November, 1967


NOVEMBER, 1967 by Joyce Sutphen

Dr. Zhivago was playing at the Paramount
Theater in St. Cloud. That afternoon,
we went into Russia,

and when we came out, the snow
was falling—the same snow
that fell in Moscow.

The sky had turned black velvet.
We’d been through the Revolution
and the frozen winters.

In the Chevy, we waited for the heater
to melt ice on the windshield,
clapping our hands to keep warm.

On the highway, these two things:
a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and that semi-truck careening by.

Now I travel through the dark without you
and sometimes I turn up the radio, hopeful
the way you were, no matter what.

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The Wrench In The Snow by Assunta Marlene Esterly

Marlene-1972-150x150The following is a true story written many years ago by someone I love and miss dearly, and when I come upon things she wrote, it’s like hearing her voice again. She endured far more than her share of suffering throughout her life but somehow remained one of the most optimistic people I ever knew, and she never lost her faith. I suppose many would have dismissed what happens here as mere coincidence, but my beautiful sister saw it as evidence of God’s love. She believed in miracles. Her whole life was a sort of miracle.

And here’s the story, in her own words, exactly as she typed it on the sheet of paper I hold in my hand; she would have loved for me to share it with you: 

“Who would have thought that the harsh, dark winter of 1983, when everything was going wrong, would turn into a season of hope?

I was in the hospital again, quite ill with complications of congenital kidney disease. At least it was warm in the hospital. Our heating oil had been burning more quickly than we could afford to replace it in the drafty old house we rented on Long Island.

In the wee hours of that bone-chilling morning, Henry began the long trek home. There was fresh snow on the ground and he could feel the biting dampness through his old, worn-out sneakers. He trudged on, hoping that he would be lucky enough to hitch a ride from a passing car before losing all feeling in his feet.

Henry and I were still newlyweds, struggling along with work and school. While he strained to keep his eyes open at his night watchman position, grab a couple of hours of sleep at home, then rush off to school as a full-time engineering student, I attended classes at a different college and became a homemaker on our nearly nonexistent budget.

This particular day had begun on a sour note when our wreck of a car stalled as Henry attempted to drive home from work. With me sick again, we were both under tremendous stress. We had no family near to rally behind us. If not for the wonderful people at our church calling and delivering hot meals, we would have felt completely isolated and defeated.

Henry phoned to inform me of the new obstacle we now had to contend with: we had no car. Never having had the luxury of owning a new car, Henry had grown quite adept in auto repair just keeping our clunkers on the road. As it turned out, he needed a specific tool, a one-half-inch, open-end wrench, so that he could tighten the car’s distributor. He didn’t own this tool, nor know of any friends who had one.

So he was stuck in the middle of nowhere, cold, hungry, physically and emotionally drained. I felt so helpless. What could I do, sitting in a hospital? How could I help my husband? I began to pray…

I asked God to guide us through our difficult times, to give us strength, and especially to let Henry know he was being watched over and loved. That was my small prayer. It seemed so simple, almost insignificant, compared to the serious health problems I was facing, along with our desperate financial situation.

In the wee hours of that bone-chilling morning Henry began the long trek home. There was fresh snow on the ground and he could feel the biting dampness through his old worn-out sneakers. He trudged on, hoping he would be lucky enough to hitch a ride from a passing car before losing all feeling in his feet.

He had walked about one mile when he spotted something glistening in the snow. He hurried to retrieve what he figured was loose change. At least with that he could buy a cup of hot coffee at the deli and warm up a bit. But as he bent over to pick up his find, he no longer felt a need for hot coffee or even shelter from the bitter cold. A great spiritual warmth enveloped Henry’s entire being as he stared in awe at the miracle granted to him.

What had been glistening in the snow like a beacon of light was the exact one-half-inch, open-end wrench that Henry had described to me on the phone, the one tool he needed to repair our car but did not own.

Henry went back and got the car running. It was not the last time that it broke down. It was not the last time I was hospitalized, either. My health problems actually worsened and I suffered through numerous medical procedures and treatments. It took a few years for Henry to earn his scholastic degree and give us financial security. I wish I could say that our life together went perfectly smooth and trouble-free after that night. Whose life is ever perfect? But that doesn’t make finding the wrench any less a miracle.

To us the wrench in the snow was a sign of God’s love. It gave us hope during a hopeless time. It was an affirmation that prayers are answered and miracles do happen. It gave us the strength and courage we needed to keep believing in ourselves, in life, and in a loving God.

We still have that wrench in our garage, and sometimes I go in there just to look at it in wonderment. I imagine an angel holding it and placing it in the snow for Henry to find. And no matter what our future holds, good or bad, no one can ever take the miracle of the wrench in the snow away from us. No one can ever take away our faith. On a dismal winter day in 1983, a miracle was glistening in the snow. And there was hope.”

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Who Loves The Rain

WHO LOVES THE RAIN by Frances Shaw (1872-1937)

riverandrainscotlandWHO loves the rain
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes,
Him will I follow through the storm;
And at his hearth-fire keep me warm;
Nor hell nor heaven shall that soul surprise,
Who loves the rain,
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes.

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It’s Raining

as rain neared Gaviota
Rain has come.  All day it was pending, promising, pushing towards us slowly, but we were never confident, having been so long without it. In the morning I walked up Gaviota Peak with my friend Kelley, and we had no need of the rain jackets we had hopefully stuffed into our packs, but we did enjoy that soft moist air on our faces, and the sky was thick with cloud, as you can see from the picture above. And now, hours later, that sound.  It isn’t pouring, but it’s raining steadily. And we are grateful.

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Fragments Like Sea Glass

There was a boy who went to sleep on a bed of kelp in the middle of the day, cradled and rocked, lulled by green-blue sea song older than existence.

“There are few things in life more pleasurable than bobbing around in the ocean on a summer day and looking at the land from there,” said a friend of mine long ago.

Oh, I have enjoyed the thrill of an ankle splash now and then, but I rarely dare go further.

One Inauguration Day, Linette and I drank champagne and ran into the surf, she in her bikini, me in my rolled up jeans like J. Alfred Prufrock. The water was icy cold and we squealed. She went swimming in the distance while I squatted down until the water touched my neck, then I leaned back to let it wet my hair. Baptized.

Sometimes at night its familiar salty song reaches my room. I can hear its muffled crashing behind a foghorn or a passing train.

Once the sun broke into pieces that floated on its surface and I tucked a shard of light into my heart.

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Still There

It was an absurdly quick trip but there’s much to be said for a few days of hiking in the mountains.  The wind sighed in tall pines while aspen leaves flickered, yellow against blue, and shadows danced with shafts of light, and a rocky creek led us to a sparkling lake, murmuring all the way. I’m home now, but I feel better just knowing it’s there.

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tawny hills and cloudNothing is different today except that a particular possibility ended. It was just a little flicker of a possibility and it wasn’t meant to be, and from this there are no terrible repercussions, just a tiny gasp of loss, a pause, a change in path. There were wisps of clouds in the sky, an autumnal slant of light, the air like a sigh. But I cherish hopeful beginnings, however they conclude, and I think if we walk the detours with courage and love, we can see with clarity how much is still here.

I was reminded of a huge and formative loss as well today because my brother happened to send me an email about the final days of our father’s life. My brother was only eleven when our father died, experiencing it all as a frightened little boy, and he no doubt repressed a lot of it. I wasn’t sure what prompted him to suddenly talk about it now, maybe concerns about his own health, but it sure took me by surprise how much pain it still evoked. It seemed I had been summoned upon to say something of comfort to him, though, and I drew upon the ways I’ve tried to cope. I urged him to focus on happy moments and joys our father experienced, for these were real too.

And I told him to try to suspend the tyranny of chronology sometimes and not let the ending negate all the good things that came before it, because even disappointing outcomes do not diminish the comfort and impetus dreams bring while their promise and truth seem viable. (Yeah, I concede that it’s a tricky formula to follow.) I also reminded him that our father instilled good qualities in us, and that his life continues to matter, and that surely some sort of spirit and consciousness transcends the physical span of a life.

And that got me to thinking about faith, “a great weight hung on a small wire”, as the poet Anne Sexton put it. How simple it used to be. When I was a little girl I even heard an angel sing, or so I believed. I was lying in my bed and the voice came from the corner of the room where the ceiling meets the wall, a silvery river of voice, and I never questioned that it was an angel. In those days I spoke to God silently but often, and had no doubt that he heard me and took a personal interest in me. Now of course all that comical childhood clarity is gone, and I stumble around in the dark, grasping at poems or looking at the stars, trying to make some sense of things or do some good somewhere.

Anyway, the world offers sufficient distractions, and this quiet day proceeded. I dusted bookshelves, laundered sheets, ate an orange. I read and wrote and rode my bike. The highlight was talking to our faraway daughter, when my heart experienced what can only be described as a brimming over with love. And when I began this post, I thought it was about loss. But it somehow became about finding.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.    
                  – Anne Sexton


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The Light Has Carried Me Here


Midlife     by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

This is as far as the light
of my understanding
has carried me:
an October morning
a canoe built by hand
a quiet current

above me the trees arc
green and golden
against a cloudy sky

below me the river responds
with perfect reflection
a hundred feet deep
a hundred feet high.

To take a cup of this river
to drink its purple and gray
its golden and green

to see
a bend in the river up ahead
and still

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October Moments

oct 4
I didn’t get very far. It’s hot. But I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just needed to get outside on my bike for a bit, checking out the day. So I pedaled to the beach and sat at the redwood table that occasionally serves as my church pew, and I pondered and perspired and in my own way prayed. A train rumbled by as I rode toward the railroad tracks to get back to the main road. The Pacific Surfliner, I guess, headed north. I could see the forms of passengers on board, and they perhaps caught a glimpse of me, a woman on a bicycle with an ocean behind her. A pair of monarch butterflies darted about in the very blue sky.

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