Sunday, November 22, 2015



     If you read my blog every so often, you probably already know that my friend Michele and I were fortunate enough to meet the one and only Katherine Paterson on an afternoon in September.  Also, that afterward we were disappointed - horrible ingrates that we are - because she clearly didn't want to talk with us about her books while we were there.  Moreover, that Michele and I afterwards put our heads together and came up with a belated list of questions to ask her, which I emailed to her.  Additionally, that I received no response for weeks.  And finally, that KP ended up responding to my email after all, telling us she didn't have time to answer our questions, but that she would try to send us "something" instead.  Which turned out to be two copies of her recently-published memoir, STORIES OF MY LIFE.
  I've finished reading my copy now, and here's my review: many stories, much life.  I thought I knew my fair share about KP before, having been more-or-less obsessed with her and her books for many years, and now HAVING BEEN TO HER HOME.  (Okay, I confess: when I used her bathroom I was sorely tempted to rifle through her medicine cabinet and steal a KP-purchased Q-tip or something.  But my conscience won out.  Barely.)
     Well, it turns out that I didn't know much about her before after all, and I know a lot more now - all of it G-rated (she was a minister's wife, not a Hollywood starlet), much of it frank nonetheless and tinged with self-deprecating humor.  There's quite a bit of old-Southern-family history; quite a bit more of globetrotting-missionary-parents history, including her own early childhood in China; a very satisfying collection of family photos; and a respectable dose of her four years living as a missionary in Japan and her ensuing 50 years of married life, children, pets, and writing career.  And the book ends with a deeply poignant description of her beloved husband's final illness and death, and what she learned from living through those experiences.
     And now I want to give this book away, and I can't really explain why except to say that I think KP would want me to.  If you look at her Facebook page, you'll see immediately that she is (at 84) a fully engaged citizen of the world, and that sharing is what she does and what she approves of.  I don't think I'll read KP's memoir again unless someone decides to give me a pop quiz on her life, which seems fairly unlikely, so I will happily share my read-but-pristine copy with a lucky winner and fellow Patersonphile.  Here's the deal:  leave a comment on this post naming your favorite Katherine Paterson book, with a brief explanation as to what makes that book stand out for you.  I'll choose my favorite comment and ship the book to the commenter, no matter where he or she lives. The contest begins now and ends next Sunday, the 29th, at 11 p.m. Eastern time.  Please enter, and tell your friends about it!  I hate running giveaway contests and getting only a handful of entries!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


    From the pen of my friend Nilanjana Bose, expressing some of my own thoughts better than I ever could. 


The flowers dry, the candles burn;
both reach their ends. The world still turns.
The streets are full, the café chat
is about revenge, tit for tat,
air-strikes, mortal wounds, ground combat.
I cannot take in any of that.
I only know she won’t return.

Although each time the doorbell rings
my heart leaps once, instantly sings
then recalls the days before.
She’ll never be back at my door.
The talk is thick with migrants; war;
how exactly to settle the score.
But I can’t relate to those things.
There must be justice, and a stern
reprimand,  offenders must learn
how strong we stand, crime never pays.
The news channels are choked for days
with some or other leader’s speech-haze,
clips gone viral, constant replays,
rehashing the current concern.

I just know that flowers dry rough
that candles aren’t warm enough.
I just know that my room’s gone cold,
my heart is shrivelled and grown old;
she’ll never again cross this threshold
whatever events might unfold.
That’s my truth, the rest’s just stuff.

For all the families - in Nigeria, in Egypt, in India, and in France and elsewhere in the world, who have lost loved ones to terrorism.
Read more of Nila's beautiful poems at

Sunday, November 15, 2015


     For the last week I've been reading Astronomy magazine's special issue, "The Immensity of the Cosmos."  And it, in combination with recent news events, has got me thinking about the concept of God.
     When humans first came up with the idea that an invisible Higher Power or Powers existed, the known universe consisted of all the places to which one could sail in a ship, and then return.  The job of supervising all of Creation was a vast one, but it was finite.  God could hold the Earth in the palm of His hand.
     But now what is God's purview?  Still just our Earth, or the rest of our solar system as well?  Comets?  Asteroids?  Dwarf planets?  Or what if God controls the whole Milky Way galaxy?  It contains about 400 billion stars, only one of which is the Sun around which our solar system revolves.  How may of those 400 billion stars form the centers of their own planetary systems, and on how many of those planets is there life?  Does God watch over all of those too, or did we Earthlings just get incredibly lucky in the Higher Power department?  If God is focused entirely on our planet, do all those other planets out there have their own watchers?  And once that question is answered, what's the story with all the other galaxies in our cosmos?  Who's keeping an eye out for them?
     You see the problem.  Knowing so much more about our universe than our distant ancestors did, it's hard to maintain their geocentric perspective.  And yet we know so pitifully little.  Are there a billion Earths revolving around their suns out there in the unimaginable distances of space?  Given the sheer immensity of the cosmos, it does seem more likely than not, although we will never know.  But could our own tiny, insignificant speck of a planet really be assigned an immortal, omniscient Ruler who keeps track of everything each of us humans does so that we can be rewarded or punished accordingly after this earthly phase of our lives ends?
     It seems to me very difficult in the 21st century to teach this theory to children and expect them to accept it.  Astonishing, really, that so many do both teach and accept in this way.  But what I find most astonishing of all is the number of people on our tiny wisp of a planet who are able to convince thousands of others that (1) there is a God watching us with a scorecard, (2) this God demands to be worshipped by us in one precise way, and no other, and (3) this God will choose to reward those of us who kill as many other people as possible because they do not worship Him in the one correct way.
     Those teachers/demagogues only pretend to love God.  What they really love is having and exploiting the power to create havoc.  Instead of God having created these teachers in His/Her own image, they have created a God in their own image: a supreme hatemonger, a superhero of murder, a vampire who lusts for the taste of human blood.  To the poor, the disenfranchised, the children of despair, they cynically teach a religion of  immolation, of annihilation.  On a tiny rock circling a tiny sun in a vast and uncaring universe, they devote their lives to teaching the hopeless that hope lies only in destruction and that human life doesn't matter.
     But it does matter.  Our lives might not matter to a God who may or may not even exist, but our lives do, and must, matter to each other.  The people in Paris who two nights ago rushed to help, to tweet their addresses out to strangers in need of shelter, knew the truth: each other is all we have.


Thursday, November 12, 2015


     A short update on my beloved dog: he's on a special diet and a whole slew of meds, and he's still with us.  My whole family is treating this "bonus time" with him, however long it will be, as a gift, and we're spending as much time with him as we possibly can.  I cancelled out on the writing conference I was supposed to attend last week.  Instead, my son came home for the weekend to make sure he would have a chance to say goodbye.  Murphy isn't supposed to do anything remotely physically challenging, but Sunday was a beautiful day, and all six of us managed to take a very short, slow-paced hike.  And as always, Murphy expressed his gratitude with an abundance of kisses.

     Murphy is happy.  Since his diagnosis he's been acting pretty much like himself, although with slightly less energy.  He has no idea he's close to the end of his life, and he acts so normal that sometimes we humans forget too.  Maybe it's a coincidence that he put us on notice last week of his illness and that we have time to do everything with him that we'd like to be able to.  Or maybe it's not a coincidence at all, but instead a characteristic last gift to us from our devoted and generous friend.  Either way, we'll take it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


     Late yesterday afternoon I learned a new word.  It's a word I wish I had gone my whole life without learning: hemangiosarcoma.  It's a very aggressive form of cancer that appears only in dogs (and possibly in cats, but that's not known for sure). 
     My beloved 10-year-old Murphy presented with the classic symptoms: he seemed absolutely fine, aside from some indigestion, until early yesterday afternoon.  I had the day off for Election Day, the weather was gorgeous, and my plan was to take both my dogs for a hike.  But when I went to call Murphy, he was nowhere to be found.  After a frantic search through the house and the fenced-in yard, I finally discovered him curled into a ball in the woodpile next to the garage, which was as hidden as he could possibly make himself. 
     When I first saw him there, he was lying so still that I thought he was dead, but then I saw that his eyes were open.  I brought him to the vet, and somehow I knew in advance that it was very serious; I started crying as soon as the examination began.  The vet did a physical exam and followed up with chest and abdominal X-rays, after which he showed me that there was a mass on Murphy's spleen which apparently had ruptured and caused some internal bleeding.  The vet told me that while there was a very slim chance that there might be a more benign explanation, his 35 years of experience told him that this was a hemangiosarcoma and that it had already metastasized.  If this were the case, we could opt for surgery to have Murphy's spleen removed, but that this would only buy him another month or two until another of his organs would be so compromised that he would be back to the condition he's in now.
     The vet kept Murphy overnight to rehydrate him via IV, and is going to do a sonogram this afternoon to see the condition of his other organs.  I'm not going in to work today, partly because I hardly slept last night and I'm a wreck, and partly because the vet said he might be able to send Murphy home tonight and if he does, I want to go get him as soon as I can.  My husband is out of town.  He was supposed to come back Friday, but he's coming back tonight instead.  My son who lives in D.C. can't get here until Saturday.  We still haven't told my daughter, who is in college in New York.  We're going to wait until after the sonogram so we can give her as much information as possible so she can decide when to come home.  We're only thinking ahead one day at a time.
     You don't have the privilege of knowing Murphy, so I'll tell you about him.  We got him when he was an 8-week-old teddy bear and he immediately stole everyone's heart.  When he was a tiny puppy, people would pull over in their cars as we walked him to marvel at him and ask what breed he was.  He's a goldendoodle (half poodle, half golden retriever) who was apricot-colored until he lost his puppy coat and turned the beautiful white you can see in the photo.
     I've always said that Murphy was born with manners. I've also frequently referred to him as a saint, and that is entirely accurate. Once he outgrew the puppy phase of nipping our 9-year-old daughter, who he had decided was his littermate, he has never been anything but - to quote Chaucer - "a very parfit, gentil knight."  Unlike his little brother Finney, whom we got when Murphy was two so that he would have company during the day when we were all at work or school, Murphy is reserved around people he doesn't know.  But to the members of his family, he has always been the most devoted, loving creature I've ever met.  He's someone I've often wished I could emulate: infinitely patient, infinitely kind, infinitely accepting.  He does everything with a full, open and generous heart.  He's a true embodiment of love, and for the last ten years he's taught all four of us humans exactly how it's done.  We are so much the richer for having had him in our lives.
     Last night I was on one of many phone calls with my husband, and he asked how a friend of mine had reacted when I told her our sad news.  I said, "Well, she's not a dog person," and he replied, "Well, Murphy's not a dog."  Truer words were never spoken.  Murphy is a noble being who has also been our baby for the past ten years.  Lucky, lucky us.