Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Bravest Thing

The Bravest Thing

January, 1947

"You don't have to wait with me, Dad. I'll be fine until the bus gets here."  Lindsay Porter leaned in close to her father's shoulder, and he quickly wrapped her in a hug.

"I don't mind, Baby."  Will Porter glanced at the departure schedule and then at the clock.  “Can’t see leaving you alone here at night.”

Lindsay stepped back a bit so she could more easily look her father in the eye. "I'll be fine, and you still have to drive home.  And I know you’ll be back at the hospital tomorrow as soon as morning chores are done.  You really should get back as soon as you can."

Will reached back and absently rubbed at the tension in his neck. "I’d just as soon see you safely off."

Lindsay just smiled her grateful assent.

The two stood in silence for a little while. Voices murmured in the background, largely ignored. Few travelers had chosen such a late hour for their departure from this small-town station. None waited very close by, so after a few minutes, Lindsay ventured to speak again.

"Dad, I hope you won't think I'm meddling... "

"You know you can speak your mind, Linds."

The loudspeaker interrupted with a blaring announcement of the arrival of a bus from Springfield. Lindsay waited until it ended so she could make herself heard.

"It's just...I don't know how to say this.  Everything has happened so fast, and I know you've hardly had time to take it all in, much less figure out how to handle it. I don't expect you to know how to deal with it yet. But... "

She paused again. A woman in a smart-looking outfit walked by, wrapped in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Everything about her demeanor advertised superior aloofness, and Lindsay couldn't bear to expose the warmth of her own heart until that cold heart moved further away.

Her father also watched the woman across the growing distance. He seemed saddened by her, somehow, if Lindsay was any judge of her father's feelings. Saddened the way he always was when he saw what was, and compared it with what should have been.

"I've been blessed with two warm, wonderful women, Lindsay."  He looked back at his daughter and flashed her a quick smile.  "Well, three, counting you, Baby Girl."  

His smile faded. "Losing your Mom was nearly the death of me. I never thought I would find another woman who could make me feel alive again. And then Marie came along, and I could breathe again.  And now this...."  His voice trailed off, and he suddenly seemed to remember where he was. He looked around himself as if to make sure he hadn't accidentally exposed such private thoughts to complete strangers.

After it became apparent that he was dropping the subject, Lindsay took it up again.  Even though there really wasn't anyone close enough to hear, she lowered her voice for the sake of his feelings.

"I know it’s been a huge shock," Lindsay began softly, "but like it or not, you do have a baby coming soon, Dad. And that's what I wanted to talk to you about. "  She shot a worried look at the clock.

He caught her concern and looked at the clock as well. "Best to just come out and say it, then."

"Well... the truth is, I'm a little worried about how you feel about the baby."

His face hardened, and his posture stiffened just a little.

Lindsay laid a hand on his arm. "I see your heart just ready to burst with all your worry for Marie, and that's as it should be. But whenever anyone mentions the baby..."

Will leaned closer, yet spoke in a harsh, loud whisper that needed no such closeness. "That baby could kill Marie! It could kill her!"

He quickly reined himself in as best he could, but his chest heaved behind tightly folded arms. He no longer looked at Lindsay, no longer seemed to see anything in the station.

Lindsay said nothing, afraid she had already said too much.

"With you and the other babies it was different," he finally continued, his voice softer.  "You know it hurt me that the others didn't live to be born, but when you came along, we were a family. I was happy. Then later your mom was taken, but even though it tore our hearts out, I knew you would be alright because you were nearly grown.  Then God gave me Marie, and I didn't want anything else. I didn't even have to worry about being lonely when you went off to college. I never asked for another child. I never asked for this baby...and they said it could never happen!"  

He had gotten a little bit loud, so he toned himself down again.  “That’s what makes me so angry about all of this.  It’s like God played a dirty trick on us.  She wasn’t supposed to be able to have children.  This never should have happened...and now that it has, it could make a widower of me again!

Lindsay felt hot tears threatening to spill from her eyes, but with a courage born of love she pressed gently on.  "Or the baby and Marie could both be just fine."

Her father stared at some point in the distance and said nothing. But his eyes held tears of their own, and his throat worked as if he were trying to swallow his grief and fear like a bitter pill.

After a few moments of silent misery, Lindsay could take it no longer. She took hold of his clenched arms and gently pulled on them to open them. Her strength was nothing to his, but he offered no resistance. They hugged each other tightly, and he even allowed a few of his tears to keep hers company.

"I can't lose Marie, Linds," he finally whispered. "I can't go through that again!"

The loudspeaker squawked again, making both of them flinch. But the message was a welcome one. Her bus was delayed by a few minutes.

A few angry voices griped at the other end of the terminal, but Lindsay couldn't have asked for better news.  She relaxed more fully into their much-needed embrace for a few more moments, until she decided that she needed his eyes even more than his arms.

He accepted her unspoken invitation, meeting her gaze when she stepped back. Their hands remained clasped.

"Dad, when you and Mom lost all those babies, how did you make it through?"

He shrugged. "Your mom said it best. She said we loved each other through."

And when Mom died, how did we make it through?"

He squeezed her hands. "Same way."

"Well," she replied with a return squeeze, "the way I see it, two people can love each other through anything.  But it's not just the love you receive that helps you heal. It's the love you give, too.”  She paused, searching for words.  “A loving heart can be comforted, but what can heal a heart that pushes love away?"

Will couldn't find any words to reply with, so Lindsay went on.

"Was Mom thrilled to give you a child, to give you me?"

"You know she was." His voice caught.

She paused while she quietly worked up the courage to speak frankly, as a woman, to a father who still tended to think of her as his little girl. 

"Marie has believed for most of her life that she would never have the joy of creating new life, of feeling a baby move inside of her, of presenting a husband with a child from her own body. Now she has a chance to do that!”

Now it was Lindsay’s turn to catch herself and lower her volume again.  

"Marie needs you to love this baby, Dad. Her baby. Your baby. Just like you love me.  She needs you to do that."

He looked away at something only he could see, and he blinked away tears.

The loudspeaker announced the arrival of her bus.  People bustled past them toward the loading area. Privacy fled. Nothing more could be said now, except by throwing caution to the wind.  Lindsay grabbed her remaining moments and made the most of them.

"I hope and pray to Heaven that Marie and the baby will both live. But I can't promise you they will. Maybe only one will, and I can't tell you which one it will be. Or maybe neither will. Or maybe both. But you need to love both of them, for their sake, and for yours."

He still couldn't look at her, but she knew he was still listening deeply.

"Loving this baby may be the bravest, hardest thing anyone has ever asked you to do.  But I'm asking you to do it anyway.  If Marie lives, but the baby doesn't, Marie will need to know you loved it.  It will break her heart if you didn't."

She hesitated, wondering if she even dared to make her next point.

"And if this baby lives, and Marie doesn't..." she paused and cleared her throat.  "A baby with no mother needs more love from her father, not less.  And I happen to know in here..." she pointed to her heart for emphasis, "...that being loved by you is the best thing that could ever happen to a child."

The loudspeaker squawked again. Her bus was in a hurry to leave.

The announcement seemed to bring her father back to the present. He pulled her into a fierce hug and whispered into her ear, “I love you so much!"

"I love you too, Daddy."

He picked up her suitcases and carried them to the bus for her, saw her up the steps, and made sure her luggage was stowed.  She chose a seat on the near side of the bus and lowered the window.  "This semester will just fly by, Dad, and then I'll come home...for as long as you need me to."

He only nodded.

She blew him a kiss, and he returned it.  

Then he turned and walked away.

Will Porter's heart felt raw.  Lindsay had always been able to melt him, always been able to draw out this normally quiet man who, apart from meals and evenings with the women he had loved, had lived the mostly solitary life of the milking stool, the fencerow, the plow, the tractor.  Without those women, he probably could have spent his whole life believing that there was nothing more to be known than the rhythms of planting and harvesting, the lives and deaths of livestock, the merits of various seeds and breeding stock.

He never would have understood the aching void in his heart.  Never would have even looked at it.  He was a farmer; a hardy, no-nonsense man.  But Lindsay's Mom had caught his young eye, and when he'd let her into his heart, she'd shown him things he'd never known were there.  Lindsay had shown him even more.  And Marie, new places still.

Lindsay's right.  It's love.  It's what's gotten us through.  Every time.

He didn't actually frame his feelings into that many words.  His heart didn’t communicate with him that way.  Not that he was a shallow man...far from it.  He knew the beauty and majesty of life, he knew its ruggedness and its raw agony, but rarely thought about the words for any of it.  Rarely even knew he wanted or needed words...until the women in his life spoke those words, and they resonated in his soul.

"Marie needs you to love this baby, Dad. Just like you love me."

He parked his pickup truck in his driveway, and his heart sank at the forbidding darkness of his own home.  

Might as well check the animals first.  He headed for the barn and looked around.  Nobody but Bossie even turned to look at him.  Her tail switched lazily against a belly that protruded, huge-swollen with a calf that would soon make its appearance.

I wonder if she ever worries about it.


Must be nice to be an animal, sometimes.

He finished his rounds and headed into the house, trying not to listen to the silence.

He rummaged in the fridge for something to pop in his mouth, and he ate what he found without even noticing its flavor.  And then he trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.  To his empty bed.  And he knew he couldn’t bear to lie down in it unless he knelt beside it first.

“God, please let Marie live!  And, since you say you are love, please spare a little of that love to give to me for the baby.”

He felt a little more softening in his heart, so he kept talking.

“Help me to remember that it’s up to you, not up to the baby, whether Marie lives or dies.  Help me not to blame the little one.”

He didn’t say more.  But he no longer dreaded crawling into bed, and he was soon asleep.

Morning found him at his wife’s hospital bedside.  He got there a little before visiting hours began, but a kindly nurse pretended not to notice.

Marie was asleep, and he didn’t want to disturb her, so he just sat and looked at her.  And, inevitably, his eyes traveled down to the lump in her midsection.

It seems so stupid now, that it took us so long to figure out what was happening.  But everybody could see that marriage had put a few pounds on both of us.  He smiled at the memory of an indulgent pat she’d given to his own somewhat spreading midsection.  He was far from fat, but his clothes were getting tighter.  

She feeds me well.  Body and soul.  Lord, please let her stay!

Even when Marie had started feeling little flutterings, she had thought it was just some sort of indigestion.  And even when the thought of pregnancy had popped into her mind, she had waved it off.  She’d seemed embarrassed even to mention the possibility to Will when the flutterings grew more insistent.  

“I know it sounds silly, but I think maybe I should see a doctor...even though I know I can’t really be...”

His jaw had dropped and his eyes had widened, and his hand had instantly gone to her belly.

And then came the appointments, one after another in rapid succession.  Concerned doctors.  Fancy medical terms that, when explained, all pointed to danger.  Not just the danger of a painful loss of another unborn child, as bad as that would have been.  No, they had said that Marie herself was in danger, and that she had to go in the hospital now, because she was already so far along.

They’d found out almost a week ago.  And he had not touched her belly since.

“Good morning, Papa.”  A tired voice instantly called his attention to the face he loved so much.  She’d called him that, “Papa,” ever since they day she’d found out she was pregnant.  He’d always tried to hide the way it made his stomach lurch.  

But it didn’t happen quite as much this time.

“Good Morning, love.”  He stood just long enough to bend over her for a kiss, and then sat down again. He scanned her face and felt his concern growing.  “How are you feeling?”

Marie worked up a rueful little smile. ”Scared."

Now it was time for that stomach lurch. "What's happened?"

"It's just that...last night I started to feel the kind of discomfort they warned me about. It woke me up more than once."

Suddenly it seemed that there wasn't quite enough air in the room. He dragged in as much of it as he could, and released it with a shaky sigh.

She rubbed his arm.

"Has the doctor seen you yet this morning?"

"Yes, first thing."

"What did he say?"

"He listened, he did all of his usual little checks...but you know what he told me. The only thing he could tell me. 'Keep resting, don't get out of bed for anything, try not to worry.' He gave me a smile, but his eyes looked worried, so how could I not be worried too?"

They fell silent.

In the stillness, Will's eyes involuntarily traveled back down to the lump.  The lump that he hadn’t asked for. The lump that was worrying the doctor and hurting Marie. The lump that could kill her.

Loving this baby may be the bravest, hardest thing anyone has ever asked you to do...

Slowly, cautiously, he stretched out his hand.  It hovered briefly, and then gently came to rest.

Underneath his hand, a tiny foot kicked.

And Will Porter gasped, just a little.  


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Prayer for a Stranger

Photo by Nirahan

I originally wrote this piece on 5/8/08
for the weekly FaithWriters writing contest.
It won 1st Place for its level.
The given prompt was "In-laws."

Prayer for a Stranger

I don't know if you've been born yet, but I'm praying for you.

I don't know who your parents are, or where you live.

I don't know if you'll be pretty or homely, fat or thin, athletic or bookish, outgoing or shy, robust or sickly.

I only know that someday you are going to marry this precious little baby boy that I hold in my arms.

So I'm praying for you.

I pray that God will protect you from the Evil One, and from all his plans. I pray that you will be kept pure in heart and body. I pray that you will not fall into the trap of religion, of Pharisaical false-assurance, of empty ritual and creed. I pray that you will grow to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. I pray that God will give you a heart that loves children and will gladly sacrifice to stay home and raise the little ones that you and my son will create together. I pray that you would know the joy and peace and hope and quiet courage that can only be found in God's arms, and that you would see through all of the enticements and false promises that the world will offer when it tries to woo you away from Him.

And I'm very aware, little stranger, that I have a great obligation to you. I hold in my arms your future husband. May God give me the strength and the wisdom to raise him to be a godly man. By His grace may I teach him to love to play more than to stare at the television, and may I teach him to love God and his neighbor in the way that he plays. May I raise him to desire good old-fashioned hard work and the rewards that it brings, rather than the cheap thrills of constant entertainment. May I be the kind of salt that creates thirst, and may I direct him to the Lord for its quenching. As I interact with my husband, may I show my son an example of what a godly wife should be, so that he will have the wisdom to choose you, dear stranger, and not a worldly counterfeit. May I, by God's enabling, raise him to love you before he ever meets you, so that he would not dream of defiling himself with anyone else in the meantime. May the Lord grant me the privilege of raising this little one into a man who will give you joy and love and fidelity all the days of his life, who will humbly accept the spiritual leadership of your home. May I pass on a godly legacy that will become so precious to him that he will delight to work with you, hand-in-hand and soul-with-soul, to pass it along to your children and grandchildren.

And I apologize in advance for the many times I'm going to fail in all of this.

Oh, and while I'm praying, I don't want to forget that the time is coming when you and I will, Lord willing, know one another at last. I pray that I will have the wisdom to let go of my precious son, and to feel no jealousy when he gives his heart to you. I pray that I will always be available to you, and that we would be close enough to talk and share openly. I pray that I would also know when to keep my mouth shut and allow you the freedom to enjoy being different from me.

Well, I'd better go. Someday my son will make his bed with you, but for now his bed has railings, and Noah's Ark sheets, and a mobile dangling overhead. I need to go put him there, because he's sound asleep now.

I love him so much. And somehow, in a way that only God can make possible, I also love you, little stranger.

Sweet dreams, wherever you are!
Your future Mother-in-Law.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Monkey's an Uncle

Photo by me, taken at the Denver Zoo in 2003.

I first wrote this fun piece on 4/18/08
as an entry in the weekly FaithWriters writing challenge. 
  The given prompt was "Uncles/Aunts."
I also copied this poem to my usually theological blog,

A word of explanation regarding the vocabulary
used in this story:
I chose to give the gorillas words for things 
that would be found in nature,
and to have them lacking words for things
that are manmade.

As for the names that are used,
they were taken from a Swahili-English dictionary.
"Matoke" means "Banana."
"Kuchekesha" means "Funny."
"Babu" means "Grandfather."
And "Vipara" (their word for the hairless humans) means "Bald!"


A Monkey's an Uncle

Matoke finished his third somersault and came to rest in his favorite observation spot. He grabbed a palm branch and waved it a bit, but he didn’t really pay attention to its playful motion. He felt much more interested in The Vipara.

The Vipara came every day. At first they had frightened him, because they often bared their teeth when they looked at him, and sometimes they would jut their forelimbs right in his direction when they did so. It used to make him hide behind his mother, but he was older and braver now. Now he understood that the Transparent Hardness separated him from them. Sometimes he even dared to go right up close to the Transparent Hardness and put his hand on its cool surface, or even to rap on it. The Vipara always rapped back from their side.

Those hairless apes-that-weren’t-apes fascinated him, but Matoke couldn’t sit still for long. Life promised far more fun than he could ever find while plopped on his bottom in the dirt, so he grabbed a thick vine and swung on it. But he never really stopped watching them, even if only out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps he was crazy, but he couldn’t help thinking that THEY actually enjoyed watching HIM.

His preoccupation with them almost cost him, though. He didn’t see the ball of energy hurtling toward him until his arch rival was nearly on top of him.

Matoke leapt off of his vine with a scream. He slapped the ground hard a few times, then threw fistfuls of leaves up in the air.

Kuchekesha had claimed the vine as soon as Matoke abandoned it, and now he grimaced and wagged his head at Matoke’s tantrum.

Matoke screamed again, slapped harder, and threw even more leaves. “Come and get me, Kuchekesha!”

His rival could only take so many challenges. He flung himself down and charged Matoke, barreling into him with a force that sent them both tumbling. They wrestled for a few moments until a flea started to chew on Matoke’s back. He couldn’t reach it, so Kuchekesha found it and ate it for him.

On the other side of the Transparent Hardness, the Vipara made their funny throat sounds and bared their teeth and jutted their forelimbs.

“Why do you think they come and stare at us?” Kuchekesha asked.

“I think they need to learn from us,” Matoke replied. “Babu says they aren’t very smart.” Matoke spotted a flea on his friend’s shoulder and went after it. “What do you suppose happened to all their hair?”

“Why don’t you ask Babu?”

“Why don’t YOU ask Babu? How come you never talk to him?”

“I think he’s a little crazy, but don’t you dare ever tell him I said that!”

“You’re afraid of him!” Matoke taunted.

“Am not!”

“Oh yeah? Then let’s see who gets the closest to him.” Matoke took off running foot-and-knuckle across the ground toward the motionless patriarch in the corner. But despite his bravado, he couldn’t help slowing to a very tentative pace when he got close. Even though he’d talked to Babu before, he wasn’t about to presume upon his good graces.

Kuchekesha followed him, but stayed back a few paces.

Matoke offered his best submissive postures and faces, and finally offered to remove a tick from the old silverback. Babu didn’t reject him, so he dared to speak.

“Babu, I know you have studied the Vipara for all the many years of your life. What do you think happened to their hair?”

“I don’t know.”

Kuchekesha spoke up from behind. “Matoke says you don’t think the Vipara are very smart. Why not?

Babu actually seemed amused. “The others will tell you I’m crazy, but I swear that I have learned to understand much of what they say with their mouths.”

“You think they’re actually communicating?” Matoke asked, wide-eyed.

“Absolutely. And here’s how I know they’re not very smart.” Babu turned to look full at Matoke with a twinkle in his eye.

“They think we’re their uncles!”

Matoke and Kuchekesha howled and rolled with laughter before scampering off to play some tag.

“Do you think Babu’s right?” Kuchekesha asked.

“Well, if he’s wrong, then he’s crazy. If he’s right, then the Vipara are crazy!”

The two playmates charged across boughs and branches, laughing and shouting “Uncle, uncle!”

On the other side of the Transparent Hardness, the Vipara bared their teeth, jutted their forelimbs, and made those funny noises in their throats.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thirteenth Birthday

Photo by arinas74

I first wrote this bit of short fiction back on 4/15/08, 
and entered it in the weekly FaithWriters writing contest.  
The given prompt was "Father."


Thirteenth Birthday

“There, that’s nice,” I think. “A windowsill should always have flowers.”

The peonies, one pink and one white, seem to agree. They and their milky-white vase fit perfectly in that corner of the kitchen window, where I can look at them while I scrub the dishes. They make the job a little happier.

I set to work on a particularly nasty pan, grateful for the cool evening breeze that makes our gingham-bordered curtains billow toward me.

Outside, my father is putting the finishing touches on his farm work. He’s having to rush to get some things done today, because of the way he spent two hours this afternoon.

The next pan bears the traces of my birthday cake, and I grab a clean spoon to scrape some of it into my mouth before submerging the pan. I let it soak while I wash the last of the cake off of the thirteen candles and put them away for next year. Throwing them away would be unthinkable. We have to save every penny we can.

My father comes in, dirty and smelly like he always is after a day’s work. I don’t care about that. I love everything that’s a part of him, part of this life he’s built for the two of us.

“Thanks for my party, Daddy. It was great, and I know it was hard for you to take that much time off during planting season.”

Some of the old sadness leaps into his eyes. “It wasn’t hard, sweetie. It was a pleasure.” He reaches to tuck my hair behind my ear. “I wish I could have done more.”

“I didn’t need anything more,” I protest. “I had all my friends, and you cooked burgers, and I got cake and ice cream and presents. That’s all I could possibly want.” I didn’t mean to let my voice falter when I said that last part, but I did, and he heard it. I turn my face away so we won’t see each other’s pain.


He pulls me into his arms, and I can’t help crying just a little, even though I had promised myself that I really didn’t care if she called or not.

He strokes my hair, and his voice is soft. “You deserve so much more. I wish I could change things so you’d have a mother.”

I start to cry harder. “All it would have taken her was a quick phone call. Just a couple of minutes to let me know I matter...”

After a few moments Daddy guides me over to the couch. “It’s time we talked about this.” He looks thoughtful as we seat ourselves, and I’m sure he’s praying about what to say.

“Honey,” he begins, “I’ve never wanted to say anything bad to you about your mother. I still don’t want to. But some things just need to be said, so you’ll understand better.”

I nod.

“You know how beautiful your mother looks. That’s what drew me to her, I’m afraid. I saw the ugliness on the inside, but I thought that I could love it out of her. And she could be nice when she wanted to. But...she only loves being beautiful. She’s not able to love anything else, not even us.”

“Why does she resent me?” I ask.

He sighs deeply. “It’s not your fault. It’s her shallowness. She hated that being pregnant spoiled her figure. She hated that people would say how pretty you were, because she only wanted to hear how beautiful she was. And then when he came along...he offered her beautiful things that I could never afford...” Daddy’s voice trails off.

I see in his eyes that he feels like a failure, and I cannot bear it. I take his face in my hands. “She didn’t know what she had. I wouldn’t trade you for all the riches in the world.”

His eyes fill, and he hugs me. “I don’t know what I would do without you. And soon you’ll be all grown...” He stops himself, but I can see his heart, and for the first time I realize that the coming years which will make me a woman, five years which seem an eternity to me, seem like only days to him.

I find myself praying silently. “Lord, someday please send me a man just like him. And please bring him a wife like he deserves.”

From the side table comes a noise that makes us both jump.

The phone is ringing.