Monday, January 30, 2017

Pain as Fuel for Our Journey

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey -- Kenji Miwazawa

In 2005 Joan Didion published The Year of Magical Thinking, about the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." Robert Pinsky described Didion's memoir as "an exact, candid and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement . . . thrilling and engaging . . . because it ventures to tell the truth." More recently, Diane Rehm (On My Own) has described her husband's lingering death from Parkinson's and "her struggle to reconstruct her life without him." Rehm's perspectives on old age, according to a Kirkus review, "are brave and uplifting."

Didion's memoir is 227 pages, Rehm's 162 pages long. Imagine, then, a creative essay that is engaging because it tells the truth, because it is brave and uplifting in its perspective, and because it embraces pain and burns it as fuel for the journey. Further, know that this lovely memoir brings us to our knees in only 832 words. This is Bacopa 2016's Runner-Up prize winner and Pushcart nominee, "A Clothesline Meditation," by Debra Burks Hori.

When presenting Hori's essay at a December 2016 Writers Alliance of Gainesville reading, Managing Editor Mary Bridgman said, "'A Clothesline Meditation' resonated with me because it illustrates how the routine tasks of daily life can trigger deep, sometimes paralyzing feelings of grief. Paradoxically, in returning to those same repetitive tasks, one can find comfort, resolution and peace."

Excerpts from A Clothesline Meditation*
. . . My right hand, my left hand, in silent choreography. Cool, moist fabric, wooden clothespin, and line. It is a simple action, and I don't think about it. I don't think about my life; I don't think about anything else I have to do, not on this glorious spring day. Instead, I remember carefree afternoons standing next to Mommy as she took down the laundry. I remember the feel of sun-warmed cloth as she tossed it into the canvas laundry basket, the kind that hung on a metal frame standing like a big X when it was open and waiting to catch all the clean clothes. I remember the scent wafting up from the fabric. I remember thinking, as I tilted my head up, watching my mother, When I grow up, I'll be like Mommy, and I'll reach the clothesline.
     As I pin up the next sheet, I notice bright, lime-colored leaves budding on the branches of the pecan tree set against a piercing blue sky. The sheets make soft u-shaped cradles as they billow and sway, and I wonder, Will they smell like new leaves when I bring them in, when I float them up the parachutes as I put them on my bed?
       In the afternoon, I look out at the clothesline full of light blue and dusky purple sails. Thorns on a nearby rosebush snag one of the sheets and tug at it like a toddler who wants something. I go out to the clothesline and free the cloth from the thorns. Captured inside its blue curve are five fallen rose petals: tender swirls of yellow, orange, and ruddy red.
      I imagine saying to Robin when he comes home from work, "I found a gift on the clothesline today. Our rosebush made art in our linen!" He would smile, his tiny laugh lines wrinkling around his hazel eyes, and we would connect in a moment of seeing this small, beautiful delight nestled in our ordinary life.
      The thing is, Robin isn't coming home. I reach to release the dry sheets from the line, and my arms feel heavy, my body thick. A familiar saltiness gathers at the back of my throat. The clothespin slips from my hand and I watch it spiral down. I stop seeing the grass. I stop seeing the back yard. I stop. Full stop. My vision stops, shifts to another place. My body folds and I am down on my knees . . . .
*(from pages 134-135 of Bacopa LIterary Review 2016)

When her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Debra Burks Hori wrote to comfort herself; she continues her writing to share our universal experience of grief: "Grief is part of our everyday lives, not something that is 'out there' or foreign, something for us to fear or avoid. If we allow grief to teach us, if we invite it in when it arrives, it has the power to transform us in ways that leave us richer, more compassionate, and stronger than before."

Hori's work has been published in This I Believe, Crack the Spine, The Penmen Review, Silver Birch Press, and The Los Angeles Times Health Section. An Educational Therapist in private practice, Hori holds a master's degree in special education from California State University and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Occidental College. She is a parent and is owned by two cats.

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