WHY IS IT THAT we are born into the world with clenched fists and leave with outstretched fingers? This question from the Jewish Talmud rises in my mind as I consider the writings in this edition of Segullah. None of the authors wrote with its title in mind, yet the themes of gripping and releasing, of negotiating the tetherings of life, are clear threads connecting each piece of the issue. And as I’ve read and re-read its contents, it occurs to me that these themes also connect each of the days we live and each of the lives we lead. Humanity’s lot is to forge and sever ties with people, with God, with beliefs and hopes and expectations, with our very selves. And our greatest challenge may be learning what to give up, and what to hold fast.
These writings describe that challenge from a number of angles and with a variety of voices, each distinct yet related: “Seeing” tells the story of an insecure young woman who can’t relinquish a past relationship and firmly grips her hopes for the future until an unexpected friend shares his unique perspective. In “Making Footprints” we meet a woman striving to retain her sense of self amidst the joyful yet constant demands of young children, while in “Hiccups” we watch a mother of a teenage daughter reach out to God in desperation. The author of “Finding Hope” describes the lingering impact of serious illness as “tendrils of radiation snaking through [her] life,” and meets both risk and redemption by sharing her experience with others.
I find it remarkable that the disparate topics and tones of these writings reveal such strong commonality. As a group they cover a deep and wide range of emotion, from the self-deprecating humor of a “Stage Mother” learning to love “without strings attached,” to the poignant effort of a granddaughter seeking to strengthen ties with her deceased grandmother, to the grief of a sister mourning the loss of her “fragile and broken” brother. They highlight a spectrum of circumstances, including the hesitant start of a new marriage, a chaplain’s ministry in a veteran’s hospital, and the grim losses of childbearing.
And yet these disparate pieces form a coherent and meaningful whole, reflecting again and again the dynamic of tension and release. “I struggle with this great conflict of wanting [my brother] back and realizing that being here might have been hell on earth,” writes the grieving sister in “Unspoken,” and we feel similar internal conflict in this scene from “Atoning Bread”: “The adoption paperwork sat on my nightstand, reminding me that I was on the edge, ready to take the option of giving birth again off the table. . . . I knew I had to move on.” The echoes are many, each with its own freshness, as the author of “Castanets” observes: “Different setting. Different characters. Same story.”
I hope readers of this issue will feel, as I have felt, a sense of companionship in their own struggles, whatever they may be, as well as strengthened ties to the God who experiences each struggle along with us. I thank each writer for sharing her work with this very intent. “As long as I held these memories close they were either fragile or a dark secret,” explains one author, bringing us back to the Talmudic image of the loosening grip. Perhaps by opening not only our hands but our very selves, we’re able to keep what matters most.
Table of Contents:
“Unspoken” by Mendy Waits
“Thistle Valley” by Melissa Dalton-Bradford
“Atoning Bread” by Leslie Graff
“The Stage Mother” by Eileen Beck
“Christus” by Laura Hilton Craner
“Coming Home” by Patricia Merkley
“Making Footprints” by Jessica Rasmussen
“This Rain That Grows” by Leslie Lords Robbins
“Lds Women Writing Online” by by Catherine Matthews Pavia
“Sometimes a White Dress” Noelle Carter
“Hiccups” Lily Carpenter
“A Conversation with Jenette Blair Lambert” by Shelah Miner
“Mortality” by Julie Nelson
“Farewell to the Stillborn Child” by Lisa Valantine
“Castanets” by Jennifer Swenson
“Finding Hope” by Sandra Tayler
“The Morning Mile” by Meg Gibson Singley
“The Robin” by Julie Nelson