Thursday, December 29, 2005

JK: Focus

This morning I picked up the book my sister inspired. It’s called A Simple Gift of Comfort, Healing Words for Difficult Times (Harvest House). She would have liked this small book of prose and photographs by Lisa Sorenson taken of every day things like water pitchers sitting a window sill or shadows playing on multi-colored river rocks worn smooth by water and wind. I find inspiration for my writing in beautiful photographs that focus on familiar things.

My sister inspired that book when she was very ill and later passed away from a rare multi-system disorder called Shy-Drager that robs the person of movement, control of body temperature, blood pressure, digestion and eventually breathing. She noted that when one is going through a hard time it’s often difficult to concentrate long enough to read a whole book. “I just can’t focus,” she’d tell me.

I wasn’t her daily care provider as I lived some distance away, but I saw her weekly to pay her bills and acted as a mediator between her and her estranged husband and helped comfort her grown sons and our parents. I coordinated her care which was no easy task. I called her “the queen of control” and the rest of us “ladies in waiting.” She laughed at that and would type out on her computer with two pencil erasers “How true!”

Because reading was now difficult for her and even listening to taped books required longer periods of concentration, even reading to her -- something I could do -- wasn’t the joy it might have been. Instead I offered her little things to think about during the day. They were metaphors or insights such as the word focus having nothing to do with clarity as in a photographer’s lens, but rather being a word drawn from the Greek word hearth or the center of the home. It’s where the heat came from. We talked about the word comfort in Greek meaning “to come along beside.” I always thought it interesting that the word parable comes from the Greek meaning “pebble” something “tossed along beside.” That’s what I hope my novels do, come along beside; for certain it’s what I hoped the suggestions offered to my dying sister did.

On a day when she could speak, she expressed particular regret at the likely ending of her life before she turned 55, of how she’d miss meeting her youngest son’s first child, of how there were so many things she hadn’t done and now wouldn’t get to do because she lacked the ability, I wrote the following for her.

You don’t have to climb the mountain today, only find the footholds that will greet you in the morning. You don’t have to graduate today, only take that first class. You don’t have to write a novel, just pen a paragraph. Somehow we seem to think we must be large enough to finish before we first begin.

We gain by just beginning, take on new strength with each small step taken, even if we have to later change our course. Clarity and direction rise from the swirl of indecision; courage and potency appear through the malaise of unworthiness and woe.

Your faith need not be strong enough to finish, only adequate to embark.

We can take the next first step together.

Some describe this little piece included in the book as “The Procrastinator’s Prayer.” It may well be. That day, my sister got a nurse to loan her a portable ultra sound so she could hear the heartbeat of her grandchild. She asked her son to lift her up onto her favorite horse and ride behind her into the junipers that dotted the ranch she loved so much. She did what she could do, savored the relationships she had, trusted that God would see her through.

Today I consider that word focus, and remember the hearth of my heart, where I draw heat from, where nurture is promised. Today it’s a reminder to do what I can do to bring comfort, to come along beside someone through words written down.

Jane Kirkpatrick’s latest non-fiction book is entitled HOMESTEAD, Modern Pioneers Pursing the Edge of Possibility, a memoir.


At 11:46 AM, Blogger Patty said...

And that is how we write a book, one paragraph at a time, choosing to fill up that moment with just the right words that a year or two later will connect with the mind and heart of someone we don't know. You connected with mine today, Jane.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Beautiful words, Jane. Thanks for the reminder to "just do what we can," to "start, just start." "You don't have to write a novel; just write a paragraph," you said. Thanks for that.


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