The Spurned Word and the Foundation for Everything


There is a spider in the kitchen window, and Cody has named him Peter. Primarily, I think he has done it to create some kind of sympathy in me for him (if that were possible) because the ol’ boy has a hearty appetite and a skilled web for the catching. (I can’t deny this, and I don’t – he’s a good spider if ever there could be, though I still maintain they came after the Fall.) He has long, spindly legs and a very round, darkly marbled body, which gives me shivers just to write. But here we are. I call him by his name and discuss him with the baby over breakfast, so I guess Cody has won. The name has given him something of a sweetness, when I think of him - named after Spiderman and assuming that heroic characteristic, killing the flies and the beetles. Until I see him – and he makes me shiver again. But I will say, it’s only that thin pane of glass that protects him. If the fellow gets a wandering eye for the kitchen, he’ll just have to go.

There’s no deeper discourse in this than a begrudged kinship. And there’s no reason for telling you, other than to let you know my husband has cheeky devices for swaying me, and we’ve a new friend, like it or not.


There is something really special about hearing stories in the teller’s voice. My Grandma’s, for instance; she has a subtle Appalachian drawl, which I never noticed growing up, too close to her to hear it. It’s in everything she says, though, and sometimes it’s what she says more than how she says it. She chuckled when she recalled how her car broke down once, when she was in her twenties. She had to relay to the mechanics how she’d “pooshed” the car, and they kept asking her “what? You did what?” - making all kinds of opportunity to hear her accent more and get in a little laugh.

It wasn’t until I was grown and married to my own West Virginian that I realized she was from that part of the country. (Often, it’s not until we’re grown that we realize adults have stories too, and are not just spending their lives storying us.) Two years ago, she and Grandpa sat down with me and a voice recorder and told me about their lives. I treasure that recording – a 45-minute soundbite of my people telling their stories.

Grandma was a nurse. She worked in and around the land she was raised, some of which meant traveling, sometimes a hundred miles a day. Think if I’d have broken down, she wondered while telling me. All that back-country road. And then, at the end of a day, she’d have to sterilize and sharpen her needles by hand, when they were giving immunizations.

She talks of deep and quiet hill country, where some things took a while to trickle back to, which were flowing rivers for some, and a creeping creek for them. She remembers people getting sick. Tuberculosis was spreading through families fast, and it was hard, sometimes impossible work getting them to receive treatment. One woman received a court order to be committed after she spread the sickness to her little girl and still declined treatment – an elder nurse’s desperate hope of saving the rest of the family. Grandma said it was like beating her head against the wall.

She remembers being called in to a school once. The girls had been taking one of the students into the bathroom and forcibly running her under the shower. Grandma wouldn’t say, but the girl must have just started to be a woman, and didn’t know how. “It should have been handled different,” she said. Her job was to call on the girl’s family and help things out if she could. She said, as she was going into the hollow to visit, there was the girl’s dad, having seen her at a distance, waiting with a shotgun. “What those girls did was wrong,” he said. “I know,” she said. And that was it. She wanted to talk, he didn’t, and she had to walk away. “Wasn’t nothing I could do.”

I wonder about her. Not knowing and unable to know, suffering the ill attempts of school girls to cleanse her into a knowledge that no one but a nurse would talk about. About him. A protective father barricading his daughter from the wrong person. So many complicated intentions in this world, so many layers to stories - and all affecting someone else.

Saving people is a messy work. Not that we can, but that we try. Not that we should or shouldn’t, but that we do. A friend and I were talking, and we were bemoaning this a little. Love will say some offensive things, now and again. And what is it to do when the beloved responds – no thanks, I’m good – right to love’s face?

Everyone has drawn their line in the sand, marking just how far they’ll push their point on another. There are very many lines, I’m learning. One pulls his stick through the shore at the first declination he receives, staving off any more attempts after that. Another will attempt again and again, long after anyone believes she should. It is easy to understand that the fool cannot be swayed, but harder to pick out the fool. We watch a friend or neighbor spinning their web for nothing. We feel compelled to their salvation, without the mighty right arm to save or the burden of perfect justice. We do not want them to fail, or else feel compelled to speak because of the weight their fault bears on us.

God told Samuel, they’re not rejecting you, but Me. And thus it happens so often. Not against our personal opinions – though we muddy this boundary – but against God’s truth.

He says to live with others as peaceably as possible. I always find that as possible a great comfort. Because sometimes it’s just not up to you, and you had to speak your piece, and now you have to let go - or else keep forging a little against the fire. Peace be with you in that, my friends. And go gently. I am not a confronter, but I appreciate you vocal folk as having hold of the harder love, to both receive and to give.



The other morning, with a friend’s babe tucked onto my lap, sleeping, I found a book she’d been reading on her end table and flipped it open. It was The Read-Aloud Family. It’s about the transformative beauty of cultivating a love of reading into our kids. How reading to them, even once they can read for themselves, creates something special, which is best curated with patience and a lap and our undivided attention. I didn’t read much of it, in that keyhole of time, but I can light a candle for the cause. My mother used to read to me, and I can testify to its magic. Under the oak in the park, she’d weave stories out of the grass around us. She’d read us Tolkien and Lewis at home, picture books in the gazebo by the library. Her voice became my own confidence for story-making. A swung-wide gate for active imagination. And, which is more important, the assurance of her time, which I can never remember questioning.

In the book, the author quotes N. D. Wilson, who writes:

“Watching one’s small humans age and grow up packs a serious punch. It’s like being stuck in a dream unable to speak, like being a ghost that can see but not touch, like standing on a huge grate while a storm rains oiled diamonds, like collecting feathers in a storm. Parents in love with their children are all amnesiacs, trying to remember, trying to cherish moments, ghosts trying to hold the world.”

I hated this, when first I read it - my own boy still young, our days tripping over their own feet as they run fast away from us. This Ecclesiastic futility. His book is called Death by Living, so I’m not sure that it grows upward toward optimism. But, nestled into the first chapter of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, I think the point is to try. To be there, be present. To, God willing, write as long and as faithfully as we can upon their blank pages, even as they begin filling despite us. To cherish. Which is to say, to love God and love others, the foundation for everything.

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