No Reason Not To: On Getting My Ears Pierced at 31

“Let’ears2s get your ears pierced,” Laura said several months ago.

I hung a pair of Alice in Wonderland earrings back on the rack and shook my head.

“Why not?”

I gave a sincere shrug. Thirty-one years without pierced ears, and I just didn’t know why.

“Maybe you should find out,” Laura suggested as we walked past J.C. Penney, out of the mall.

Though it’s true that I went over three decades without having my ears pierced, I’ve had holes in my ears since I was born. Turns out I’m one of the under 1% of people in the United States born with preauricular pits, tiny holes on the front of my ears where my ears meet my head. I didn’t learn how rare they are until I was a teenager, but I could have guessed: I’ve spent my life inspecting ears and have met only a handful of people with ear pits.

I’m one of the under 1% of people in the United States with pre-auricular pits,

Once in a store, a little girl noticed them. “You’ve got weird piercings.” (This was back before any part of the anatomy was up for studs and plugs and gauges.)

“They aren’t pierced. Just holes,” I informed her.

Her mouth gaped as she stepped forward for a closer look. That’s the general reaction when people find out about my ear pits (usually hidden by my hair).

When I was young, I sometimes stuck pins in the holes and pretended they were earrings, but was never allowed to pierce my ears. Then again, I never asked my parents if I could. I knew that my mom had once had her ears pierced but let the holes grow shut. So I always assumed those Old Testament verses that spoke about not making marks in your body precluded us from dangles and studs.

A few days later, with Laura’s challenge haunting me, I took out my pink notebook and made a list of reasons not to pierce my ears. Sixteen reasons later, I had it figured out.

Among my reasons were . . .

  • Afraid I might get an infection.
  • Dont want to spend money on earrings.
  • Afraid that Ill be disgusted by sticking something in my earlobes.
  • Embarrassed of drawing attention to my ears (which, in addition to having freaky holes, also curl up a bit at the lobe.)
  • Ashamed that it took me this long to get them pierced.
  • Afraid Ill be like everyone else.
  • Afraid it will create some kind of awareness that I don’t think about now, but would if I get them pierced

The answers startled me. I hadn’t known they ran that deep.

“I’ve made my list,” I told Laura. “Sixteen reasons not to get my ears pierced.”

I guess I expected her to be impressed or dissuaded. She was neither. “OK, now make a list of reasons you should get them pierced.”

Flipping over the page, I cheekily started with “Reason 1—Because Laura wants me too.” Then continued . . .

  • I see cute earrings all the time.
  • Earrings are cheap.
  • I might like them.
  • Theres no real reason not to.

Sometimes a list of pros and cons boils down to one line—the only line that means anything. It’s the do line on the die list. The man line among a column of mouse lines. The swim line in a paragraph of sinks.

 Theres no real reason not to.

With that line staring back at me, my deepest fears seemed unfounded.

Afraid I’ll be like everyone else? Was that a bad thing? In a world obsessed with elusive uniqueness, we forget that it’s not our differences that unite us but our similar experiences. All my life, I was proud of my ear pits because they set me apart—but they also made me feel lonely and freakish. Sure I had holes in my ears—but I didn’t have the adventure of getting them pierced.

Afraid it will create some kind of awareness that I don’t think about now, but would if I get them pierced. Good! I need to know something that I didn’t know before, to broaden my empathy and knowledge.

Afraid that I might get an infection or be disgusted by sticking something in my ear? Well, I wouldn’t know until I tried.

The next weekend at Icing, I rattled on about how weird I felt, getting my ears pierced at 31. As she marked my earlobes, the lady smiled. “That’s OK. It’s never too late.”

It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I had dreaded when the needle pierced my flesh. But when I looked in the mirror and saw the silver studs in my ears, tears sprang to my eyes. Something old had passed; something new had come. I wasn’t the same as when I sat in that chair. We always grieve a bit when we change, always balk a little when faced with the unknown.

We always grieve a bit when we change.

That was a month ago. My ears have healed, and I can wear whatever earrings I want (which generally means raiding Laura’s jewelry box). Each morning, what has been ritual to so many women since their childhood has become a new experience for me as I slip the earrings or studs into the little holes.

Recently, when my mom noticed my pierced ears, I asked her why she let her holes grow closed years before I was born. She shrugged like mothers do, brushing off the real story you’ll never know. But she went to her room and brought out a ring I had fingered many times in my life. It held two diamonds and two opals, but I had never thought to ask its significance.

“Your dad gave me these for our wedding,” she pointed to the opals. “And his parents gave me the diamonds. When I let my ears grow closed, we wanted to keep these, so we made a ring.”

It was a story I’d never heard before, opened like a door unlocked by the key of our related experience. I was glad that I asked.

Our risks, our experiences connect to other experiences and stories and join us to our past, our future, and one another. Time and money will keep me from seeing many places in the world and bar me from experiencing things that I’d otherwise long to see and enjoy. But it’s the simple, close-to-home adventures that sometimes frighten me the most.

It helps when we make our do or die list to find that bottom line and remind ourselves—

There’s no real reason not to.

(And for those who really want to know, this is what my preauricular pits look like.)

my ear

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Save the Birds!—Letting Go When Life Changes

 

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Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

Guest Post by Carmen Dillon

Dawn dish soap isn’t the only kitchen item that can save birds—your everyday stirring spoon can too.

My mom showed me this unusual use for spoons when my sister Sarah—then about eight years old—found three baby birds drowning in our front yard. A severe storm had shaken the birds out of our only tree—an evergreen that towered two stories high and ruffled easily in Missouri storms.

Yielding to Sarah’s pleas to save the birds, Mom retrieved a stirring spoon, and we sloshed through the yard to the evergreen. Sarah watched as Mom squatted by the birds, and I held Mom’s long black hair to keep it from dangling into the puddle. Mom lowered the old plastic kitchen spoon with her right hand, scooped up one bird, and deposited it on the high ground inside the wooden ledge that surrounded the evergreen’s trunk. She repeated the process two more times before leading Sarah and me back to the house.

Mom reached for the screen door and held it open for us. “I hope they’ll live,” Mom said. “I don’t know if even that will help them enough.” She shook her head and glanced at our old brown kitchen spoon. “I’ll have to throw this spoon away.”

My eyes widened. “What? Why? Don’t throw it away!”

“Carmen, I have to throw this away—those birds could have diseases! We do not want this touching our food again.” Mom marched to the kitchen to throw away our well-used kitchen spoon while I turned to stare through our bay window at the evergreen.

I like to keep things—cards, school papers, jobs, friends—anything that serves a purpose in my life. I could blame the hoarding gene that I inherited from Grandpa Elza and Grandma Bernice, who could never empty their barrels of pickles that they’d pickled themselves or the shed brimming with garage-sale items.

But the truth is that I, like the rest of humanity, struggle with letting go. At ten years old, I even struggled with letting go of a kitchen spoon that had stirred many meals of beef stroganoff and macaroni and cheese. As I strained to see the endangered baby birds from my dry side of the window, I realized that the spoon’s purpose had changed.

Sixteen years later, that spoon reminds me of my constant struggle to let go when changes come—when I must transform from college student to teacher, move from Florida to Missouri, and shift from warming the church pew to teaching a teen Sunday school class. Some changes have even meant sacrificing something useful or loved to serve a greater purpose. However, thinking about our kitchen spoon’s sacrifice has helped me to understand some things about my struggle to let go during these changes. Here are a few lessons on letting go that I learned from that kitchen spoon.

  1. To say “yes” to one thing, we must say “no” to something else. Some purposes are mutually exclusive. My mom could have kept the spoon devoted to its original purpose—stirring food. But, instead, she used the spoon to attempt a compassionate rescue. Sometimes, letting go means saying “no” to a good job, relationship, or dream so that we can say “yes” to another God-given job, relationship, or dream.
  2. It’s okay to feel regret for what we let go. Although our spoon was replaceable, I struggled to let go of the spoon because of the joyful memories it stirred. Likewise, it is natural to mourn fulfilling jobs that we leave, friends that we move away from, and the dreams that we sacrifice. Our regret simply reflects the joy that we have experienced.
  3. To every purpose there is a season. When I want to juggle every possible purpose at once—being a student, a writer, an editor, a teacher, a daughter, a church worker—I remember advice that I heard from Shaunti Feldhahn: “The world wants to tell you that you can have it all. And you can have it all—just not all at the same time.” God may have one purpose for us to fulfill today and a different purpose for us to fulfill tomorrow. Yet, to fulfill today’s purpose, we must let go of yesterday’s purpose. Change doesn’t mean that God is inconsistent with His plans, but that God is unlimited in His ability to use us in multiple ways throughout our lifetimes.

We don’t always understand why our lives change. But we can trust that when the Lord asks us to let go of something, He has something just as wonderful for us to reach toward. If we simply let go when the Lord demands a change, He just might use us to save the drowning people in our own front yards.

. . . . . . . . . .

FB_IMG_1462896635645-2 (1) (1)Carmen Dillon loves studying and using God’s gift of language—specifically, the English language. Equipped with a BS and MS in English Education, she anticipates sharing her passion for English with her junior high and high school students at Kingdom Christian Academy in Missouri. She enjoys serving the Lord with her family at Faith Baptist Church and exploring how the Lord can further use her to share the light of His truth through teaching, writing, and editing.

The Good Spider

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The spider has vanished, leaving behind a tattered web like lace torn in a zipper. She was so small I didn’t notice her working behind the peace lily on a corner stand in my dining room. The web must have served her purposes, fed her belly or didn’t.

Either way, she’s gone. Last year, grass spiders the size of quarters invaded my apartment. They lurked behind shower curtains, on ceilings, in drawers, in the washing machine. Four monstrosities perished mid journey crossing the sticky mousetrap behind the dryer, their exoskeletons splayed on the adhesive like skeletons in a miniature desert.

But this year, the apartment managers insist they’ve sprayed for pests. And so far only she remains. As I clean her ragged handiwork now thick with dust, I wonder where she went. Perhaps she scurried across the room to the bookshelf, finding retreat among stories about her kind—the spider who frightened Miss Muffet, Shelob in Middle-earth, Aragog at Hogwarts. But she is not like them.

I don’t fear sharing my space with her. I’m not compelled to hunt her down as I did in my terror of the others last year, searching with flashlight and zapper to crisp her legs and smell her sizzling body.

We’re much alike, she and I—artists weaving in corners, though we know today’s silk might become tomorrow’s cobweb. Feeling our time—this messy life, as Charlotte called it—is short, we spin to live, persistent as the itsy bitsy spider on his waterspout. Noiseless and patient, as Whitman observed, we isolate ourselves on a promontory in measureless oceans of space, forming bridges, reaching out to the world around us.

If I find her someday, I can’t help but think she will turn out to be a true friend.

What I Hope to See at the Total Solar Eclipse

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Picture from Someone Is Eating the Sun

“This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt.”—Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse”

An astronomer I know told me of the 1979 total solar eclipse he saw in Manitoba. You must know this: the astronomer can fill a conversation by himself as both informer and inquisitor, providing both questions and answers. He likes to talk and is very adept at entertaining and educating eager listeners. His wife gives him space, content to slink comfortably in silence—eclipsed in his good-natured verbosity.

He recorded his eclipse encounter on a cassette tape. After later replaying the tape, the astronomer realized that his wife chattered through the eclipse while he remained silent. He shrugged. “It brings different things out of different people.”

Everyone who has witnessed a total solar eclipse reports that to watch the moon blot out the sun like a judgment is a spiritual experience, life changing even. Some have wept. Some have screamed. Annie Dillard wrote an essay.

A total eclipse is coming in August 21. I wonder what it will bring out of me?

They’re calling it the Great American Eclipse, as if America will manufacture it in Detroit or project it from Texas. One might picture the sun, when we finally glimpse its corona, wearing a red hat with tired font: Make America Great Again.

Though it is the same moon that crosses the same sun in eclipses the world over, and though there will be other total eclipses, we rightly claim this eclipse as our own because it’s showing exclusively on US mainland soil. Supposedly, the last time this happened was AD 436; the next time will be 2316.

The eclipse will only air once, no rewind, no reruns.

To prepare for the eclipse, last week my friend bought our glasses. “They’re so cheap,” she said, bending the flimsy cardboard. “But I guess the eclipse will only be two minutes.” (1).

Two minutes and ten seconds, I think, struck with the brevity, the specificity of this event. Eclipses keep a tight schedule. We have instant replay for our sports, repeat setting for our music, and downloads to watch at our leisure. But the eclipse will only air once, no rewind, no reruns. At 2:38 the show starts, be there or be square. We dither over seconds, marking the duration with precision, like time of birth and time of death and the time stamp of a punch clock.

Though Carbondale, Illinois, will revel in the longest duration of totality for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, people will flock to anywhere within that much-mentioned path of totality, a relatively narrow strip from Oregon to South Carolina. After all, to almost see a total eclipse is to miss it completely.

“I’ve seen partial eclipses before and—” The astronomer made a noise with his mouth, like a party popper, a cheap thrill. “You’ve got to be in the path of totality. People will be in areas where they’ll see the eclipse at 97% and have no idea the sight they’re missing an hour away. It’s the difference of night and day—literally.” And to watch it on TV, the astronomer snorted, “Would be like phoning it in on your wedding night.”

So the weekend before August 21, I’ll drive six hours to my parents’ home in Greenville, South Carolina. According to projected numbers on greatamericaneclipse.com, over 2 million people could possibly trek to my home state for this event.

When the astronomer watched the full eclipse in ’79, he did so beside a construction site. As the darkness fell, men in the backhoes turned on their lights and continued moving earth, too engulfed in their work or dimness to track constellations midday or keep appointment with eclipses (3). They sensed the darkness, but they did not see the eclipse.

They sensed the darkness, but they did not see the eclipse.

I, for one, wouldn’t miss seeing the eclipse for the world.

But what if I do?

Of course I am concerned that the weather will not cooperate, that clouds will roll in (as they often do on Southern summer afternoons), obscuring the show like a curtain. “Look at the weather the night before,” the astronomer advised. “Plan to drive two, three hours to clearer skies.” But if common sense leads the millions of other eclipse watchers to do the same, officials fear gridlock on interstates, with witless drivers stopping mid highway to watch the sky.

But more than the weather or traffic, I am afraid that this eclipse will not change my life—that I’ll see the darkness, but miss the eclipse. What if I’m too aware, too prepared, shot up on the critics’ praise like for the summer blockbuster movie that halfway through I realized should have been rented for $1.50 from Redbox?

What if the eclipse passes before I can read the epiphanies it smears across the sky? What if I don’t lose myself in the deep shadow or am not transfixed by the fiery halo of sun or not hypnotized by the shadow bands writhing across the ground?

I might not worry if it weren’t for my track record with disappointment. A few years ago at the Smithsonian in D.C., my struggle with disillusionment surfaced twice. I’ve seen prize squash more impressive than the Hope diamond. And the shriveled remains of the giant squid—this was what Nemo fought against so valiantly to save Ned Land? Where was the snapping beak, the dinner-plate eyes, the fearsome suction-cupped tentacles? (2)

I dread to ever see the Grand Canyon, afraid I might sigh over what others are breathless. Perhaps the problem is that nothing can match the immensity of my expectations.

In my fear of disappointment, I wish to stand on a solitary mountain or lie in a field somewhere to watch this eclipse, to commune with my wonder or disappointment, with only nature around to witness me witness the event. But even the cows will respond, plodding toward the barn, and the swallows will change their course toward home. In its own way, even nature obeys the power of an eclipse.

Together we’ll see the eclipse and make of it what we will.

This week an article headline stated, “The Solar Eclipse Path Will Overwhelmingly Pass Over Trump Country.” On it went, rehashing numbers and statistics, a poker in the embers, a stick to the sleeping bear, a fingernail beneath the scab, a tug to the fray. What is it to us the path that the center of the solar system chooses to take across the nation? It knows nothing of our squabbles, the high drama of earth—and does not care. The eclipse will draw a line all will gather on—no matter their usual party line. The eclipse has come to unite us, to distract us with a display more magnificent than our old standby, divisive obsessions. It has come, perhaps, not a moment too soon.

I’ll take in the view at a park, surrounded by hundreds of people drawn from the small town and from places beyond the Carolina borders, states, perhaps even continents, away. Together we’ll watch the coming darkness; together we’ll see the eclipse and make of it what we will. And anyway, maybe that is the point.

The last time that an eclipse shadowed the United States in this particular path, from coast to coast, was June 8, 1918. That autumn, another shadow darkened the world—the Spanish Influenza. When that shadow passed it had taken almost 700,000 lives, affecting a quarter of the United States and elsewhere a third of the planet’s population. Before the end they piled the bodies in the streets, black and blue from suffocation. Do you suppose they recalled the eclipse then, pondering whether it had been a sign, a premonition too glorious to read, too ominous to have been ignored as the country gasped, drawing the last of their breaths together?

I wonder, too, what else is coming for us later or soon? For what other kind of storm or eclipse might we gather to view in totality?

Perhaps then we’ll remember our wonder not merely that the heavenly bodies aligned, but that on an August day, in a year when the nation could hardly agree on anything, the heavens brought us together, as it seems only heaven could. In one small swath across the nation, we huddled until the scene had passed, at last comprehending our place in the universe.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . .

1. It’s a dangerous misconception that you’ll wear your glasses only to see the moment of totality. In a total eclipse you can take the glasses off only at the time of totality. However at all other times in an eclipse, it is necessary to wear them. Never look at the sun without proper eye protection: eclipse blindness is a real thing! Since in Greenville the partial eclipse begins at 1:09 and ends at 4:02, I sure hope those glasses are comfortable, because we could be wearing them for up to almost 3 hours—minus 2 minutes and 10 seconds, of course.

2. More than likely it was a colossal squid exaggerated by Jules Verne’s terrific imagination.

3. A phrase Eudora Welty used in her book One Writer’s Beginnings.

Intentional Thinking: An Ironically Sane Wonderland–Part 2

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Guest post by Hannah La Joy Johnston

Note: In the previous post, the author discussed her decision to think intentionally.

Here is a super basic how-to for intentional thinking.

1. Find somewhere peaceful where you can be alone. Remember, peaceful silence is vital!

2. Set a time limit for thinking (start short and build up to longer periods), remove all distractions, feel yourself breathe, relax, and sweep your mind clear. It helps to imagine a white, clean surface expanding in all directions, or maybe a wide-open field or ocean stretching as far as you can see. (I go into more detail in my book Butterflies In Formation: A Practical Approach to Managing Performance Anxiety.)

3. Choose your thought. Your mind will probably jump to the pressing ones first.

  • If there’s an issue needing your attention, consciously think of pros and cons while mentally talking through possible plans of action.
  • If there is nothing pressing, I like to think on things that interest me: perhaps retelling the book chapters I read last night or carefully combing through plot points and character development in a story or movie or thinking on often hard-to-concentrate-on subject like politics, moral issues, and spiritual issues. It can be uncomfortable at first, because your mind may strain, naturally wanting to wander away. But relax—don’t squeeze the thought; give it room to breathe by repeating step 3. Clear your cluttered thoughts away again and focus in on the one you want.
  • I particularly enjoy choosing a subject I’m interested in but know little about. After doing some targeted research, I synthesize my findings in my understanding and memory to bring up in conversation later. Some memorable subjects were as interesting and random as blobfish, salty gators, Einstein’s theory of ether (bending space-time), the physical language of ballet, invasive species, ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, diamond construction, and deep-sea exploration. Stuff like this can make the mind a real Wonderland!

4. Don’t write your thoughts down just yet. That may distract you from thinking. Simply contemplate them first. Keep paper nearby and jot a bullet point summary, then go back and fill in the details once you’ve finished thinking.

5. Ask yourself questions.

6. Control your inner monologue to retain a calm conversation. Try to use specific, colorful words to vividly describe what you mean.

7. Quickly write your ideas in phrases. Don’t worry about all the filler words—just get the important ideas down so you can revisit them later. These are your signposts on your Thought Road.

8. Guard your mind from jumping from idea to idea without meaning to. If you’re relaxed and absorbed in your chosen thought, it will get easier to stay on track the more you practice.

9. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t arrive at your thought’s destination this time. Mark down your progress. You’ll be able to find your way back next time to start farther along than you first began.

Intentional thinking is rather rare these days since many people don’t care or haven’t stopped to think about . . . thinking. I just know that purposeful, disciplined thinking has changed my life. It helps me simultaneously see more of life’s fascinating microscopic details and its mind-blowing scope. It reminds me that although humanity is finite, tiny, we have a world within us—a virtually unexplored and untapped Wonderland sitting on our shoulders.

Just stop and think about that!

 

. . . . . . . .

HannahWith her BA and MS degrees in speech performance, Hannah La Joy Johnston has been a performing arts instructor for over 5 years at Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, FL. In 2016 she self-published her first book, Butterflies In Formation, and continues to write children’s books from home with her husband, her husky, and her hound as her daily inspirations. Several of her children’s books are nearly ready for publication. Be on the lookout for Dirty Paws, an epic war between the birds and the bees, this winter! 

Intentional Thinking: An Ironically Sane Wonderland–Part 1

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Guest Post by Hannah La Joy Johnston

Alice in Wonderland always stressed me out. I thought Wonderland would be so cool if it weren’t so random. Plunging down rabbit trails with all their frantic twists and turns seemed erratic and chaotic. But whenever I sat quietly to think for any extended period, my thoughts did just that: inevitably bounded down rabbit trails and often lost the main Thought Road altogether. One day, I finally decided to take control of my thoughts. Intentional thinking was tough at first, but it opened a new ironically sane Wonderland for me to explore inside my own head.

As a kid, I was never without heroes: Jesus (standing entirely on His own level), J. R. R. Tolkien, Gandalf, Dumbledore, King Arthur, the Samurai in general, and Batman. They all had one thing in common that stood out to me—they were Deep Thinkers, Great Considerers who often stood apart from the crowd. Each were men of action, but before the action always came careful consideration of wise, internal counsel. I admired that because it was something I desperately wanted, but couldn’t seem to master or enjoy. One day I told myself, “Intentional thinking is important. So suck it up and just do it.” And here’s how I did it.

1. I learned to be comfortable with silence.

When I was 12, I started the basics of self-disciplined thought this way: I sat outside perfectly still with my Doberman and my pet pig (yes, my pet pig—I was homeschooled and lived in Arizona in the middle of nowhere) and swept away any bombarding thought, only allowing myself to observe what was going on around me. Nothing else.

If we were to continue the rabbit trail analogy, this allowed me to stand at the start of the Thought Road and consider which way I wanted to go, rather than charging down the first available stream-of-consciousness path. I learned not only to be comfortable with silence, but to truly love it. Peaceful silence is vital for intentional thought.

2. I decided to actively give attention to my observations.

The second step came when I realized that I couldn’t recall something simple, like a person’s face, when I wanted to. You try it right now. If you were asked to describe a colleague’s face in detail, could you do it? If you can, bravo!

When I was 14, I met a boy I liked and invited him to church. I had a panic attack as I waited for him to arrive because I realized that I couldn’t remember what his face looked like! I agonized that he may not be as good-looking as I’d bragged to my friends. When he showed up, I recognized him immediately (and he was very cute), but I couldn’t have described him beforehand if my life had depended on it.

I realized I couldn’t just passively observe anymore; I needed to actively give attention to what I observed. I needed to intentionally take note of what I experienced on my Thought Roads.

3. I discovered the absolute necessity of thinking on subjects outside their allotted time and place.

In college this helped me remember clear details about Thought Roads I’d already traveled so I could easily revisit them when I wanted.

For example, my two degrees in speech performance required that I memorize verbatim long performance scripts every few days on top of my normal coursework. I made it a point to proactively think (not just rote memory study) about class information outside of those class and rehearsal times. I actively asked myself questions about the material to increase personal associations, and repetitively wrote down information that I needed to stick. It solidified the material in my mind so much better than those quick cram sessions in class. My memory stretched and strengthened until quick, clear memory became second nature.

Thinking intentionally has helped me to be more decisive, much more efficient and focused in my work, and more empathetic in my relationships. I used to be unsure of my thoughts on many topics simply because I hadn’t really considered them fully. Now when asked, I know where I stand. It has also helped me be much more fluid in my teaching and speaking. It really is like walking a familiar road. Since you know the way so well yourself, it’s easier to take others along with you.

In Part 2 I’ll give you some quick, easy steps for finding your own Thought Roads!

. . . . . . . . .

HannahWith her BA and MS degrees in speech performance, Hannah La Joy Johnston has been a performing arts instructor for over 5 years at Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, FL. In 2016 she self-published her first book, Butterflies In Formation, and continues to write children’s books from home with her husband, her husky, and her hound as her daily inspirations. Several of her children’s books are nearly ready for publication. Be on the lookout for Dirty Paws, an epic war between the birds and the bees, this winter! 

 

Finding the Words

baseballThe summer breeze awakened the flag, unfurling its colors above the crowded Greenville Drives baseball stadium in South Carolina. With thousands of other fans, I stood, hand over heart, waiting to pledge allegiance in song.

Across the stadium, I spotted the young woman preparing to lead us in “The Star Spangled Banner.” My usual apprehension at the quality of hometown divas vanished when, rather than shaking out the first note, she belted out the lyrics more confidently than any other amateur anthem singer I’d heard.

“O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

Though the woman’s crystalline voice reassured me, my cynical side braced for the high note that most singers screech on. I clinched my eyes shut, cringing preemptively.

“And the rockets’ red glare—”

In her dramatic pause, I reveled, indulging in my relief of a well-hit note and the pride of the patriotic tune.

But the pause stretched into a stop.

“I’m sorry.” The woman laughed nervously into the microphone. “Can I start over?”

The entire stadium shuffled uncomfortably as she cleared her throat and started “O saying” from the very beginning. Settling once again into the patriotic ambiance, I turned back to the flag, my hand still resting reverently on my chest.

She started “O saying” from the very beginning.

As she neared the rocket line, again I took a deep breath and held it through the perilous fight and the ramparts gallantly streaming, all the way up to—

“And the rockets’ red glare—”

Once again the rockets hovered in the heat-laden summer air.

With the eyes of the stadium on her, the woman shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t finish it.” This time, she handed over the microphone and walked off the field.

“I’m sorry. I can’t finish it.”

The National Anthem, at least for the adult generation in the stadium, entered our repertoire in kindergarten, as familiar as the alphabet. But instead of any one of us finishing the lines, we hesitantly lowered our hands, the announcer yelled, “Play ball,” and the evening continued as if one of the most awkward moments in the history of sporting events hadn’t just happened.

In fact the crowd seemed to have already disregarded the incident entirely as the players approached the plates and the game began. But I carried with me the uneasy feeling of a duty shirked, of a sacred thing offended with no one to defend its honor.

Inning to inning, the scene replayed itself over in my head until the game ended with fireworks and music blaring. I shuffled out of the stands, one drop among a river of people.

Just before leaving the stadium, I glanced back at the field, imagining a different version of the evening. The woman relinquishing the microphone. The crowd searching for direction. And in the blank of silence, instead of the resonating drawl of “play ball,” my tiny voice leading the stadium in letting the final lines burst in the air—

Americans uniting in song, finding the words together.