This Is Not Goodbye

Words are hard, sometimes.

This may seem an odd statement from one who has built her entire life around words, but it is true. The deepest emotions and thoughts, the truest truths, are often too hard to put into words.

This is one reason I love music; it reaches the places words cannot go. And it is what leads me to poetry more and more, the older I get—for poetry is a music of its own, the attempt of wordsmiths to capture things too deep for prose.

My great-aunt died unexpectedly on Sunday. It was a hard blow to everyone—her immediate family, of course, but to the entire extended family and community, as well. She was special, a rare soul in this busy world. When Grandma’s mind became completely clouded by Alzheimer’s, Aunt Ortha quietly stepped in, attending all our—her sister’s grandchildren—major events. “I’m not trying to take her place,” she told me at my bridal shower, “But I’m here because she would be, and can’t be.” She didn’t want us to feel bereft.

And that’s one memory. Her own children and grandchildren can tell so many more. Her church family. The people in the community she served so faithfully. She shed love like a radiance, practical love that saw what it could do and then did it without any fuss.

Her memorial service is today, and I wanted oh, so much, to be there to honor her. But I can’t. It was too short of notice, and we live too far away to make it. My dad, sharing that same quiet, loving wisdom as his aunt had (and indeed, all of Grandma’s family), suggested to me that I write her a poem instead, since I can’t be there.

Poetry is hard, as I’ve bemoaned on Twitter before. But it also satisfies in a way prose cannot. I wrote a poem for my grandfather after his death, and it helped—me in the writing of it, others in the family in the reading. So it was a gift, to myself, to Aunt Ortha, and to the family, to be able to wrestle with these oh-so-inadequate words, and shape them into something that captures the outlines, at least, of what my heart feels.

This Is Not Goodbye

Louise Bates

I will not say goodbye today
Because you are not truly gone
We see your face in so many here
Your heart in even more.
Your smile, your eyes, the family traits
Those you have passed down
But more—and far greater:

Your kindness, your warmth, your wisdom
The way you were first to help
A pair of hands for whatever was needed
A loving heart and listening ear
Your ready laugh and constant smile.

Those have not died, for they are immortal
Living on in the lives of all you touched.
And if they’ve lived on—
Then so have you.
So I will not say goodbye today.
I will smile through the tears
And look for you in the people you loved.

Back Off

When the news about the Star Wars cast came out, I was beside myself with delight. Not that it was unexpected, but the thrill of knowing for certain that Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie were going to be back on the big screen, that these heroes of my youth were coming back, as much older as I was, but just as heroic? Thrilling.

I promptly went on Twitter to share my joy. Instead, I got barraged with innumerable tweets complaining about the lack of diversity, especially gender diversity, among the cast.

I get that. It’s a problem. As Michael A Stackpole put it so well, it’s a problem especially in Star Wars because the Empire was oppressive, misogynistic, xenophobic, elitist, and to not show a diversity in the cast now undermines much of what the Rebellion was fighting for.

Here’s the thing, though: at that moment, when I was nearly turning cartwheels over the thought of Princess Leia being back on the screen, I did not need to be overwhelmed with negativity. (Never mind the fact that I would be happier with ONE character with the depth of Leia than a dozen stereotyped “strong sexy women” on screen – I find those caricatures as offensive as the lack of women in general). I just wanted to share my thrill over my heroes.

And I do understand that for others, their need to share their disappointment was as strong as my need to share my joy. I’m not criticizing people for their honest reactions (although I am unhappy that negative reactions seem to shame positive ones – I felt like I couldn’t say anything happy about the Star Wars casting for fear of people throwing stones at me, as well). But for me, it illuminated a deeper problem.

I love social media for its ability to bring people together, and to allow us to connect with people we otherwise would never meet. I love that I have found other authors through it, people I can talk with about writing. I love discovering shared fandoms. And yes, I also like finding shared dislikes. But it’s getting to affect me too much.

The Star Wars tweets killed my joy. Slew it right in its tracks. And I don’t want that! I don’t want to be so tied in to social media that it can have that power over me.

Yesterday, I took almost the entire day off from the internet. I pulled out my old Gilmore Girls DVDs, and watched them while I made strawberry scones, washed a zillion loads of dishes, worked all afternoon on my niece’s quilt, made supper, and then worked on the quilt for the rest of the evening.

And it was great. It was exactly what I needed. Even Emily and Lorelai’s bickering seemed uplifting in comparison to the negative, swirling morass of Twitter and Facebook.

So, I’m stating this here, so you guys can keep me honest. I’m backing off social media. Not giving it up entirely, because I do have friends I don’t want to lose, and I do like to keep up on the world outside of seminary. But much, much less. Because it’s turning into an unhealthy relationship (okay, if I’m honest, it’s been unhealthy for a while because of how closely it hovers to an addiction, but now it’s becoming so obviously unhealthy I can’t ignore it any more), and because, of all the stress in my life, this is one I can most easily remove. I’ll still be on Twitter once in a while, still on FB occasionally, probably even still blog sometimes, but nothing like as pervasive as it all has been.

I am slowly untangling the death grip of social media’s tentacles around my throat, and I’m looking forward to being able to breathe unimpeded again.

In Memorium

I have come to a conclusion that is important to me. I no longer believe that the momentum of a life headed in a worthwhile direction ends when that life does.

Jesmin Ackbar shot down five enemies, all of whom served evil men. Had she not done so, their actions would have led to further evil, but her actions take their place instead, broadening like a firebreak into the future theirs would have occupied.

Jesmin Ackbar saved hundreds of lives at Folor. Had she not done so, a bow wave of suffering would have rippled out from Folor, scarring survivors, leaving behind nothing but loss.

… I will never know how much good surrounding me is a legacy of Jesmin’s life. Her future will be invisible to me. But invisible is not the same as nonexistent.

-Aaron Allston, Wraith Squadron

Aaron Allston, author of the above words (and many more), died last week. The news hit me hard, especially coming as it did on the heels of a more personal, but equally unexpected, loss.

I loved Allston’s Star Wars X-Wing novels. I still love them. I sold the majority of my Star Wars novels several years ago, but I kept the ones by Allston, Michael Stackpole, and Timothy Zahn. Not only were they happy reminders of my younger days and my first genuine fandom, they were just really excellent books, Star Wars or no.

I had recently started following Allston on Twitter. He proved to be just as warm, funny, and engaging on social media as he appeared through his books, with pithy insights delivered as a rapier strike of wit, not a bludgeon of dogma.

I had so much respect for him, as a man and as an author, and his books did and do mean so much to me. I have been mourning him deeply, but today, reading his own words in Wraith Squadron, the pain eases slightly.

The good that he did is not finished. His life is ended but not over. His legacy continues in the countless lives he and his writing touched and will continue to touch. Because of that, he will never really be gone.

Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, Solo Command, and my favorite of all, Starfighters of Adumar

Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, Solo Command, and my favorite of all, Starfighters of Adumar

Moving Back to Move Forward

This weekend, we made a flying trip back to PA, where we lived for the first four years of our marriage. When we left, there were two weeks between finding out we had to leave, and pulling away from the house with our moving truck. It’s been almost five years, and we’d never made it back for any kind of closure. With Carl starting grad school this fall, and another huge move coming up in a month (EEK!), now seemed like a good time to finally go back, see our friends there again, show Joy the house where we lived when she was a baby, revisit some old haunts.

And go grocery shopping at Wegmans. Because we have MISSED it.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital almost six years ago.

It was so, so good.

We had dinner Friday evening with some of our dearest friends. It was sheer chaos in parts, with ten kids running around and six adults trying desperately to cram five years of conversation into a few hours, but it was so good. It felt like we’d never left.

Friends and soul-sisters

Friends and soul-sisters

Saturday was a more leisurely lunch with more friends, these with two daughters close in age to our own girls. The four of them played so nicely together all afternoon, and Joy cried when we left – she felt like she’d finally found the Betsy to her Tacy, and then had to leave after just a few hours. We told her we would start praying, and KEEP praying, that God would send her a best friend at Gordon-Conwell, now that she has a taste of what it’s like.

Then we went back to where we used to live. NOTHING has changed. I don’t think anybody’s even painted their house a different color or bought a new vehicle. It was so weird, like stepping into a time warp. Milkshake (Carl and me) and chocolate milk (the girls) at the dairy bar down the street (and wasn’t THAT place dangerous to have within walking distance when I was in my third trimester during one of the hottest summers EVER), and then on to the cemetery where all the locals go to walk. It’s the closest thing to a neighborhood park around.

Joy, six months

Joy, six months

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

And THEN we did our grocery shopping. Then came home. Then crashed the next day (literally, for me – we got out our bikes on Sunday and mine decided it had had enough of my stumbling attempts to master it, and showed me who was boss. Hint: it wasn’t me).

The entire trip felt both like closure of the past AND reopening of old friendships. We were able to lay to rest some of the miseries that had chased us from PA, remember the good parts of living there, and reaffirm the friendships we made while there.

I also was able to remember that old tombstones are one of my best sources for finding awesome character names, and that ancient cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful, other-worldly places to stroll.

Despite our exhaustion, we came home energized, ready to tackle packing up this house, thankful for all God has done in our lives, and in my case, ready to dive back into writing now that I’ve gotten some more real-life filling.

How was your weekend?

"Rest in peace" feels a bit more tangible, here.

“Rest in peace” feels a bit more tangible, here.

Farewell, Brian Jacques

I just barely saw the news – not five minutes ago – that Brian Jacques died after a heart attack this weekend.

I am crying and still don’t quite believe it. The man who created Martin, Mariel, Gonff, and all the rest, gone? It seems impossible. He should be immortal.

And in a way, he is. He lives on through his books, his beloved characters. His stories about tiny little creatures fighting for justice, freedom, and love against larger, more ferocious adversaries will ring true in the hearts of all who love such ideals, for as long as books endure. His legacy is a great one, indeed.

Less well known than Redwall, but just as good (in my opinion) was his Flying Dutchman series, featuring a boy named Ben and his faithful dog Ned, traveling the world as immortal creatures, righting wrongs and comforting those without hope wherever and whenever they went.

I will miss, terribly, anticipating a new book from him every year. Yet I am so thankful for all the books that he did write, that we are left with. There have been many writers who have tried to imitate his style, but none can match him. The world is a sadder place with this Weaver of Tales gone, but thankfully the tales themselves live on.

May your adventures in the next world be as grand as they were here, sir. And I know that wherever you journey through the Dark Forest, you will be accompanied by a grand troupe of mice, moles, hedgehogs, badgers, hares, squirrels, and otters, all laughing, valiant, and hungry.

You will be missed.

ETA: Mossflower was the first Jacques book I ever read, and it’s the one I recommend to everyone to begin with. It’s not first chronologically or in published order, but in my opinion, it sets the stage beautifully for the rest of the series. Plus, it features Martin, Gonff, and Dinny – who could ask for anything more?