and pine to sunnier spots. We created a memorial of wood and stone for my son. Then we devoted many months to building the garage we would need to store our tools and materials for building the cabin. We sided the garage with rough-sawed lumber, taking pains to cut and match the boards for an artistic effect and staining them the color we'd chosen for the log cabina classic rusty hue. Finally, after three summers, the cabin went up.
Last night I got out the burnt gold blanket and studied it as I unfolded it over our bed. It's a bit limp yet still coarse in texture, stained but still bold with color. The dark brown stitching along the edges is raveling badly, but I'll repair it soon. I like the weight of this blanket on my bones.
If the blanket tells me where I've been, this window above moves me to a new place. Just as I once imagined my would-be children safe inside me, I now imagine my again invisible son out there, safe in the belly of the cosmos. He has come here, and gone, but sometimes I am wonderfully connected. Through the skylight, I see my child walking a lane that spirals somewhere in the universe. He is happy, yet contemplating coming back to earth for more experience. Here, he can resume accumulating what his spirit needs, all spirits need, to continue expanding: knowledge, awareness, love. He will have another mother, a different body, another life. I can let him go ... Just now it strikes me I may always have known that to be burnished within by livingagain and again, until we glow goldenis the point of it all.
Under the blanket I touch my husband's shoulder to let him know I'm awake. It's time for us to get up. We have many things to do.
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