photo by Sheri Dixon

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Excerpt- "Almost Invisible- a different kind of survival story"

This short little book popped up in my head and niggled me till I wrote it down- from how it's arranged to how it unfolded, I had no idea how it was going to end till it did.

Mainly written to counter all the current End of the World survivalist books that have everything happening violently, suddenly, very dramatically, this is the story of Now, of Here, of the reality that we're all of us in the middle of our own end every single day.

And the real truth that while things could certainly get worse, they could just as easily get better if we all stop looking for and fearing the Big Monsters, and start caring for our own neighbors (human and otherwise), and our own neighborhoods (with or without human habitation).

Chapter Three- Shelter

During mealtimes at the senior citizens' home, a perky young activities director would announce the many social opportunities for the residents to enjoy.

Mostly her voice was background noise,so much buzzing mulling around and under the real conversation, but one day the buzzing became words and the words piqued her interest.

"The Childrens' Hospital is looking for volunteers to read stories to the patients- if you're interested, please see me after lunch".

The children loved her.

She had a way of making the fairy tales come to life, the characters all having different voices and expressions- all framed by the purple hat, which became her identity.

"Where's Purple Hat Granny?" the children would wonder to each other if she was even 10 minutes late.

While their parents brought them stuffed animals and the candy stripers brought them treats and the medical staff brought them things that were "good for you- and it'll only hurt for a minute", she brought them treasures from the park- acorns, feathers, pebbles and leaves.

She reported on the magical images in the clouds, the sunshiny warmth of the air, the call of the common creatures most grownups couldn't hear anymore- squirrels, frogs, cicadas, sparrows.

All the things they missed by being in the hospital.

She brought the gift of playing outside inside.

And after her reports, she listened to theirs.

Not just the fears and frustrations of being who they were and where they were, but of things remembered- snowflakes turned liquid on a tastebud, baking cookies with their mom, beloved and comical pets at home waiting for them, what they were going to be when they grew up.

Eventually they'd get around to the story.

She picked the stories with care from the library- only those with wild free colors and fabulously delicious words were acceptable. The colors had to leap off the pages and wrap around the childrens' imaginations while the text burst rolling, roiling,boiling and churning along- carrying them all away triumphantly for just a sliver of time.

Out of the hospital. Away from their hurt, their germs, their helplessness.

While most volunteers came and read their story, passed around a treat, patted heads and cheeks and were gone in an hour, she spent all afternoon in the company of her children- none of them had anywhere else to be.

She left the hospital each day along with the rush of day staff, relatives and office workers- all with thoughts of the evening ahead of them, while her heart stayed firmly behind.

One evening, returning to the shelter, she noticed not for the first time, the people outside.

Between the floods and the drought, the downturn of the economy and the swelling of unemployment, more and more people were jobless, homeless, hopeless, families stressed and stretched till they broke- and the shards fell sharp and fresh on the doorstep of the shelter.

She had status as 'permanently homeless'- her mental capacity not feeble enough for hospitalization, but not orderly enough for employment, plus she never caused anyone a moment of bother, so her spot in the shelter was secure.

She smiled kindly at the children, who tried valiantly to smile in return. The adults' eyes were fixed inward- unable to look beyond their own troubled thoughts.

Except for one.

She'd smiled at the boy- a young man of about 12- not a little kid anymore yet not quite a teenager, he had his arm around the shoulder of his mother- a gesture both protective and needy.

The corners of the boy's mouth turned up but his eyes were defiant, troubled, ashamed.

Puzzled, she glanced at his mother. The evening shadows were reflected in her tired eyes, her faded hair, and the bruise on her cheek. The shadowed eyes questioned, begged, and pierced straight into her soul with an attack of recognition.

And she knew for sure and for true that this boy, right at the threshold of becoming a man, had had to deny any likeness there was between himself and his father- for one thing the boy would not allow himself to become was like him- the man who was supposed to be his role model.

And she knew for sure and for true that this woman was herself.

Gently, she touched the boy's arm. "Come with me- it's going to be alright".

Entering the office, she told the secretary "I won't be needing my place here anymore- my son has come to take me home".

Surprised, but in a hurry to close up the office, the secretary asked, "I thought they said you don't have a family. Where does your son live?"

"He's from Neshkoro. He's a missionary and has just returned form doing good deeds in Africa. He'll be here in just a little bit to pick me up. I want you to give my spot to these people, please".

And she gathered her few things and left the shelter for the last time.

Although she was tired from her afternoon at the hospital, she appeared fresh and happy when she reported to the evening shift.

"I'm here to be the overnight volunteer".

The charge nurse looked confused. "I wasn't aware that we were starting an overnight program", she sighed. "They don't tell the night crew ANYTHING, but we surely are glad for your help".

And from that moment on, any child who woke alone and hurting and afraid in the dark had Purple Hat Granny to firmly hold their hand, whisper stories of hope and light and tuck them in with promises of a better tomorrow.

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