“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
There was a time when I took decades for granted. They seemed to roll in and out with the consistency of the ocean waves. I would watch them come and go and imagine what the next one would bring.
I can remember standing in my kitchen on a day that doesn’t seem all the long ago but was, imagining what life would look like a decade or two later. At the time of that imagining, Mama was still with us, as was my father-in-law, and grandchildren felt like something older people had, not us.
I have never been one of those people who didn’t know the value of each day. I have known since I was 9 that time isn’t a given, that the most precious people in your life can be snatched away in a moment. But no matter how grateful we are, no matter how much we grasp the moment and hold on to it, no matter how deep and wide we love another, time carries all that out with its tide.
When I was in that kitchen that summer day of long ago imagining, I could not see what was up ahead. All I had, really, were prayers. Turns out that was enough.
Those prayers carried me forward, moved me along to places I didn’t possess enough imagining or longing for. Those prayers enabled me to write hard stories. Those prayers propelled me into meeting brilliant people, people who brought me greater understanding and made me a more thoughtful person, a person of a more complex faith. Those prayers pushed me through the death of my mother, my father-in-law, good friends, spiritual leaders. They push me still. Those prayers have sustained me in the quiet abyss of grief, reminding me with a whisper “Hey, I am with you always.”
Those prayers kept me writing books I feared no one would ever read, and many still haven’t. Yet, those prayers tell me daily: “Keep writing. This is what matters. The stories we tell.”
Those prayers, uttered as I lit candles in a chapel in Sedona, Arizona, a cathedral in Paris, France, and an ancient stone church in Normandy, helped my girlfriend through her breast cancer. And a few years later, my very own sister’s breast cancer.
Those prayers have helped me too, from the darkness that seeps in every so often and tells me that I am a failure, that I’ve done worthless things with my life, that I’ve burned up relationships and the goodwill of others like maternity dresses in a burn barrel.
When the darkness rears its head now, I point to a bookshelf and remind it: See! These are the works of my past decade.
They may not matter to a people entranced by possessions, a people caught up in the personality of influencers, a people led astray by a system that tells them they can never have enough, be enough, but they matter to the 80-year old woman in New York who wrote to me of her own childhood traumas. And they mattered to the man in Wisconsin who calls me every so often, a man I’ve never met, to talk to me about life and his family and just to laugh with me. And they matter to the inmate who served time in prison with the man who killed Karly Sheehan.
They mattered to the man from Mississippi who has devoted his life to working with the marginalized – whether it’s the homeless who live on the streets or the foster child in need of a home. And they matter to the people who grew up in the foothills of the Smokies, the free people of color, and those who hear the voices of their own kinfolk when they read the stories. And maybe one day, they will speak to my grandchildren, all born in this past decade, when I am no longer around to tell them the stories myself. It was the prayers I prayed as I wept over certain pages and laughed over others, that equipped me to write those books, to pursue the stories yet untold.
I trust those prayers will continue to push me forward as I start a new adventure. In 2020, I will be pursuing a Double-Master program at Shepherd University in West Virginia. I will work on my Master in Appalachian Studies, or as I refer to it – the study of mountain culture. In 2021, as part of this program, I will spend time in Scotland, studying at the University of West Scotland for a Master in Creative Media Practices. None of this is meant to “position” me for a career in anything other than the one I already cultivate – writing. Storytelling. Learning for the sake of learning.
Just like you, I never imagined all the wonders or terrors this past decade held for us. I cannot imagine the ones yet to come. But just like every decade since I was a young girl, I trust in God, the Creator, who lights my path, hears my prayers, and as always guides us along.
Happy New Year friends. May the prayers of this song be with you throughout 2020.