Sleepers, Awake

As a child, I never slept through a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Whether the tale was light and playful (“The Princess and the Pea”) or darker, more complex, and just a little disturbing (“The Tinderbox” or “The Child in the Grave”)  I loved them all. Sometimes I longed to live in such magical worlds. Just as often, I laughed at the silliness they contained. Occasionally, I responded to the poverty, rejection, illness and death woven into the stories with puzzlement and fear.

Eventually, the darkness lurking around the edges of Andersen’s tales became more understandable. His own life had been difficult. Born to poverty, he was ridiculed in school, and experienced terrible unhappiness there.

Even after he achieved success and a degree of fame later in life, he remained socially awkward, often irritating those who wished to serve him as benefactors. Invited to stay at the home of Charles Dickens for two weeks, he stayed five, even after some gentle and not-so-gentle attempts to dislodge him. Eventually, he was sent packing by his out-of-sorts host. Dickens never replied to another of Andersen’s letters, and by all accounts, Andersen never understood why.

Clearly his story-telling skills were rivaled by his quirkiness, but his neuroticism may have trumped both. He wasn’t only obsessed with death, he feared being buried alive. Some say he carried a hand-written note in his pocket. From time to time, he would take it out and read the reassuring words: “I am not dead.”  There’s no question he slept each night with a similar note by his bedside, one meant to reassure other members of the household and prevent his premature burial. “I am only sleeping,” said the note. “I only appear to be dead.”

In a remarkable twist of fate, Andersen fell out of his bed in 1872, at the age of 67. He never recovered from his injuries, which were complicated by cancer, and he died at the home of a friend near Copenhagen on August 4, 1875.

Reading about Andersen’s bedside note brought to mind another favorite childhood story: the raising of Jairus’s daughter. As Luke records it in his gospel, the young girl had become gravely ill. Aware of Jesus’s developing reputation as a healer and hopeful that he might be able to help, Jairus sought him out, asking him to come to their home.

Unfortunately, while the men still were speaking, a messenger arrived with news that the girl had died. Undeterred, Jesus went on to the house, where he found a good-sized crowd already engaged in mourning. Loosely paraphrased, Jesus said, “Enough, already. Stop your wailing. She’s not dead, but sleeping.” 

Ignoring the ridicule of the crowd, he took the child’s hand and said, “Little girl, get up.” And that’s exactly what she did. I like to imagine that her first words echoed those on Andersen’s note. “I was only sleeping,” I hear her say. “I only appeared to be dead.”

In this season of resurrection, both the famous author and the anonymous daughter serve as reminders that those paralyzed by the rigors of apparent death still live among us.

Steeled against life’s pain, cocooned in layers of grief, twisted by anger, or fearful of ridicule and rejection by others, they live out their lives in solitude and silence.

In some, the capacity for full and joyous living has atrophied. In others, it’s been beaten out. Even those of us who count ourselves among the blessed or the lucky can find a certain narrowness of vision, a creeping ennui or nagging insecurity leaving us burdened or exhausted, dead to the world around us.

And then, something happens. A writer touches our hearts with the tale of a tiny, dying girl. A rising minor chord brings tears, or a falling slant of sunlight stops us with its brilliance. Unexpected kindness from a stranger brings a smile. We experience a sudden rush of empathy and compassion, and in the midst of our unexpected joy we realize the truth.

We have not been dead. We only have been sleeping, and the time to arise has come.

Having stumbled from our beds into the light of a new day, what then? What responsibility might we bear toward those still living in deadly isolation, paralyzing fear or corrosive bitterness?

Gabriel García Márquez , author of the incomparable One Hundred Years of Solitude,  has left us an answer fully as magical as Andersen’s fairy tales, just as realistic as Jesus’s understanding of humanity. In the days before his death, Márquez wrote a letter to the world. Near the end, he said:

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn’t wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.
Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them “I am sorry,” “forgive me, “please,” “thank you,” and all those loving words you know.

 Márquez’s words ring true. In the midst of all the apparent death which surrounds us — rigid, insensate and stuporous as it is — we still have the power, by our own actions, to reveal it as temporary sleep.

“I am not dead, I am only sleeping,” says Anderson.

“I would awake while others sleep,” says Marquez.

“Awake, O sleeper, and rise,” sings out the Easter proclamation. “The seal of the grave is broken, and the morning of a new creation breaks forth out of night.”

Reach out with your actions. Reach out with your words.  Take the hand of the one next to you, whether stranger or friend. There is life here among us, waiting to be lived. It’s time for the sleepers to awake.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

104 thoughts on “Sleepers, Awake

  1. Hi Linda:

    What a wonderful piece of exquisite literature for Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Time to wake up and keep on living.

    Hans Christian Andersen and Gabriel García Márquez ring a bell to me. Read them both, specially the latter since he wrote in Spanish. “Cien Años de Soledad” is by far his best novel. It is besides the Bible, the most read book in the Spanish language.

    “The Ugly Duckling” was my favorite fairy tale written by Andersen. As long as there in life on Earth, both literary works will be remembered.

    About the resurrection of Jesus Christ, what can I say?

    Thank you for those deep and meditated thoughts; food for the spirit.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    1. Omar, I knew that you would appreciate Márquez’s words, but it’s quite a delight to find that you have a fondness for Andersen, too. During the ugliest duckling phase of my life (around 5th grade), I took great comfort in that particular story. I smile now to think of it.

      I was telling someone recently how I came to “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” When the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion happened, they were drilling in what was called the Macondo Prospect. As I read news reports, the name rang a bell for me, and I went searching. I found Macondo in Márquez’s work, and that’s how I read him for the first time.

      I knew the book was popular, but I didn’t know it was the most-read in Spanish, save for the Bible. That makes pairing them here seem even more appropriate.

      Easter blessings to you and yours.

      Linda

  2. Just beautiful, Linda. I find so much familiar in what you have written here. I am completely comfortable now with what I have shared with whom, how disarmingly honest I’ve been with strangers- and because of that suffered great humiliation. But I keep on because we are all fragile and we all fall down.

    Every day, all day, I tell Jasper that I love him. He’s asleep or staring at birds outside, but it just feels important to say those words out loud.

    1. You’ve put your finger on it, Martha. We are fragile (or clumsy) so all of us fall down from time to time. But as you imply, that’s only half of the equation. The other half is getting back up again.

      It’s good that you tell Jasper you love him. I do the same with Dixie Rose. It’s not the words that matter so much as the attention and the tone of voice, I suppose — at least from the animal’s perspective. But as an acquaintance who takes animals to nursing homes has said, loving’s as important as being loved. For an isolated, elderly person to be able to look forward to (as we say in Texas) loving on an animal is therapeutic in every sense.But you know something about that.

      Linda

    2. Martha. we are cut out of the same cloth. I too have felt (and continue to) feel the freedom to be “disarmingly honest with strangers” Yes, sometimes people don’t “get it”, but other times, there is a connection, and I am richer for it….and like you, I too chose to keep doing so, because as you also said, we are all fragile and fall down.

  3. Oh Linda! how wonderfully you have tied together my favorite author of fairy tales, a favorite Bible story, and the Resurrection. I know a special man, my father, who once never feared a thing…and now is almost paralyzed by the future. At 82 he faces his fragility every day, although we serve a Risen Savior, and need to remind ourselves (perhaps in notes as Hans did?) that we who believe will reside with Him. Forever.

    And, while we wait for it, to live life to the fullest here. I love the image of reaching out to others…

    1. Bellezza, I’d forgotten your fondness for Andersen. I’m so happy to have included him here for you – along with one of the most evocative stories from scripture.

      How well I remember my own mother’s experiences with the kind of fear your father now knows. While she still was driving, she became lost in a rainstorm, and ended up far from home. All ended well enough, and we laughed a good bit about her “rescue”. But it seemed to make no difference that she had escaped death. She’d seen him along the road, and from that point on never could completely shake off the trepidation.

      All of us have such experiences. As you say, we try to live life to the fullest despite it all. And sometimes, we succeed wonderfully well.

      Happy Easter.

      Linda

  4. It’s amazing that Easter comes in Spring, and not, say, Summer, for Spring brings so many hopes and promises, the bursting of life from dead trees and branches, the symbol of awaking, rebirth… It’s wonderful that there are bloggers who post about the deeper meaning of Easter, the original meaning, which is accomplished with the greatest of sacrifices. Thanks for a timely and inspiring Easter message.

    1. And yet, if you look at Gallivanta’s comment just below, she speaks of the difficulties involved with having Easter fall at a time when winter lurks, a season more apropos for Good Friday and a dark night of the soul than for a celebration of new life and growth.

      There, perhaps, is a clue about the even deeper message of Easter. It’s meant not only for the pretty times of year, or the beautiful moments of life. It’s for all places, all times – all people.

      And one of my favorite Easter memories is of the Great Snow that came in the 1960’s. No hunting Easter eggs outdoors that year, but the vision of our tulips, neck-deep in snow, remains with me. I never remember them without thinking of Eliot’s line from “Little Gidding” — “Midwinter spring is its own season”. Indeed it is, and there, perhaps, at the point where the darkness of winter and the glory of summer meet, is Easter.

      Linda

  5. Just today we saw a lovely movie, The Lunchbox, that I would say featured both sleepers and those who, despite so many obstacles, are awake to what life can offer even when terribly constricted. What was particularly striking, and so true, is that the ostensible size of the burden was not determinative of what any given person was able to bear. I don’t know that I would bear up so well as Auntie did, given the hand she was dealt, but I sure admire it whenever I see a real life Auntie in action.

    1. Susan, I’m indebted to you for your mention of this film. I had to look around a bit to find what role Auntie played, but eventually I found this review, which made me move “The Lunchbox” to the top of my to-be-watched list.

      Graceful burden-bearing is a gift as much as an achievement, I think. Some years ago I saw a woman in the post office who had triplets in a stroller. Of course we all stared, but a fellow in line asked her what their names were. “Trouble, worry and woe,” she said. And we all laughed. But isn’t it just the truth? It doesn’t have to be war injuries or terminal illness that requires courage and fortitude. I’m anxious to see how Auntie and the others cope.

      Linda

  6. A beautiful post, Linda; one that encourages us to rise again. The illustrations and the letter from GGM are particularly moving. Easter is often a difficult, despairing time for me; I sometimes wonder if it is because we are being encouraged, from a spiritual point of view, to be part of the resurrection (and risen joy) when all around us there is a darkening, and melancholy associated with the coming winter.

    1. Gallivanta, I mentioned your comment to Arti, up above. It’s so easy – perhaps even inevitable – to associate particular holidays with certain seasons. When there’s a conflict between the message and the external reality, it can be quite a jolt.

      The first time I experienced such a thing was in Liberia. When Christmas arrived, it was hot, dry, and then it became hotter. Christmas always had meant snow, cold, lovely fires and ice skating parties. I’d had no idea that Christmas and winter had become so closely intertwined for me, but once that external reality changed, I had a good bit of adjusting to do.

      I can appreciate an even greater degree of ambivalence in your context, given the destruction your city has experienced and the necessity of a long re-building process. On the other hand, not everyone has the experience of watching resurrection take place before their eyes. I still remember the thrill, after hurricane Ike, of hearing a fish splash. It was such a silent world after the storm – no birds, no splashing fish, no insects – for weeks. When they returned, it was the talk of the town.

      A joyful season to you!

      Linda

      1. Isn’t it interesting the way the natural world goes silent after a disaster? Yet it bounces back faster than we do. Is there a lesson in that, I wonder? And, yes, we are witnesses to the resurrection of a city and that is an opportunity very few people get. As you will realise, I spent most of my life in countries where Christmas was a summer celebration. It seemed normal and I was content, but when I spent Christmas in the UK and the USA, I finally felt that Christmas was in the right place. It was more than normal; it was perfect. Quite bizarre, but that is surely another indication of the natural connection between seasons and festivals.

  7. This is wonderful, Linda. I’m not sleeping (3:27 am), but I don’t think that’s what you meant. :) When I tried but couldn’t go back to sleep, I was happy to find this in my reader. I hope you have a wonderful Easter.

    1. I knew there was a reason I wanted to post this last night rather than early this morning. I didn’t exactly think, “I need to get this up for Bella Rum,” but I did think, “It’s already Easter in some places and, after all, there are people here who wander around in the middle of the night.”

      Enjoy the day. I’m glad to see the family’s getting together. In just a bit I’m off with a friend to seek the wild flower, and have a picnic as well. Trading in the Easter basket for a picnic basket seems just right.

      I am glad you’ve got the kids coming next weekend. Stretch out the celebrations whenever possible, that’s what I say.

      Happy Easter to you and H – and give your brother a hug for me.

      Linda

  8. Thank you for this thought provoking post. It is Easter morning as I am reading it. As I gradually ease into my late 50’s I am more intentional about telling those close to me I love them, I’ve been thinking about them, I am thankful for them. More intentional hugging of my parents and I never let the kids out of the house without a hug and “I love you”. I am thankful for the way you Linda intentionally, regularly comment and reply to my interactions with you (and your other blog readers) DM

    1. DM, a friend and I were talking today about regrets in life. There always will be some. No one’s perfect, and all of us wish there could have been more time, more openness, fewer difficulties, less struggle. But I’ve never heard anyone say, “Gosh. I’m just so sorry I paid so much attention to my kids. I really wish I’d ignored my friends. I hate that I cared for my parents.”

      Are there cynics in the world? Uncaring or cruel people in the crowd? Of course. But their presence needn’t determine our actions. We’re free to deal with people respectfully and lovingly. As Márquez seems to suggest, it’s not such a hard thing to do!

      Linda

  9. That was a beautiful message. We each have a cloak of darkness wrapped around us. For some, it is very light and easily adjusted to let in light and reach out. For others, it is heavy and never moved. It shields them always from the outside. Those are the hard ones. What lurks inside? Can anything be changed?

    Thank you for the inspiring message.

    1. Your image of a cloak of darkness is so evocative. It brought to mind the difference between homes where light, fluid curtains flutter in the breeze and those where heavy, brocaded draperies cover the windows and keep out every bit of light and air.

      As for your questions: those are evocative, too. What lurks inside? Who knows? I’ve been surprised a time or two dozen in my life, in ways both good and bad. Can anything be changed? At this point in my life I’d say, “Generally, yes. But sometimes the change has to be in me.”

      Thanks so much for your generous words. I appreciate them very much.

      Linda

    1. Thanks, Alex. I’m glad you found the post pleasing. Andersen’s been lurking around my draft files for some time, and Márquez’s death gave me pause. It was satisfying to be able to link them together in this way.

      Linda

  10. Thank you. Every difficult or damaged relationship has a chance of change. But only if both parties are willing. Even when not, we should heed GGM’s message to reach out when possible. (Sometimes, I believe, it is not…)

    1. What you say is true, Melanie. There are times when reconciliation or resolution isn’t possible. I’m sure most of us have experienced that.

      But when it comes to Márquez’s farewell letter, my sense of things is that he was less concerned with conflict resolution than with the procrastination which afflicts us all. We assume there will be a tomorrow — and there are times when that assumption is tragically wrong.

      Once upon a time, perhaps three years ago, I placed a phone call to a person who’d been extraordinarily important to my personal and professional development. I had intended to place the call for months, wanting nothing more than to tell him how much I valued his work and what I had learned from him. Unfortunately, he died only hours before I placed the call.

      I relived that experience when I read Márquez’s letter. I hope never to have such an experience again, but I also hope that his parting words will touch the world as his writing has. His novels can be difficult, but these words are simple as can be.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope your day was a good one!

      Linda

  11. Andersen may have been neurotic in the extreme, but it’s hard to argue with his fear of being buried alive. It’s also hard to imagine a worse predicament. Like his habit of carrying a note that reminds him, and everyone else, that he isn’t dead, I have periodically told myself that I’m finally awake. It began in my late teens, and has happened maybe once each decade ever since. Like the dream in which I think, “I’ve dreamed this before, but now it’s really happening,” I convince myself that I’ve been asleep my entire life — until now. But how do we know we’re awake, and not just dreaming it again? Maybe it’s more of a gradual unfolding?

    Anyway, thank you for another beautiful essay, Linda. I’m at least a little more awake because if it.

    Happy Easter.

    1. There have been some news reports over the past year of presumably deceased people making their presence known in morgues. I suppose that’s a modern version of Andersen’s fear, and I’ll grant you that waking up in a body bag would be pretty far down on my list of things to be hoped for. Actually, there are quite a few predicaments I imagine being worse — but that’s probably because they also seem far more likely.

      I spent some time thinking about your question: how do we know we’re awake? On one level, the answer’s easy. We know we’re awake because the cat wants fed and the phone’s ringing.

      But I also like your idea of a gradual unfolding. As the line in the famous hymn has it, “I once was blind, but now I see.” What we don’t know is whether the newly sighted received that gift in a single, blinding flash of light, or if the dimness gradually faded away. Perhaps it varies from person to person.

      The interplay of dreams, death, and waking is fascinating to explore. I’m still trying to find a way to write about a friend who came to me in a dream, years after her death. It was wholly as extraordinary as seeing the UFO along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1964.

      Happy Easter season to you, however it unfolds.

      Linda

  12. Happy Easter, Linda. I sense layers and layers of thought here. You know what prompted you to write this piece, so perfect for Springtime and renewal. A time to start fresh. Another beginning. Resurrections.

    1. Resurrections, plural, it is, Rosemary. Just as waking can be a process as well as a discrete event, just as learning to see is a process, so coming to life is a process, too. Or so I think.

      When I began thinking about a post for this weekend, my first inclination was to track the idea of resurrection-as-process. Instead, I’ll just offer you this ending snippet from Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto.”

      “As soon as the generals and the politicos
      can predict the motions of your mind,
      lose it. Leave it as a sign
      to mark the false trail, the way
      you didn’t go.

      Be like the fox
      who makes more tracks than necessary,
      some in the wrong direction.
      Practice resurrection.”

      Linda

  13. Unexpected joys are the small reward for life as an endurance marathon. Though I believe I’ve been all too awake, perhaps not, because the joys seem fewer and more fragile as each year passes. Sometimes the need to apply filters to the sadness leaves a numbness in its wake.

    This is a season of excited nest-building. The hummingbirds arrived last week and the swallows yesterday. I will take your beautiful essay to heart today as I marvel at their instinct for rebirth. If things were that bad, they wouldn’t come, right? Happy Easter Linda.

    1. What an interesting concept – applying filters to sadness. In a way, it seems related to what I understand as de-cluttering life. In most cases, the news that surrounds us is no news at all. It’s only an attempt to titillate, confuse, or frighten. Who needs that? I’d far rather stay alert for those unexpected joys. They’re still out there. They just rarely make the front page.

      Your hummingbirds and swallows certainly qualify. The swallows have been here for about a month, and two weeks ago I saw a hummingbird. Thursday I caught the fragrance of fresh-mown grass, and yesterday found flowers. We can’t — shouldn’t — isolate ourselves complete from the injustices and pain of the world, but neither should we ignore the little grace notes we’re offered.

      Trust the hummingbirds and swallows. They’ll get it right, every time. A blessed season to you, too.

      Linda

  14. What a perfect post for Easter.

    I love that quote by Gabriel García Márquez. I agree with his words, wholeheartedly. Many years ago, I read something similar and took it to heart. I am so glad I’ve told my family members I love/loved them and I try to tell my friends how much they mean to me. Tomorrow can be too late.

    I remember the most common stories by Andersen but I simply had no idea he was so prolific. I just looked him up. Wow.

    I also knew nothing about his life. Being afraid of being buried alive was an understandable fear, considering the time he lived in. Medical science was not as advanced then, as it is now, and certain conditions could trick doctors, family and friends into believing a person had passed on. It’s a scary thought.

    1. Gué, just this morning the Writers Almanac posted a poem by W.S. Merwin, one of my favorites. It’s called “The New Song.”

      “For some time I thought there was time
      and that there would always be time
      for what I had a mind to do
      and what I could imagine
      going back to and finding it
      as I had found it the first time
      but by this time I do not know
      what I thought when I thought back then

      there is no time yet it grows less
      there is the sound of rain at night
      arriving unknown in the leaves
      once without before or after
      then I hear the thrush waking
      at daybreak singing the new song”

      It captures Márquez’s point, and in some ways adds to it, doing so lyrically and so simply it requires multiple readings to begin to move through the layers.

      I had no idea Andersen had written so many fairy tales, either. Many I’ve never read, but I’m looking forward to some exploration. As for the fear of being buried alive, I mentioned to Bronxboy, above, the occasions when someone’s wakened in a morgue and said, “Uh — maybe we never to reconsider this.” I can only imagine what such an experience could do to a person.

      On the other hand, we have other fears to contend with. I’ve never feared a neighborhood bomber, for example, but perhaps I should. I was at our local Target store Saturday morning when this was going on. I just found out about it this morning. To quote Grandma, “You just can’t never tell.”

      Linda

  15. Once again, I hardly know where to begin.

    When I think of Hans Christian Andersen, I remember “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” But, “The Little Match Girl” has to have been the saddest story I have ever read. I must confess, I have been afraid to re-read it, but like O. Henry’s “The Autumn Leaf” I do return to it. Poverty, hunger and destitution are difficult themes to treat in a classroom, but when I got my students to read this story in translation, they seemed to get it more readily coming from Hans Christian Andersen. I can’t help but remember it, too, each time I read “El hijo” by Horacio Quiroga.

    Marianela by Benito Pérez Galdós depicts a similar vision of “The Little Match Girl” who remembers her dead grandmother saying that falling stars mean someone is dying and is going to Heaven. Pérez Galdós tells in the voice of Marianela the stars at night are the smiles of those who have died. I love comparative lit when I see different cultures and writers express similar things at the same moments of time give or take fifty years.

    I think we can all relate to sleeping beyond the regular good night’s sleep. For years, I sat on family stories, voices in the past, the knowledge that I could transmit a memory for our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or cousins. I am so grateful for the blogging experience that has encouraged me one post at a time, one read at a time, one comment at a time (and yours stand out) to return to this chair that swivels and rocks to “tell the story.”

    What has this got to do with sleep? For years, I sat on these memories and stories, but then I “woke up” one post at a time.

    1. “The Little Match Girl” affected me terribly, Georgette. There was a brief period in childhood when I would kick off the covers on cold winter nights, then lie there and shiver. In adulthood, I remembered doing it, but couldn’t understand why. Then, I re-read “The Little Match Girl,” and realized I might have been role-playing, trying to imagine what life was like for her. I wouldn’t say the story traumatized me, exactly, but it’s a difficult read, even now.

      I suspect you may remember a song from that same era that always evokes deep emotion for me. It sounds as though it might have a bit in common with “Marianela” – in tone and substance, if not in story line.

      It didn’t occur to me until today that there’s a slang phrase I never heard until I came to Texas – “taking a dirt nap,” as a euphemism for death.

      I love the thought of your blogging journey as an awakening. I’m sure you’ve had some experiences similar to a few of mine. You think you know the whole story, and then a new fact, a sudden discovery, another family member saying, “No, this is what really happened” — and everything turns over. We get to write revisionist history of the best sort — not in order to hide or manipulate the past, but in order to more fully reveal it as it was.

      Linda

  16. A beautiful Easter message–one I sorely needed this resurrection day. It brought tears.

    Easter was mom’s favorite Christian holy day, for good reason, of course. I would buy her an Easter lily and she would come out for Easter brunch. I would make scrambled eggs and toast with cantaloupe and that was a treat for her. When my son was younger, we had the requisite basket and stuffed bunny, which are now in plastic bags in the closet.

    And so, I’ve had a touch of melancholy today, but indeed, you have aroused me from my slumber. Again, beautiful message. Thank you.

    1. I’ve thought about what you wrote here all afternoon and in response called my brother, then my son, and then my son’s stepmother who is helping to caretake her 95-year-old father-in-law (son’s grandfather). I feel better for the calls.
      My favorite Andersen fairytale is the Princess and the Pea.
      I’ve had 100 Years of Solitude on my Shelf for some time…It’s my next read. Thanks again.

      1. We have an AM radio talk show host here in Houston who always ends his Friday show by telling people, “Go find the ones who mean the most to you. Tell them you love them. Tell them they matter. Spend some time with them, especially parents and grandparents.” It’s really a good thing, a nice thing. And he never forgets the reminder.

        You’ll like “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Maybe we should set up a readalong. I cold stand to read it again myself.

        Linda

    2. Oh, Martha – you made your mom a nice breakfast and brought her a lily. My mother? Never mind all that – she was interested in the basket of eggs and the chocolate bunny.

      She didn’t want one of those hollow bunnies, either. It had to be solid, and it had to be good chocolate. She would share, but the ears were hers. When they began producing chocolate bunny ears, she suggested a pair of those might be good in her basket. I said, “But you always eat the ears. There wouldn’t be anything to share.” She just grinned and said, “Is that a problem?”

      Memories and melancholy, all wrapped up together. I’m glad you found the post meaningful, and I hope the day was a good one.

      Linda

  17. You always do a great job of blending stories, but this one strikes me as particularly well done.

    The first thing I thought of when I read the post’s title was Bach’s Cantata #140, often called “Sleepers, Awake,” which I first heard when I took one semester of music appreciation in college. The piece is about half an hour long, perhaps too much to listen to, but I’d recommend the seven-minute first movement and the brief conclusion (which begins at 26:30).

    1. It’s a wonderful piece, Steve. I first heard it performed at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan — a perfect setting.

      Even though it’s more closely associated with Advent than Easter, there’s an interesting bit of history that goes with it, which I drew from the linked site.

      “Once upon a time, in the late 16th century, a terrible plague spread through parts of Europe, including a town in Germany called Unna. Approximately 1300 residents of Unna died during this outbreak.

      Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) was the pastor of a church in this town. He, too, became ill, and figured he was also going to die. While he was lying around anticipating his death, he recorded his meditations in a journal. When to his surprise he recovered from his illness, he wrote two hymns (“Wachet auf” and “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”) and attached them to the journal he kept during the plague. Both hymns have now achieved immortality as a result.”

      The original title of this piece was to be “Not Dead, But Sleeping.” As things sometimes happen, I mistakenly hit the “publish” button rather than the “save draft” button, and sent a mish-mash of stray phrases and words out into the ether.

      Once I’d cleaned up my mess and deleted my working draft from my site, I had to find a new title, since WordPress doesn’t send emails if the title of an updated or republished post is the same as the original. So, I chose “Sleepers, Awake,” making Bach’s cantata a perfect accompaniment for the post.

      Thanks so much for adding it, and thanks for the kind words.

      Linda

  18. Happy Easter, Linda! Beautiful post here today. I’ve always liked the story of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter — it’s compassionate and loving, just what that family needed.

    Despite being an English major, I didn’t recall hearing all that about Andersen. Sounds as if he wasn’t exactly the most considerate of house guests! And I never knew he had a thing about being buried alive. I suppose that’s a fairly common quirk, as evidenced by the number of stories I’ve heard of people fearing just that. Didn’t they used to bury folks with a bell, just in case?

    Perfect writing from Márquez to point out what we should be focusing on, and not just during this special season!

    1. I never knew much about Andersen myself, Debbie. The possibility that a real person was behind the fairy tales that captivated me as a child never crossed my mind. He was a complex person — I still like “quirky” as a descriptor — but he also was lucky enough to receive recognition for his work while he still was alive.

      Apparently this fear of being buried alive is far more common than I realized. I went looking for information about being buried with a bell, and discovered a Brit invented something called a “safety coffin” with a bell attached. There doesn’t seem to be any indication it ever was put into production, though.

      There were some references to the burial-bell as the source of the expression “saved by the bell.” I’d always assumed it was a boxing term, and in fact there’s divided opinion about it in the pages I turned up. More research is required!

      If you really want some interesting reading, check out this Snopes page. My goodness. There are horrors and humor aplenty!

      Linda

      1. Thanks for the link, Linda — that’s exactly what I was talking about! Amazing how, after all these years and all our scientific advances, we’re still “creeped out” by the thought of death. I imagine some of these stories sound especially gruesome when told seated around a campfire at Halloween!

  19. Maybe I can’t express very well, but how beautiful your writing, dear Linda, always hits me, captures me and fascinates me. Thank you so much, Blessing and Happiness, love, nia

    1. Nia, dear, you always express yourself well. I’m honored to have you visit here, and I’m so happy you enjoy my posts. I hope your springtime is in full flower, and that the season brings you joy.

      Linda

    1. I so much appreciate your kind words. Finding just the right path through an emotionally tangeled and often trivialized landscape like Easter isn’t always easy. Your “absolutely right” makes me happy.

      A blessed season to you. I’m looking forward to enjoying your own travels through the landscapes.

      Linda

  20. Ah what a great weaving of a post, making the Easter story relevant to everyone. A joy to read.

    I like the cloak of darkness analogy in the comments too – anyone who has been through a transformative emotional experience could relate, as it does feel like shedding layers and becoming lighter. Making the first steps to ‘wake up’ takes courage – to find that little nugget of strength inside, no matter how deeply buried.

    Last year one of my best friends died. I made the decision to spend as much time as possible with her in the last months and that would be my main priority, aside from essential stuff. I’m so glad I did. I don’t think I would have done this when I was younger as I think I would have been too fearful of confronting the emotional difficulties – and hence selfish.

    Hope you’re having a wonderful long weekend.

    1. I remember when you took the time to be with your friend, cowgirl. I think I’d just begun following your blog around that time, or perhaps a little earlier. What you say about not being able to have done such a thing when you were younger makes sense to me. When my own dad died, I wasn’t able to cope with it as well I could now. I constantly was torn between wanting to be with him, and not wanting to accept the reality of the situation — classic approach/avoidance.

      I remember the post you wrote after her death, too. It was touching and magnificent in its clarity.

      I think one of the best reasons for simplification of our exterior life — shedding possessions, clearing out the schedule, and so on — is that it helps us de-clutter our interior life and remove those veils that separate us from others. Have you seen the video of Sting’s “Desert Rose” that includes Cheb Mami? It’s one of my favorites, and seems to fit here.

      You’re well into spring now. Enjoy the season!

      Linda

      1. That was gorgeous thanks! And for your kind words about my grief post – yes, you’d been following along for a while then I think. I was only going to blog for a year…haha :)

  21. What a wonderful reminder of how precious life is. I needed to have read this Saturday night so that I might have followed the suggestions therein . . . instead of helping someone else step out of the darkness yesterday, I selfishly tended to myself and my own wants and needs. It’s not too late to be reminded, though, so thank you for another beautiful, poignant piece. I still think you are a brilliant writer, Linda.

    1. As long as we’re still upright and above ground, it’s never too late, BW. There’s a bit of wisdom I’ve always enjoyed: you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once. I suppose a corollary would be, you can do it all. You just can’t do it all at the same time.

      And it’s not always wrong to tend to ourselves — to refill the gumbo pot, if you will. No matter how perfect the roux, how tasty the crawfish, once the pot’s empty, it’s empty, and no one gets fed. Until the pot gets refilled, everyone’s hungry. Thus endeth the lesson of the day. ;)

      Your opinion of my writing is important to me, and I thank you for those kind words. But trust me — one day a real clunker is going to land here and you and everyone else will say, “What in the world was that woman thinking?” Then we’ll all laugh, and start over again. Which is pretty much what the Easter season’s about.

      Linda

  22. You have touched on so many differing strands here, woven together beautifully, leaving us with a gentle encouraging nudge. It is never too late; go and do. I love how you incorporated all strata of life, which makes it real and personal to each individual reader, yet like a gentle shepherd you round us all up, and guide us to take that one more step to make one more effort. Wonderfully written and very timely. Thank you.

    1. Before I forget, I have to tell you. Your town has shown up in my search terms about twenty times in the past week. The searches have been for things like “(Your town’s name here) reputation” and (Your town) good for dogs?” It may be that someone’s trying to decide whether to move there, but it struck me funny.

      I’m so happy to hear you say you felt as though the post was both individual and yet applicable to all. I wanted to acknowledge the importance of Easter, but I also wanted to write something that those who don’t count themselves Christian could read and enjoy.

      Whatever our beliefs, it’s a fact that a nudge to pay more loving attention to the world around us is good for all of us. Truth to tell, there are plenty of times when I need that nudge myself.

      A blessed Easter season to you, and happy spring!

      Linda

      1. Interesting how our tiny non-descript town has someone curious. 20 search terms is a lot. I am enjoying the wildlife cam link you sent, thanks for passing that along. And yes, you did a beautiful job including everyone in your above post, with gentle tenderness and not drawing any lines thereby leaving someone out. You’re so good at that.

    1. What a fun preview. It looks like Disney’s done a good job with the neighborhood codger who sits around yelling, “Get outta my yard!” I especially liked the moment when the dog said, “Squirrel!”

      A good fairy tale’s never just for children. I suspect more people than we know continue to read Andersen well into life. They’re for the young, but they help to keep us young, too — open to possibilities, curious, unafraid. What could be better?

      Linda

  23. There is much accuracy and truth in what you so eloquently wrote, Linda. With the increase in my years it becomes more and more important to appreciate the company of those whom I love and respect.

    1. I think paying attention’s the key, montucky. Just as we so easily walk right past little treasures buried in the grass, or miss the migrating birds in the sky, we’re often so focused on the day’s necessities we forget that our days will come to an end.

      Of course the ordinary and routine are important, but they can pull us down. More’s the reason for occasional reminders to look, to seek, and to reach out. It makes life so much richer!

      Linda

  24. Thanks. This is so very well said, and I can only hope that such sentiments made their way to many a pulpit yesterday! Your reference to being atrophied seemed especially fitting. For all of the freedom that new tech is meant to bring, we increasingly find little adventure in our youth. There are, however, signs of immeasurable hope, and I can think of a handful of young people, and older as well, who are showing me again and again the thrill that is life!

    1. I have a friend who took a tumble and landed in rehab for months after surgery because of a smashed knee. Once the actual healing was complete, she still had to deal with the muscles that had atrophied because of lack of use. It took extraordinary patience and dedication to get back to the point where she was mobile and independent again.

      As with the body, so with the spirit, I suppose. I don’t think it’s any mistake that we use expressions like “exercise compassion.” Every time we choose to smile, to offer thanks, to stop and attend to the world, we’re strengthening those “spirit muscles.” Eventually, we can use them again, without thought.

      A blessed season to you, Allen. May full spring come quickly — there’s sailing to be done!

      Linda

  25. Feast for the spirit — especially poignant for this Easter season!

    Time for you to get that novel written — you are an excellent~~ excellent ~~ excellent storyteller!! :D

    Happy Easter season ~~ becca

    1. becca, you’re too kind. I honestly don’t think there ever will be a novel in my future — I have a hard enough time getting one read, let alone writing one! But there may be other projects down the road. We’ll see.

      In the meantime, I’m wishing a blessed season for you and yours. With so much new life springing up, I’m looking forward to seeing how you incorporate it into your own photography and writing.

      Linda

  26. Linda, this is the second time I’ve seen the Marquez quote in two days. It means I must take heed. My first thought (and current one) at seeing this is that I need to write it down and stick it in the Memorial Service file. I want those words read — they are beautiful.

    I love Andersen’s stories and didn’t realize his paranoia and emotional challenges till reading this. The note is so touching and more than a bit frightening. I am reminded of a fairy tale book I had as a child. Just when you think the stories — all familiar — ended, they continued with rather scary things going on. And later, Sondheim’s wonderful and thought-provoking “Into the Woods.”

    It is a time of rebirth, of finding our spirits after the dark winter. The flowers are reborn and so, too, are our hearts. Here in the north, that rebirth comes with the tree buds and promise of the early bulbs, the eagerness to sow seeds and see new things grow. I suppose it is different everywhere. But the joy of a changing season brings with it both contemplation and observation. I love your observations. I hope your Easter was simply wonderful and filled with the observations you make so well!

    1. Before I forget yet again, jeanie, here’s the photo I promised you of the rug from Ingrid’s looms. There’s some color variation from one end to the other because of natural variation in the fibers, but it’s magnified at one end by yellow sunset-light.

      I honestly don’t understand why so many parents today refuse to read fairy tales to their children. Some have told me, “They’re just too frightening.” Well, some are frightening. But that’s one of the ways we learned to overcome our fears – or at least keep them in check. And there’s that whole issue of learning to distinguish fantasy from reality. I’m not sure our culture as a whole is doing so well with that, these days.

      I’m so glad that Spring arrived before we had to put their whole tier of northern states on suicide watch. Even down here, we’ve been holding our breath, waiting for Harry and the mallards to appear, not to mention the flowers. But be warned: this past week, it was edging toward hot and humid down here. It won’t be long until you hear me griping about the Endless Summer!

      By the way. Tuck as much as you want into that memorial file, but let’s not plan to use it for a while!

      Linda

      1. Life is frightening. There is some consolation that in fairy tales, things can be pretty grim (No pun intended!) but there is likely to be a happy ever after of some sort — even if it isn’t the one you originally planned! You can bet that I’ll be reading fairy tales to Kevin and Molly’s kids someday — maybe even from my creepy book!

        Even though the past couple of days have been cool, they have been warmer than most anything else we’ve had — and Easter was a rousing 70! I have made a vow to not grip about heat and humidity (an observation is OK — “hot enough for you?” for example, but not “Oh, I wish it would cool off!”) Hold me to it!

        Every time I go to a memorial service, I think about my own. I figure I’d better get it down because Rick will be too wonky to deal with it. Although, he finally came around to my way of thinking and actually suggested having it at the theatre, have Christmas trees roll in fully decorated, sing “We Need a Little Christmas” and have people come down and take the ornaments — because I must have party favors. Truly — he came up with this on his own and I figured, “He gets it!” I was afraid I might have to videotape my own eulogy which would be a little creepy. These words will give a slightly more “appropriate” touch! But yes, hopefully not too soon!

    1. Many thanks, Kayti. It always intrigues me to learn about authors’ lives. Some are remarkable for their very ordinary lines, and some, like Andersen, are just remarkable. As for Marquez, some say he was larger than life. I think he was as large as life should be.

      Linda

    1. Remember those days when our pockets were little treasure chests? Pieces of sidewalk chalk, marbles, little rocks, maybe even a set of jacks. They all were interesting to us, but not nearly as interesting as Andersen’s note.

      I listened this morning to a string quartet by a composer I’d never heard of until a friend posted his work — Nikolai Myaskovsky. I said something similar to her. There’s an amazement of creativity out there in each of the arts, and so much of it we never encounter. It’s one of the hard truths of life, I suppose. Not only are we unlikely to have it all, we’re never going to know it all. And isn’t it funny that calling someone a “know-it-all” is a perjorative!

      Thanks for the kind words — and for the reminder that Pine Gully is out there.

      Linda

      1. Someday I’ll write that story about what I found in my dad’s pockets the day after he died. It’s a story waiting.
        Trying to get out before the mosquitoes, gnats, and heat corner us. One last cool front coming? Fingers crossed…not ready to be stuck inside.

        1. I’ve put in my order. I asked for 65 at night, 78 in the daytime, and just for you I added that no-insect request. But, I heard the nighthawks last night, and the bait fish are starting to plash. Ready for a chorus of “Summertime”?

  27. Once again, Linda, I marvel at your ability to weave together in such a meaningful way the various elements in this wonderful piece of writing!

  28. These days, I find it all too easy to let the news and circumstances and worries around me cave in. It’s not as bad as Andersen’s fears! Until some spark of beauty or reminder of death conquered as we just celebrated or human touches bring some rays of hope. What wonderful reminders from Marquez to be the bringer of hope to others, too.

    1. It can be hard these days, drawing a line between actual news and stories meant only to keep us riled up. Add in daily life, with all of its frustations and complications, and it’s no wonder we feel from time to time as though things are closing in.

      I think Goethe had it exactly right. I’ve always loved his advice that each day we should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture — as he put it, so that “worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

      Personally, I think Goethe would swoon over the pictures of your gardens, and Marquez would smile to see how much of that abundance you’ve given to others – in every sort of way.

      Linda

      1. Education neglected. I must look up more Goethe! And you are too kind.

        I can’t imagine what it must feel like for those who are much more immersed in media than I am (TV, radio, etc.). Goethe turns us to beauty, David’s Psalms turn us to God’s goodness (Ps 27:13), and I would humbly add human connections and kindnesses.

    1. As it is written, there is a time for everything, and a season for every thing under the heavens. If this was the right time for you to read this, I couldn’t ask for more. I’m glad you found it pleasing. It certainly was my pleasure to write it for you.

      Linda

  29. This is an exceptionally beautiful post.

    Cherie and I were just discussing Jarius’ daughter (because we’re weird like that) and moments later I discovered this post, drawing attention to her. I love that.

    Paul’s letter that we’ve come to know as 1 Thessalonians is the earliest known Christian document, predating the earliest of the gospels by at least 20 years. In it he says that those who are dead have “fallen asleep” and that they will someday be resurrected, as Jesus was. I think of the hope of those early believers often and I wonder if we haven’t lost something beautiful when we substituted it with our currently held notion of heaven.

    But leaving aside things like that, there is indeed life here among us, waiting to be lived. May we never cheapen it by forgetting that.

    Thanks for sharing this great post.

    1. What a perfect reference, Bill. And of course there are others in the Pauline writings, including one of my favorites: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” What Bach did for “Wachet Auf,” Handel did for this verse in his “Messiah.”

      I suppose there are as many notions of heaven as there are people on earth, but at least one person made his notion pretty clear some days ago. The good Mayor Bloomberg, pondering his mortality and the ways he intends to spend the rest of his earthly days, mentioned in an interview with the Times, “I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

      Sometimes the best way to understand our own beliefs is a little exposure to what we don’t believe – and I thank Mr. Bloomberg for providing that – as well as a chuckle.

      I’m sure you’re ready for a season of new life yourself, And isn’t that really a part of resurrection — that “every stop there’s a place to start”? Here’s to a beautiful and fruitful season.

      Linda

  30. Dear Linda, as well as being a gifted writer, you have the ability through your writing to call forth a wonderful selection of thoughtful, deep and graceful comments from a marvellously varied selection of readers. Reading through your post and replies just after Easter, when there is so much tragic and dispiriting news in the world, is uplifting and renewing of my basic belief – and experience – that there is more grace, sensitivity, compassion and goodness in the world than there is darkness. Thanks you for your bright light!

    1. You know, Anne, one of the symbolic gestures of our time that deeply offends me is the encouragement for everyone to turn off their lights for earth day.

      I understand the rationale, and certainly have nothing against efforts to educate about consumption, encourage conservation, and so on. Still, there’s something about humanity willingly plunging itself into darkness that just grates.

      As you point out, there’s more than enough darkness in the world, and no need to catalogue its varieties. They’re well enough known.The prologue to John’s Gospel still speaks to that darkness, and those who have lived in darkness, literally or metaphorically, understand its power.

      Light and new life begin together, despite obvious exceptions in the natural world. In Tolstoy’s play, “The Light That Shines in the Darkness”, the difficulties of attempting to live in the light are made clear. Still, my preference for light over darkness is pretty deeply rooted. For you to characterize any of my writing as the shining of a light is the best compliment I ever could receive.

      Linda

  31. Linda, you are a wonderful weaver of words in this story about H. C. Anderson. I have always admired his fascinating tales. But I had no idea that he was preoccupied with death. Perhaps his skewed thinking was the fuel that fed the fire as his imagination ran wild in his writings.

    I truly enjoyed reading about his work and his neurotic thoughts. I have to wonder if maybe he suffered from hallucinations as well. :-)

    ~yvonne

    1. Yvonne, we often talk about reading fairy tales to children to help them cope with their fears. Perhaps Andersen wrote his fairy tales, at least in part, to help him cope with his own fears. There’s no question he was a fascinating character. What I haven’t been able to find out just from prowling the internet is whether the recognition he received, and his increasing financial security, eased those fears a bit.

      I didn’t find anything about hallucinations. But I’d bet you in a minute that his dreams were a lot more interesting than mine!

      Linda

  32. The story (with Dickens) about being socially awkward evokes my strong empathy: Asperger’s Disorder was first described in the 1940s … (One) may be socially awkward, not understanding conventional social rules… Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature, or it may be formal, but too loud or high pitched.

    1. I don’t know a lot about Asperger’s, and the first question that crossed my mind had to do with its occurence among writers, artists and so on. I found this page, which really was informative and interesting. And, down the page a bit, there was this:

      “People often assume it means that people with Asperger syndrome are not imaginative in the conventional use of the word, for example, they lack creative abilities. This is not the case, and many people with Asperger’s syndrome are extremely able writers, artists and musicians.”

      Comparing what I know of Andersen with the characteristics of someone suffering Asperger’s, it’s certainly suggestive. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly wonderful that he was able to produce such fine, enduring stories despite his difficulties.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your interesting comment.

      Linda

  33. Bill’s post reminded me that I’d meant to come back to yours. When I peeked at it before, I saw Hans Christian Anderson and remembered that I still haven’t recovered from “The Little Match Girl.” I needed to be in the right frame of mind. :-)

    I, of course, have a story! But this one I’ll send in email. . .

    Instead, here’s another song, from one of my favorites:

    1. Hippie, you can be a member in good standing of our “I Survived ‘The Little Match Girl’ club.” I still have a hard time reading that one.

      I’d not heard of David Wilcox – thanks for the song. There are so many ways to communicate the same message, and his is a good one.

      We’ve all got our stories, that’s for sure. Some are for posting, some are for emailing, and some are best told down by the water, with a cold drink and a setting sun. Knowing which stories belong where is the trick!

      Hope you’re feeling better. I saw you weren’t up to a road trip yet. I hope that ends soon!

      Linda

    1. Thanks so much, Judy. There’s too little joy in the world, so if I can add an iota, I’m happy about that.

      I thought of you today. I was driving home after work and there — right in the marshy area beside the road — was a tri-colored heron. There was no question at all. Once I saw it, the differences between it and the green heron were obvious: not only the colors, but the size.

      I must say, it made my day. Well, that and a cold front moving through that dropped our humidity from 95% to 30%. Thank goodness!

      Linda

  34. I just learned many fascinating (but bittersweet) insights into one of my favorite authors — thank you so very much, for that!

    Such a wonderful reminder to us all, always. I recently hiked the site of some devastating Civil War battles, and this was very much on my mind. Nature had fortunately taken over the sadness and devastation of the event, but the reminder to appreciate and live each day anew was keen.

    1. I learned a good bit myself, FeyGirl. It doesn’t surprise me that various artists and authors would have the same problems as the rest of us mortals, but I am sometimes surprised at how much great work they did in spite of it all. Now and then, of course, there even are hints that their little quirks actually helped to nurture their creativity.

      I’m glad you had such a wonderful opportunity. Battlegrounds, cemeteries, and historical sites do nudge us toward reflection. Memory is the most human of gifts, I sometimes think — especially when remembrance helps us cope more effectively with the present, and strive for a better future.

      It’s always wonderful to see you. I hope all’s well, and that you’re enjoying the turn from spring into summer.

      Linda

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