Sunday, December 31, 2017

Relinquishment and Renewal

These are little gold cardboard stars that I bought for a birthday or something. I don't remember what. But a couple of years ago I thought they would be fun as Christmas decorations, and I hung them in a doorway with pieces of ribbon, so that to enter the dining room you passed under and through a curtain of stars. I thought it was lovely, but someone taller found it less than lovely and even somewhat annoying.

So last year, determined to keep the stars around, I realized there were exactly enough to go on every other pane of the living room window, giving us the look and feel of their golden starry presence without hitting anyone in the nose or messing up hair. So there they went again this year.

I love looking out and up at the blue sky, with giant trees in the background and stars in the foreground. There's just something joyful and of course meaningful about having them in that in-between position, so that stars become part of what you are looking through.

I'm writing this on New Year's Eve, not sure if I'll finish it tonight or tomorrow, but thinking back on 2017 and what has transpired. It kind of blows my mind that I've written only eight blog posts this year, which I see is second only to 2015, with only six posts. I thought that once I finished that degree, I would write more.

Obviously, that's not what happened. As I wrote a couple of posts ago, finding a new rhythm has been hard.

A few weeks ago I ran into writer friend Corey Latta at the bookstore. When he asked how I was doing, for whatever reason I skipped "fine" and said, "Honestly, I'm having a harder time than I thought I would since finishing that thesis and graduating. I thought I would have a lot of energy and be doing new things, but I'm having a hard time getting anything going." To my great relief he responded, "Oh, that is so normal. When did you graduate?" "Over six months ago! Not sure that's normal!" "Yes, that's normal. For so long you had that one thing that took all your time and focus, and it just takes a while to regain your energy and be able to focus on new things. It's normal for everyone post-doc."

I felt as if it had been a divine appointment, that running into him that day!

Anyway, in doing my David Allen-inspired retrospective this evening, I thought a lot about what word best sums up my 2017 experience. "Relinquishment" soon came to mind, and it hasn't yet been replaced by anything else, so for now I'm sticking with it.

It may seem like an odd word. Graduating is what most people would call an accomplishment, not a relinquishment. And of course I have a sense of great joy and satisfaction about finishing and defending that thesis and graduating. But it came only because of learning to relinquish the writing. To stop wanting to do more, or to perfect what was there. To come to a place of saying, "It's enough, and it's good enough, and I will let it go."

And then on our summer trip to Europe our bags were stolen, including my laptop, which meant I lost  4-5 years of photos, among other things. I'll probably write again about that, but for now I'll just say that I've had to surrender that, let it go. There's nothing I can do about it. Of course I didn't voluntarily give those photos up, but I've had to do the inner work of letting go of that.

And here at the end of the year, while of course I can't hold on to the year any more than anyone can, I'm doing the inner work of relinquishing the expectations I'd had for what I'd accomplish in the time since graduating. For months I had a sign up that said, "Write as you can, not as you can't." That advice first came to me in the form of "pray as you can, not as you can't." Now I've put a little sticky note over the first word, so I look up from time to time and see, "Live as you can, not as you can't."

Yesterday I heard an interview between Ken Myers and Michael Hanby. In discussing philosophical issues related to problems of technology, they made their way to a conversation found in C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the children have encountered an Old Man who, they learn, is actually a retired star.

Of course they are astounded, this seems so strange.

"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."
Ramandu, the star, responds, "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."

And a bit later, "Aren't you a star any longer?" asked Lucy.

"I am a star at rest, my daughter," answered Ramandu. "When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth's eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance."

I'm no star, but this reading was so encouraging to me. I've had a full five months of rest since graduating and returning from a trip to Europe. I've had fire-berries brought to me in the form of visits with friends, long walks, more musical performances than I'd been able to take in over the past few years, even singing again with the Memphis Chamber Choir. My energy is being renewed. I trust my focus will return.

And also, when we think about the year we've just lived and all the things we're aware of having done, that is not what a year is, but only what it is made of. I have a feeling that in the bigger picture, it will turn out to have been much more than we can possibly realize.

Here's to 2018. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Grandmother Gift

This is the view out the backdoor of my grandparents' house, toward the west, with the many memories that come along with it.

Today is the day our beloved Grandmother was born. It's strange to think she has been gone more than fourteen years, closer to fifteen. Not that I don't miss her. It isn't hard to believe that many years have passed, because she has been missed for all of them.

It's more because she is so much a part of my life, because she is part of me, part of how I see things, how I hear things, how I think about things.

I use her pots and pans. I pray at the little desk she gave me while she was living, and I write notes and letters at the desk that became mine after her death. We still  use towels that were hers. I see her little milk pitcher every time I walk through our dining room.

The intangibles are just as real. Her expressions come to my mind in various situations. (Who else says, "bless Pat"?) Her advice, whether about the kitchen or the bigger things in life, still gives me guidance. When I play piano, I remember that she always encouraged my playing and helped pay for lessons at some points. I can still hear her voice asking, "Where are your manners?" when we were little children and forgot to say "please" or "ma'am" or "sir," and it makes me want to continue the kindness and respect of simply manners, even when some are falling out of use.

When I wake earlier than I would like, I remember her talking about how she slept less and would get up and read in the early hours.

I remember her strength, her kindness, her beauty, her laughter, her love.

I pray to be like her in all the ways I ought to be.

It is her birthday, and for all who knew her, she is the gift.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


These trees live in Overton Park, the park I used to walk in on Friday mornings, back when I had more of a regular schedule. The deeper I got into writing my thesis, the less I was able to go there for those longer Friday morning walks. Whether it was true or just my anxiety saying so, it seemed I simply didn't have the time, so I took shorter walks at the closer-by Chickasaw Gardens park.

Now my Friday mornings have been taken by piano lessons, so I'm still not in a routine of walking at Overton. But I'm hoping to do it on another day.

It's hard to believe how much trouble I'm having getting into a new rhythm. After graduating, there was a trip to Texas in May, then a trip to Europe in June-July, then house guests in late July. All of these things were absolutely delightful--and they all meant no regular routine.

. . . . And the fact that I started writing this on October 11, and now it is the 25th, is evidence that I still haven't managed to get some things into a regular routine. But I'm back.

And I did make it back to Overton Park, one foggy day back near the end of August, when this picture was taken.

It felt a bit like a family reunion, in a way. Because I used to walk here nearly every single week, and usually walked the same trails, the trees, the curves of the path, the vines growing on the trees, the occasional flowers were all familiar and beloved in that way they become over time. I don't know if they had missed me, but I had missed them.

Surely I've written before that I spent a lot of time outside when I was growing up. When my family lived in town, my friend and I traipsed around in the small plot of swampy woods behind our house and the larger stretch of woods (with a creek!) across the street from her house.

When my family moved out of town, we were surrounded by woods before us and behind us. After I was too old for the imaginary adventures that involved creating fairytale houses from rocks and branches, turning an old stump into a witch's pot, and pretending to search for the creek that would take us to my friend's house if we just looked long enough, I still spent long stretches of time out there. Sometimes walking, sometimes climbing a tree, sometimes running on the road across from us.

I'm convinced that the woods are part of how I became the person I became. I owe no small measure of my sanity to them. It has been interesting to learn over time how much time spent in nature affects the development of our brains. I remember the first time I became aware that some people feel scared when they go in the woods; I was really surprised! For me, woods have the opposite effect, calming me, clearing my mind, focusing my attention--it doesn't matter if I'm in my home state of Arkansas, or here in Tennessee, or over in Europe. Being surrounded by trees automatically soothes my nerves. I think that's true for most people unless they've fed themselves with scary movies that interfere with the more natural response.

Recently I came across these words, and they are part of why I love the woods: "It is hard to go completely mad if you spend your free time being free and accepting the free bounties of the world round about . . .. Things, in their beautiful and imposing integrity, do not easily bend to lies."

When the world is crazy with lies--whether the lies of others in our lives, or the lies our own minds struggle to overcome inside of us, or the lies of the wider culture, or political lies--trees, vines, flowers, rocks, and dirt--oh, and wonderful green moss--with all the little creatures that thrive in the midst of them--these maintain their integrity. They quietly share their beauty. They offer themselves freely, no strings attached, no tricks to play.

And so it was wonderful to go back to Overton Park at the end of August. I've been able to go one other time since then.

And little by little I'm getting some rhythm back into my life. It's a lot like walking in the woods. I can only do it one step at a time. And I have to trust that even if I haven't been in this exact spot before, I can find my way, and meanwhile, there's lots of beauty all around under the woods.

(I really like that my first last name is Underwood.)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Pied Beauty and the Comfort of the Resurrection

That's the Bald Knob Bulldog above. In my mind it's the Bald Knob Bulldog Cafe', despite the sign calling it a restaurant. I'm not sure how that discrepancy came about, but I'm willing to bet that I'm older than that sign, so I'm guessing that it used to be called, and perhaps have a sign saying that it was, a cafe'. I just did a quick Google search and learned that other people have also searched the the Bulldog Cafe in Bald Knob, so I think it must have been called that at one time.

Anyway, I was there this evening. My daddy flew home today from a grand adventure that took him to Rome, Zagreb, Cakovec (where he stayed in our home for a couple of nights), and then a town called Cluj in Romania (where he taught English for several weeks), and to Hungary (where he visited friends made many years ago.) He came home today from all this travel in faraway places. His flight from Europe was delayed, causing him to miss his flight home last night. So he spent the night in the airport and arrived here with almost no sleep in 48 hours.

He amazed me by having the presence of mind and energy to want to go to the AT&T shop to be sure his Europe phone service was terminated, and to go by the truck dealer to schedule an oil change. I drove him on those errands, then we came home. He went out to his garden and picked tomatoes and eggplant and squash. Then we ate supper.

And then he brought up the idea of going to get a strawberry shortcake in Bald Knob. So we did it. Except I learned that they also make peach shortcakes, so I got peaches rather than strawberries. Which was a hard decision to make, because strawberries are wonderful and famous in these parts. But peaches are my favorite, so that's what I had.

A trip to the Bulldog was the perfect ending to a lovely day dedicated to coming to Arkansas. As soon as I crossed the Mississippi River, I felt that wonderful sense of freedom that comes when you see the green masses of trees, the wide open fields, the dirt and gravel roads wandering through them.

Today I was listening to lectures (a graduation gift from my thoughtful husband) on Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poetry as I drove, hearing Fr. Joseph Feeney read poems of Hopkins' Wales surroundings, the hills, the birds, the fields, the sky. And all around me were fields, sky, birds--and even lovely hills, once I came to Crowley's Ridge. It made the drive even more beautiful than usual.

And then I made a stop that made me love Arkansas even more. I wanted to get balloons as a little surprise when Daddy would arrive at his house. I was short on time, and I really wanted to avoid the crowds of WalMart if I could. So when I saw a little local florist sign in Bald Knob that said "more than flowers," I thought it was worth a try. You never know just what to expect when you go into a place like that in a small town (fewer than 3,000 people in 2010). It was actually a large-ish building for a florist, obviously a new business in an old building that used to house some other kind of activity, maybe a farm supply store, given the amount of farming in that area. It was large and fairly plain, except that the new owners had painted huge flowers on the outside of the building, giving it a whimsically charming homemade beauty. You can see a picture near the bottom of this website.

Hoping they had balloons, and that I could get some quickly, I walked in the door to see no one behind the counter. No doorbell rang, no voice called out, no one appeared. I had just begun to wonder if I should go back to the car when out of the back came a little brown-haired boy who hurried right over, looked up at me, and threw his arms around my legs to give me a hug, his head reaching a little above my knees!

I think he said something, but I don't remember what. I don't remember what I said, either. I just remember that he was terribly sweet, and even though I couldn't always understand what he said, he responded to my greetings and questions; and once I had learned that he was three years old and that his mom had gone to the store, he went back to where he had come from behind the counter, and out came a woman who I believe was his aunt.

This all took a very short time, less time than it has taken to write about it and probably less than it will take you to read it. I mention that so that no one can get the idea that he was neglected or unsupervised.  He clearly was not. He was just fast!

Happily I did order balloons that they did in fact have, and the whole time carried on a funny conversation with this sweet child, whose mother arrived during my few minutes there. When it was time to pay and go, he was in the back of the shop again. He obviously heard something I said about leaving, because he stopped talking with his mother and said, "Wait! I have to go give a hug!" And he ran out from behind the counter and hugged my legs again as before, this time looking up and blowing kisses at me. His mother and aunt gently "called him off," though of course I said it was absolutely fine with me, and that he was a sweetie pie (I think that's what I said, who knows?), and rather reluctantly, I left.

I feel sure I'll find a reason to stop there again.

Meanwhile I'm left pondering the beauty of a small town and of close circles in which a child is so loved and cared for and has no reason to feel fearful or suspicious of someone he has never seen before. Not only not fearful, but so full of love and generosity. Of course it's a messed up world, and he will learn prudent boundaries as he grows, I have no doubt. It was clear that the big people in his life love him and love life, and so I trust they will protect him appropriately.

Arkansas is a poor state, among the three poorest in the nation, according a study done two years ago. It has problems that come along with poverty. It has problems that come along with other things, too. While my drive home takes me through beautiful fields and crosses flowing rivers, it also means seeing abandoned houses, dying towns, and reminders of racial tension.

I was reading an article the other day about West Virginia, another of the three poorest states, and author John Mark Reynolds' take on some of the problems there. I couldn't help thinking about that article as I drove past some of the dying towns and wondered about the lives of the people there. I know that drugs are a problem in Arkansas, especially meth, from what I've read. Some people are desperate for meaning in their lives, and for love. Without those things, drugs become an easy choice, among the rich and the poor. And once drugs affect one person, they affect families, and then communities, and no one ever knows the full extent of the damage.

But there is beauty in this state. Incredible natural beauty. And today the beauty of a little boy who knows he is loved and cherished. And I imagine it's because of people in his life who also know that they are loved and cherished. And his little heart of love is evidence that they really believe what they have on a sign that was by the front door of the business. They haven't sold their birth right, to reference the West Virginia article. They've accepted it and are passing it on.

It's not the Memphis way of doing business, to put religious posters on the front window. It's not the big city way. It's not cool. It's probably not even allowed in some places. But who knows if having this sign on the window may not open the door to hope for some young teenage girls, leading to conversations and relationships that will save them from turning to drugs or bad relationships in search of love, or failing that, drugging numbness?

I think Hopkins would find poetry in this picture and in my afternoon encounter.  Death, disease, decay, drug addiction, dirt, and depression are as real in Arkansas as anywhere. Hopkins knew darkness and despair very well. But the Christian belief in resurrection, which he so powerfully describes in "That Nature is a Heracletean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection," is paramount in his poetry and in his life. And if I am to believe that I am, ultimately, "immortal diamond," I must have opportunities and the ability to see that hope. "Across my foundering deck shone a beacon, an eternal beam." People need a beacon shining. They need to see that beam.

I hope they keep that poster there. I hope it blesses girls who need to see it. And I hope their little boy becomes a grown man who loves with passion and prudence because he knows that he is cherished, that Christ became what he is, and he will be what Christ is, and that this life is only part of a Life we can't begin to imagine. You can handle a whole lot of what life gives you when you know that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Over

A month and a day since the last post, and here I am again on this rambling drawn out thing we call a "blog." (I don't like that word now any more than I did when I first used it here.)

The thesis did get printed, and I did graduate. I hope to say more about that later, as it was quite a series of small adventures.

But for now, I'm enjoying looking at the detail of a tulip fully open.

The detail is simply amazing. These could be Georgia Okeefe's work--except that her work came from the real flowers, not the other way around. (I don't know if she ever painted tulips, but these just remind me of what I've seen of her paintings.)

This one is a bit past its prime, but even the browning of the petals is lovely, in its way.

Flower petals in general amaze me. Such thin, fragile tissue, easily destroyed by something as simple as a careless step or even a rough bump--and yet so full of complexity, those tiny membranes whisking water all the way through the thing, and combining with the other petals to create all kinds of shapes and colors and sizes, making the world beautiful in a way nothing else can.

These particular flowers are special because I bought them on a somewhat impetuous stop at the Fresh Market grocery store. I stopped in just because I had the time to do it, not really needing anything, but for the fun of it, because I do love that store--everything but the prices. And I bought the flowers and brought them home, something I haven't done very often the past few years, because a brain can only think of so much at a time, and my brain and my schedule just didn't have much room for thinking of, or accomplishing, flower-buying.

And then these flowers took on extra specialness because the other evening we had dear friends over for dinner, another thing we haven't done much of in the past few years.

And those dear friends brought the sweet purple campanula that shared the table with the tulips until this morning, when I had to finally say goodbye to the tulips before they dropped petals all over the table!

And so in a very real way, these flowers make a fitting image to say "it's over," and to rejoice in the moving forward into another chapter of life--one that I hope will have many more flowers and many more friends over for dinner.

And perhaps even more blog posts? Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It's Not Over Till It's Over (But It's Almost Over)

Today I took the 25% cotton paper and my 200-plus pages of thesis on a flash-drive to the FedEx Office shop, trusting that tomorrow I will receive back from them four printed copies.

It has been quite a saga.

At some point a few months ago, I came across a little book on spiritual growth, written originally in the 1400's, I think. It had a good section on sloth, with the admonition to "begin, bravely and quietly with one" small task, rather than letting yourself be overcome with the sense of exhaustion and discouragment that comes when you think too much on how big the task seems. Those words helped me get through that final chapter that I struggled with so much.

At one point, I bought myself a special mug, sort of as a mascot to encourage me to keep going, keep going. The mug says someting about changing the world, which sounds grandiose, but somehow it helped me just as a reminder that it really is through the little things each of us does that the world is changed. And I have to believe that this thesis will do something, somewhere, at some point, to change someone's world.

And of course, I had to remind myself repeatedly to simplify. Sometimes that meant redoing a sentence so it wasn't so long and complex. At one point it meant just not writing an entire chapter I had hoped to include.

My counseling office became a second home for quite a lot of weekends. It's going to look strange when I finally get all the stacks of books and papers off the shelves.

My carrel at the library has been a less-frequented hangout, but an important one when I needed books, or when the heating and air conditioning at my office was too extreme.

Several months back, while working on this, I decided to do an art therapy online course. One of the assignments involved making a picture, and then (gasp! she hadn't told us this on the front end) cutting out parts of that picture and using them to create a new picture. It nearly killed me to cut up the first picture that I had so lovingly done. But I did it, and this is what I came up with next.

And that turned out to be a wonderful help as I found myself more able to make changes, cutting and rewriting, in that final chapter that took so much work. I had gotten to a point of feeling really stuck with it, and it was the art that helped me get un-stuck and moving forward again.

And now, even though I can hardly believe it, I have done all I can do. It is at the printer's, and I am simply waiting (and hoping nothing goes wrong with this part of the process!)

It has been so much a part of my life for so long now, it is strange to think of not having to think of it anymore. And of being able to focus on other parts of life. I guess I will "begin, bravely and quietly, with one" I just did in writing on my blog, something that's been neglected for several years.

Maybe tomorrow I'll actually get the impatiens planted.....

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Little Things

This time of wrapping up such a huge project,
beginning to free up brain space and actual time and space,
combined with the coming of spring,
seems a perfect setup for me to be particularly attentive to little things
and how much joy they give me.

Some days I feel as if I am seeing life, really seeing it,
for the first time in a long, long time.

Like a peek into the opening of a dogwood blossom the other morning.

And the little remaining evening light falling on the chair at the piano.

And this little walkway, which, even though I know exactly where it goes, always fills me with a sense of adventure and wonder at what might lie ahead. . .

Violets that fill our yard, and these few just perfect for the tiny pitcher on the windowsill.

Also on the windowsill, there year-round,
these sweet little ones from my parents' stop in the Amsterdam airport over twenty years ago.
They are always there, but somehow recently I see them more often.
And on this evening saw their cute little shadow.

Little things are only little compared to bigger things.
And often they represent things much bigger than their physical size hints at.

I read recently that the writer Robert Brault,
about whom I know nothing,
"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things."

Whoever he is, I think he is right.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Primavera always makes me think "first green." In Italian, "verde" is green, and a little etymological hunting seems to confirm that at least some word hunters believe the Latin words for "spring" (ver) and "green" (viride) may go back to some shared root. it would certainly make sense.

This post isn't about the first green, but the blossoms that precede the green leaves. But primavera dictionarily means "spring," and that's what this is about. The coming to life after a period of dormancy. The colors after the more "meno-chrome" winter, if I may create a new word not for  the monochrome state of having only one color, but the winter-in-the-South state of having less color.

The grass was still actually monochrome at the time I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago, except for those few little green weeds.

We always had a flowering quince in the yard when I was growing up, so I wanted to have one in our yard here. When I called the nursery, the owner didn't have the brighter, solid peachey red I was hoping for, but he suggested this one instead.

I took a chance, based on his description over the phone.

And am so glad I did! It's really beautiful, and even though it's still a young thing,
this year it had more blossoms than the two years before.

I'm beginning to feel as if my own mind, body, and heart are coming to life again after a long winter.

I started this degree in 2012, the same year my mom began having serious health problems and hospitalizations that went on throughout the next four years. So it's been a very, very unusual five years since then. I often felt I couldn't give enough to school because of the family situation. And I often felt I couldn't give enough to my family because of school.

And yet, somehow the energy kept coming, and we made it through to my mom's beautiful and victorious ending. And I recently defended my thesis project, and am very close to bringing that to an ending. Not nearly the same kind of beauty and victory, but an ending I'll be thankful for.

Since the defense (on February 27), I have struggled with an exhaustion of mind, body, and spirit. I did stay up pretty late a few nights the week before the defense, but i don't think it's just that immediate sleep deprivation. I think it's five years of tiredness finally feeling free to make itself felt. Throughout the past month, I have just not felt capable of doing anything beyond what I absolutely had to do--and occasionally have cancelled commitments because I was just too tired even for those routine activities.

It has been, I must say, a wonderful thing to experience spring this year. I always love spring, but this year especially it is like a promise. A promise that new life will return, because it always does. It doesn't depend on the flowers or the birds or the trees to make it happen. The Creator and Sustainer makes it happen, year after year after year.

And so even though I must of course do what I can to get my sleep, eat well, rest, drink water, make time for the refreshment of friends and family--it doesn't depend on me to somehow make my energy return. I can trust that it will.

And little by little, just in the past week or so, it has been happening.

A couple of mornings I've waked up and felt alive, refreshed, eager to get up and get going. Sometimes it lasts two hours, sometimes four or five. Sometimes I've taken a short nap and felt energetic again in the afternoon.

I've been remembering recipes I haven't made in 4-5 years. I've begun playing the piano more than I have in a long time. Little by little it's as if my brain is finding more space available, and even my body is remembering routines it had to temporarily forget about for a while.

And here I am, writing on my blog!

The flowering quince is all in green now, at the time I'm writing this. Only four or five blossoms remain on the plant; the rest is all filled out in green leaves. Primavera.

But it was those blossoms that gave me so much hope and joy. They are fragile but beautiful, and this year they helped me believe that as fragile and tired as I've felt, the day would come when the sap would flow more fully, the green leaves would come out, and the plant would be ready for another season of growth.

I trust that I will be ready again before too long, too.

For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. 
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come....
Song of Songs 2:11-12

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ode to a Beloved Bookstore

We came home from  Europe late Wednesday evening, and I haven't had normal sleep since Monday night. Had hoped tonight might be the night I would sleep through the night, at least mostly. But, no. I woke up around 2:30, and by 3:30 realized I wasn't doing any good just lying in bed awake, reinforcing to my brain that doing that is an option.

So I decided to get up and write, thinking I would write about our travels.

Instead, upon opening my computer, I saw in a friend's email a link to her post about the closing of our favorite bookstore here in Memphis. I am feeling shock and great sadness.

When we moved to Memphis in 1994, to a campus apartment just a five-minute drive from the bookstore, we quickly fell in love with Davis-Kidd, as it was known, named for the two owners who started it. We are booklovers. When we moved to Memphis, all we brought with us were two suitcases of clothes and the few boxes of books we shipped over. Books were a huge part of our lives before we met, and continued to be so when we married. In Florence I had loved stopping in Feltrinelli's. In Zagreb there was a downtown bookstore that we bought books from, both in Croatian and in English. But Davis-Kidd was like nothing else we had encountered. It was smallish, but it had more single titles than any of the larger bookstores around Memphis.

And it had charm. The early store had a fireplace. You walked in and just felt like you wanted to stay. The folks who worked there were welcoming, and they knew their books. It soon became our favorite hangout, and when they moved to a larger shop across the parking lot and opened a cafe' and restaurant, for many years it became our Friday night date site. We could meet there after work, have a slow, yummy meal (I will never forget their chicken and dumplings, even though they disappeared from the menu some years back), and then spend the rest of the evening browsing books, nearly always taking something home.

When I finished my master's degree in counseling and knew that I didn't want to work as a counselor  immediately (not until I'd had some kind of break to take a deep breath), I applied for other kinds of jobs, without success for some months. Having a professional degree and student loans to pay off, I was trying for something full-time.

But finally one day I said, "Well, if I could just do what I want, I would love to work at Davis=Kidd. I love that place, love the people, love books . . . why not just apply and see if they will take me?"

And I did, and they did. I worked in the arts and entertainment section, and I learned more about why the store was so beloved. They did hire part-time workers, but they hired them with the understanding that they wanted people who were committed to the store, who planned to be there longer-term. And each person was assigned a certain section and was expected to really get to know their inventory and how to help people find what they were looking for. And we were taught to not just be approachable, but to approach people who looked as if they might need help. But no pressure-y type selling whatsoever. Just being helpful to people. Kind of a golden rule application of salesmanship. They wanted it to be a place where people felt free to roam and browse, and sit and read, where the booksellers were people who came alongside to help, not hawks out to make a sale.

Oh, and there was no "MUZAK" approach to the background sounds of the store. No; at least when I worked there, each bookseller got to choose CD's that they would like to play during the time they were working there. Of course there were some limitations on what could be played. But it meant that even the music was personally selected, and that you could go and ask, "What is this music I'm hearing?" and someone would be able to check and let you know. (And sometimes I would then buy it.)

As it happened, about six weeks after starting at Davis=Kidd, I got a call from one of the full time jobs I had applied to and not been accepted for. With great reluctance I went to my manager (Linda? I think that was her name?) and told her I had been completely sincere when I'd said I planned to stay there, that I had no other options on the horizon. It just happened that the person hired for this other position had had to leave, and so they were offering it to me. It would pay off my student loans much faster than working part-time at the bookstore. She was gracious beyond expectation, and I sadly left.

That was in 1998. Almost 20 years ago. And to this day, when I go into the store, I see people who worked there when I did, who remember my name. Mark and Eddie. And then others who came just as I was leaving, or who I met after I'd left, but we struck up friendship because they knew I had worked there. I saw on the store's website while ago that Eddie described it as a fellowship, and that is what I felt there, too.

This is truly a shock and a loss. I was shopping there for Christmas gifts just three weeks ago, with no inkling that this was on the horizon. It feels surreal. I saw just now in a letter from the owner that books will be on sale, that furniture and other fixtures and equipment will be for sale. It sounds like an estate sale after someone has died. Part of me wants to go and find some meaningful last purchases. Part of me doesn't want to witness it, or to feel like one of the Thenardiers, in Les Mis, taking advantage of those who have fallen for personal gain. I don't know what I, or we, will decide to do.

What I do know is that it wasn't "just a bookstore." It was a living testimony to what a common love for literature, art, history, poetry, music, good food and coffee, and community living can create and sustain even through the financial shock of the recession and the rapacious effects of Internet sales. Davis-Kidd, which became the Booksellers at Laurelwood, as explained in my friend's blog, survived the recession and the advent of Amazon when other bookstores were closing all around.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if everyone who shops or eats at the Booksellers would have just made a commitment to buy all their books there, rather than using the Internet? Do we really want a life where our constant drive to save money and time means we lose the precious places of community that make possible (and require) face-to-face interaction? Those are big questions and get into issues of technology and globalization, and what it means to flourish as human beings as opposed to simply getting what we want materially, and that's not what I want to focus on. But they are important issues with important questions.

I saw in Florence that Feltrinelli's is still open, and so were many other little bookshops around the city. Same in Zagreb. New books, used books, shops were still open. Maybe it's because in those cities they walk most everywhere, rather than driving in cars, which I believe has caused Americans to lose much of any sense of community and place and belonging--and therefore, loyalty.

Well, I think I will have to go and say goodbye, but it will be a very hard goodbye to say. Not quite like the closing of a church, but definitely the closing of a fellowship. This is where I found Christian Wyman's poetry, and Mother Teresa's wisdom, and Henri Nouwen over and over, and who knows how many blank books that now contain my life in words. And beautiful cards sent for birthdays, deaths, weddings, encouragement. And no telling how many Christmas presents we bought for friends, all in this one shop.

And we would so often get gift cards from the store for my nieces and nephews, who all loved to read. They live in a small town elsewhere and loved coming to Memphis to visit us, and part of those visits was always--always--going to the bookstore to use their gift certificates, from the days of going for the reading aloud when they were little children, to the days of their interest in Captain Underpants and other series books, to the days of being interested in biographies and history books.

Once I was there, at Bronte, with a friend who loved whipped cream on her hot chocolate. She asked the server if she might have more when hers ran out, and the server just brought the whole conatiner of whipped cream over to her, to refill as often as she liked.

One time a server accidentally mangled my credit card because their computer system wasn't working, and they had to use the old-fashioned credit card machines. He apologized profusely and repeatedly, and I still think of him each time I use my credit card--because despite his fears, it still works in most machines, though occasionally at a gasoline stop, I'll have to go inside and pay when the thing just won't slide properly. Each time I use my credit card, I think of Booksellers and Bronte and that sweet fellow.

In this past year, our two oldest dogs died, my mother died, and my car (the only one I ever actually chose, rather than inherited) was totaled. Learning about the end of a beloved bookstore perhaps should not come as a surprise. But it was a surprise, and I will grieve the loss of it if it truly goes through.

I began writing this post in early January, thinking it was a grieving, gratitude-ing, goodbye-ing post. I never did finish it, because shortly after I saved it as a draft, the petition was brought to my attention.

Now it's February 15, and I still dare to hope that someone, somewhere, or someones somewhere, may be able to save or resurrect this place, this entity, this very special human collaborative creation that has meant so much in my own life and in the lives of countless others.

It's hard to say goodbye. It's hard to not know whether to say goodbye. No matter how this turns out, I will always be grateful. My life and my family's life would not have been the same without Davis-Kidd and all the wonderful booksellers at Laurelwood.