Compiled May 2016; still relevant.
1. The Wanderer
Sharon Creech, 2000. I read it first as an eleven year old, and wept. And then just now, twenty-eight, in the space of one morning at the kitchen table, never moving, hardly breathing. A student had borrowed it off my bookshelf — devoured it, returned it — and I only absentmindedly picked it up. I read one page and then another. The world slowed, I think it stopped; I may have been eleven again, who knows?
1a. The Seafarer
Related: this anonymous Anglo-Saxon verse, epigraph to the above. Who in the year 500-whatever had these words? How did he know to use them this way, to say exactly there isn’t a man on earth so proud, So born in greatness, so bold with his youth, Grown so grave, or so graced by God, That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl? Anonymous! How can we not know?
2. The peony field.
I go every year with my mom. We bring gallon buckets and garden shears. We cut fat dozens, 15-stem bouquets, at the owner’s insistence. One hundred years ago her grandmother planted the first bush, grew it up and dug it up again, full-root; divided it and planted anew, and now we wade knee deep between tens and twenties of them, a whole lot full. There should be a house here; this is a neighborhood now, a real suburb. Instead: peonies, thanks be to God. We went at dusk this year. Porch lights bloomed along the street against a blush sun. We moved in quiet through the garden.
3. Hava Nagila.
My brother-in-law and his new wife met while studying in the Holy Land and amidst all their wedding revelry the band struck up the Hava Nagila and I have never been to a better party. Let us rejoice, let us rejoice, let us rejoice and be glad.
4. The New Zealand-American Society performance at Salt Lake City’s Living Traditions Festival.
I was late, barely; I cut through the crowd just as the last note of haere mai rang out across the square. It’s a keening cry, like a sea bird in winter, and I had to steady myself one hand on the nearest lamp pole. Has that ever happened to you, that from outside yourself comes suddenly a sound your body had lost? And it leaps into you whole, thick in your throat? The stage was full front to back with women and children in their kapa haka finest, black and white and red and flax. On cue they step-swung into their first waiata-ā-ringa and so fell the second blow, the women’s arms outstretched and their hands quivering at the wrist. It’s the tiniest of choreographies, essential, and I knew it too, once. I’d forgotten. The trembling seemed to match some sinew of muscle in my own body.
At home, still shaken, I found it had a name — wiri — and that the gesture is meant to indicate the interface between mind and body, a reconciliation.
5. My inability to say no.
Or, more specifically: having exactly nine minutes before a Very Big Day to so much as swipe a teaspoon of rose water under my left eye because the previous four days and month in general had been a series of extra things I’d agreed to do (happily) for a lot of people requiring a lot of work and not a lot of sleep, resulting in the sudden utter ugliest sobbing sprung from an overwhelming awareness of feeling completely not pretty — HOW DUMB IS THIS — right as we pulled into Presidents Circle for my too lovely, crazy brilliant, totally on top of it husband to have his picture taken with the University of Utah Medical School Class of 2016. This is not anything to be proud of, but the story is true, and mine.
6. Tommy performing Brahms’ Cello Sonata in E Minor at Dumke Hall.
I made it through the first movement just fine, concerned only with my brother-in-law’s rare gift and the usual resolve to play cello in my next life but then I began to notice just how tall he’s become, the way his face has lengthened and freckles begun to fade and I remembered how he’ll be leaving too soon for two years in South Korea and he was so tall and so grown and so close to gone that every note in those final seven minutes seemed to both break my heart and bind it up again.
His aunt filmed the performance. I have watched it six times since.
7. Our last classroom prayer.
We are a praying school, non-denominational, and pray three times each day: to begin our morning devotional, at lunch, and just before we leave at 3:00. Generally the pray-er is assigned by the politic draw of an appellated popsicle stick, but on our last afternoon together I called for a volunteer and Mikey answered, the summer hubbub plunging to a hum as he took his place at the front of the room. There was the customary pause for total quiet and then, “Mrs. Morgan?” I un-bowed my head. “Can we kneel?” I looked over the room, twenty-three children staring right back at me, arms folded, and, as one, we took a knee.
8. This Joe Posnanski essay.
Because my name is Elizabeth and I have a dad and we both have an inborn susceptibility to obsession (currently him: Hamilton, me: Lin-Manuel Miranda), but also because this is the kind of essay that reminds you why you read and write and care about essays in the first place.
9. Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas.
Since John left for Philadelphia I’ve been living at home, sleeping in my old bedroom and talking long into the dark with my sisters, one ear still alert to my dad’s footsteps in the hall (mere habit; he’s long since given up on the threat of separate rooms). Naomi and I were talking about our missionary days, which led to concepts of time and the patterns of becoming, and to childhood (fleeting), mortality (likewise), this good earth and the promises in it and she said, It is too much! and I said, Let me read you a poem.