Friday, November 19, 2010

And so it comes to this

Welcome to the The Shape of Mercy Blog. Unlike most blogs, this is where this one ends, not where it begins. If you are finding your way here for the first visit, your first order of business is to scroll down the archives to the very beginning. You will totally ruin it for yourself if you continue to read this post or any other from 2010 or 2009. Start from the beginning and work your way back to this spot. . .

If you are a regular visitor you can keep reading. . . Yes, I left you all dangling with Abigail's last post. Yes, it was her last. Yes, she left this Earth for brighter places. You knew it was coming. We all did. It comes for all of us, that invitation to the brighter place.

I know the most reasonable thing I could've done - perhaps should have done - was to continue with a post by Esperanza, perhaps sharing a recipe - in her grief - of something she served at the after-funeral reception. Or a post by Clarissa on how lovely the opening day was at Mercy's Gallery, despite her grief. Or an email from Lauren to Raul on how the diary is changing the lives of the people who read it, and that even though she grieves for Abigail, she knows that she, too, has a changed life because she met Abigail in the flesh and met Mercy in the pages of the diary.

But each time I would begin one of those posts, I would realize that I too was grieving the loss of this character and that nothing would be same after this. Then why did you kill her off, you might say. Because this is how life is scripted for us: we are born, we learn to love and be loved, and at some point after that, we die.

If you itch to know what becomes of Lauren, Clarissa and Esperanza, well I can certainly imagine a future for them, can't you? Lauren marries Raul. He becomes a heart surgeon, she teaches history at UCSB and lectures on the diary and what it teaches us. In time they are blessed with a son they name Michael and a daughter they name Abby. Clarissa marries John, she becomes the director of Mercy's Gallery, and they have twin girls: Chloe and Cara. Esperanza and her husband become the house parents for UCSB girls - scholarship girls on a very tight budget - who come to live at Abigail's House while they attend college. Graham meets a woman in rehab. He finally figures out what it means to love someone and be loved. (But not to worry. He is not killed off. . .)

And they all live realistically ever after - until the far-off day when the Brighter Place beckons. . .

It's not such a bad place to leave off. I can see it all. . . Can you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Abigail on the Classics

These will be my last words.

My doctor thought I wouldn't last through June. I believed him for the most part, why wouldn't I? - but I sensed a hedging within me when he said this, a reluctance to obey. I am still here.

But not for long. The doctor who tosses up his hands isn't quite sure now when I will depart but I can sense that it will be soon. Tonight, perhaps. It would be nice if it was tonight. I've always wanted to die in my sleep.

Clarissa is writing this for me and we just had to stop for a moment so she could complain about my choice of words. She is done complaining. Off we go again.

Lauren used to tell me I was a woman tethered to my regrets. She doesn't say that anymore. I don't think I am the same woman I was when hired her to transcribe Mercy's diary. I waited a long time for someone like Lauren to give the diary to. Deep down I think I knew that when I did find that someone, when I was finally able to let the diary go, I'd finally be able to let go of a lot of things.

I don't hate my father anymore for his manifold unkindnesses to me. He missed my mother.

I don't hate myself for marrying Edward Swift. I missed the father I wished I'd had and the man I wished I'd married.

I don't hate myself for not loving Graham enough.

I don't hate anything more.

I've discovered that there are things you carry with you into the world beyond this one. Everything that resides in your heart makes the journey with you. I don't want to make the crossing with hate in residence.

I've tried to thank Lauren for her part in my coming to this place. She is always trying to minimize the difference she has made in my life. I suppose it is too much to consider how things would have turned out if she had not answered the ad. I realize now she almost didn't. And she cannot bear to consider that. And I would not be the same person had I not met Clarissa, had not opened this crypt of a home to these girls. If Lauren had not answered the ad, I would not have met either of them. And who knows what might become of Mercy's diary, then? What would have become of all of us?

Clarissa has left the room. She needs a minute. I think I can finish this on my own. Yes, I think I can.

I leave you with this: Zora Hurston, writer and anthropologist, penned this. I read it some time ago and forgot it for many years: "Love makes your soul crawl out out from its hiding place." Our crooked souls are bent on hiding until we understand how beautiful it is out from under the rock which we think protects us, but in fact, presses us into the dust.

I see that now. It is beautiful here in the vastness. It always has been. I just had my back to it. God in His mercy, and oh how extravagant is mercy, waited for me to crawl out of my hiding place and see it for myself.

How strange to think people will say I died in my sleep. I will wake in my sleep.

I am ready.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I walked into the campus bookstore today and there was Mercy's diary, sitting on a table up front, a placard with my name and picture resting on a little easel next to it. About knocked me off my feet.

I can hardly believe the diary is now in any bookstore in any part of the country where anybody can read it. I knew this time was coming when the diary would no longer be this quiet little thing between Abigail and me. But it is strange just the same. The media interviews have finally slowed a bit, which is a Godsend. They were fun, but they were intense. I only have one more month of classes left - oh, and did I tell you Mercy's diary has been accepted as my senior project? Good thing since I have thought of little else the last two years.

Quite a number of the interviewers wanted to speak to Abigail, but she absolutely wouldn't do it, not even on her good days. It was a convenient excuse to tell these people that Abigail has terminal cancer and unable to participate in the interview. Most of them knew that but asked anyway; Abagail's diagnosis been noted in every news article I have seen about the diary. I think people find that little part of the story poetic or something, that the diary has been published and Abigail has lived long enough to see it. I guess it is poetic. But it is also sad.

Clarissa accepted the job as business director of Mercy's Gallery. The grand opening is set for July 1. Sometimes Clarissa and I stop over there before we come home from classes with fresh pictures on our phones for Abigail to look at. She is too ill to make the trip anymore. The exterior is all finished, and the curator Abigail has hired has been busy acquiring all kinds of amazing items - books, paintings, sketches, instruments. I am pretty sure Abigail is spending every dime of her remaining investments on the Gallery. Graham complains about it to no end, even though he is not the jerk he was when he first arrived here. She bought him a beautiful townhouse and gave him the deed to it. As long as he keeps his job and stays out of the casinos, he's got nothing to worry about.

I think the end is coming soon for Abigail. She is so weak, so thin. But the amazing thing is, Raul, she is happy. I know she is in pain, pretty much all the time now. But she is happy. I don't like to think about the imminent future. None of us does. We just concentrate on Today. It's not such a bad way to live.

Even if you aren't dying.

Off to class. Good luck on your clinicals. . .
Love, Lauren

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy's book of poems and stories
June 1689

The Rose

Bud of rose
A bloom of folds
Pink and crimson
The part we hold

Stem of thorns
Slender spires
The piercing pains
Of little fires

One part beauty
Soft as fleece
One part callous
Bereft of peace

Fragrant fabric
Petals fall
Thorns stay fast
And move not at all

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ask Clarissa

Spring Break your senior year is not like spring breaks of the past. I suppose this should not surprise me. In two months' time I will graduate and everything that has defined my life for the last four years will change. Most of my friends are going straight into grad school, including Lauren. And for a long time that's what I thought I would do. Anybody who hopes to do anything in business needs an MBA. I am starting to wonder if that's really what I want to do.

Partly it's because I see how hard John works for his paycheck. He's never NOT thinking about the next sales call he has to make or the next client he needs to impress or the next business opportunity to pursue. He acts like he loves it, but I wonder if he has conditioned himself to love it. You either love a life like that or you must hate it. And would you really want to hate something you had to commit to that much?

And partly it's because Abigail has asked me to think about something. Mercy's Gallery will be up and running this summer and will need a business director. She's asked me to consider taking the job. It's a not-for-profit thing, so I probably could make more elsewhere - like running around selling pharmaceuticals like John. And I'd technically be working for Lauren. She's going to be the executive director, working part time while she works on her MFA at UCLA. (Yeah, Masters of Fine Arts. Ask her about that sometime. She's the first Durough in a century to get a masters degree where you don't have to take econ. . .) Of course Lauren wants me to take it. She told me so.

My parents think I should take the job. Even if it is a not-for-profit thing. The economy for college grads is pathetic right now.

John is wondering how he fits into the picture. He doesn't particularly care what I do next as long as he knows where he is in the picture. I did ask him what he meant by that, even though I knew. "I don't want you moving away," he said. But I just wanted to hear it.

Abigail told me to think about it, but not to think about it too long, and then she smiled in this way she has now when she makes a joke about her dying. Lauren hates it when she does that, and most of the time I don't like it either. But this time I laughed. And so did she. . .

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

St. Patrick's Day isn't exactly a holiday with any kind of Latin flair to it, but I make Irish Apple Mash every time it rolls around. I've made it since I first started working for Miss Abigail because my mother made it for her. Sometimes you just need to keep doing what you've always been doing. I add a little nutmeg to mine, and accasionally a dash of cayenne pepper. Because I can.

And I think Abigail likes the tiny kick it gives her. At least, she's never asked me to stop. Apple Mash goes nicely with thick-sliced bacon. Miss Abigail likes for breakfast with a strong cup of Earl Gray. . .

Esperanza's Apple Mash
four cooking apples (Rome or Jonathan)
six to seven potatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
2 Tbls butter
Dash nutmeg

Peel potatoes and cook in salted, boiling water. Peel, core, and slice the apples. Place them in a pot with a tablespoon of water, and the sugar. Cook until soft. When the potatoes are cooked, drain and mash thoroughly. Beat in the apples and butter. Serve warm.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Abigail on the Classics

The doctor told from the very beginning that there would be good days, bad days, and days in between; days that start out good and turn bad and days that start out bad and turn good.

So far, today has been a day that has defied this prediction, this warning that my days would be limited to three kinds. It has been neither good nor bad. I don't feel wonderful, I don't feel terrible. Today I don't feel much of anything at all. Clarissa said this morning that perhaps, in light of the monster hidden inside me, this means it is a good day. The monster is sleeping and I feel nothing. But Lauren, who said nothing at all, surely thinks that any day when you can feel nothing is a day that is not quite good.

On a good day you should feel something.

There was a time when Lauren was afraid of my library. Do you remember that? My many books, stacked around the room like armed guards, intimidated her; made her feel like she was being scrutinized or perhaps judged. But she spends more time in here now than I do. Sometimes I will come downstairs at night, when I cannot sleep, and I will see a stripe of light under the door, and she will be in here having fallen asleep while doing homework, the paper-and-binding watchdogs shushing me as I peek inside.

On those nights I feel complete. There is no other word for it. It's as if I could melt away into the hall carpet and be gone forever from this house and it would be all right because I am complete. All done. Finished.

Perhaps tonight will be one of those nights when I creep down the hall and there will be the yellow ribbon of light under the library door. And then this day will become a day when I feel something.

And it will be good.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

A light rain is falling as I type this message to you. The clouds outside my window look fat and happy with rain, like they could do this all week long if they wanted to. I am in the library at Abigail's house and we are both sipping tea and eating one of Esperanza's scones. She calls them empanadas but they are really just scones with crimped edges. I saw the recipe she used. I pointed that out to her - all in fun- and she told me with a frown that she put a dash of cayenne pepper and coriander in the mixing bowl which unBritished the dough and made them more an empanada than anything else. She doesn't laugh at her own little jokes these days. She is already grieving the loss of everything that defines her day.

Abigail grows weaker. I think she is in more pain now than she admits. I don't think she refuses to complain because she's brave, though she is that, I think she believes the pain is like a cleansing penance for all the things she wishes she had done differently. It does no good to tell her she has already paid for the mistakes she has made.

The diary will be released on April 1 and I am as nervous as I am excited. My agent wants me to throw a launch party for it at the local bookstore but that's not what I am going to do. I am going to wait until the gallery opens, probably in May or June, and the celebration will not be the book published but the diary displayed. Mercy's diary. Not my book.

I pray everyday Abigail will live long enough to see it. . .
Miss you,
Love, Lauren

Friday, February 19, 2010

Author Intrusion

It's me the author intruding for just a moment to announce the audio version of The Shape of Mercy has just been nominated for an Audie award!

The Audies (you can find out more here) are the Audio Publishers Assn's (APAs) annual awards of excellence and are handed out every May at the very cool Book Expo in New York. The Shape of Mercy audiobook was produced by Christianaudio and narrated by the talented Tavia Gilbert.
I share the nomination in the Inspirational Fiction category with these fine people and their books

A Month of Summer,
by Lisa Wingate, narrated by Johanna Parker
(Recorded Books)

Double Minds, by Terri Blackstock, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Kiss, by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy, narrated by Pam Turlow
(Oasis Audio)

The Tempest Tales, by Walter Mosley, narrated by Ty Jones
(Recorded Books)

If you want to know how to get your hands on the The Shape of Mercy audiobook, it's available right here for 28% off retail, and that's always nice.

Thanks for letting me poke my head in here. On Monday, Lauren's up. The diary is nearly ready to be released to the world and she's nervous. . .

Monday, February 1, 2010

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

I am making a list of all of Miss Abigail's favorite dishes and I am making them, one a time, so that she can enjoy them and I can see her enjoy them. Today for lunch it will be Fruited Rice Pilaf. Sometimes I make this with a pork roast. But not today. Today I serve it alone. It will not be a side dish to a pork roast today. It will be The Dish. It will make her smile.

Fruited Rice Pilaf
2 Tblsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion (I use Vidalias)
1/4 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup orzo
2 cups water
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup dried fruit bits
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook 5 minutes. Stir in rice and orzo and cook two minutes. Add water and orange juice, salt and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low and cover. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in diced fruit. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with almonds. Serves 4.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Abigail on the Classics

There was a time when falling rain would bring to mind all the things about my life I wish I could just wash away. That time is lost to me now, thank goodness. As I sit here and listen to the steady rhythm of water from heaven, I am only reminded of how beautiful the hillsides will be this spring because of it.

I am beginning to think I may not be here to see those hillsides in bloom. The menace within me has begun boiling a brew inside that will eventually kill me. I don't know what the doctors call the fierce amber fluid that the cancer produces and which they insist must be siphoned off. I don't want to know what it is called. It is enough to know that it seems to materialize from nothing.

Wait. That is not entirely true. My own body is producing it. Lauren would tell me, no, the tumor is producing it. But who produced the tumor, Lauren? My body did. My own body has turned against me. It's the most inane thing. It will consume itself, my body will. It will win. And it will lose.

Lauren has reminded me these last few few days that a new body awaits me in heaven. She is being brave for me. I can sense her fear, though. She knows I want to stay in my house until the end. She knows it might come more quickly than we thought. She knows Mercy's gallery won't be done by the time the cauldron inside me has its way. She often shows me photos on her digital camera of the work being done. The construction workers have done nothing the last few days with all this rain. Nothing for five days. Five days lost to me.

So I amuse myself with the architect's drawings. They are beautiful - the drawings. There are people strolling about the drawn-in grounds and birds in the sky and a brilliant sun.

And on every exterior shot, the hillsides behind are in bloom.

The rain is quickening its pace now. I believe I just heard thunder. I think it's time for a cup of tea.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ask Clarissa

It was a little strange returning to Santa Barbara after the holidays knowing I am now in in my last semester at UCSB and that these next few months will be the ones where everything will change.

Lauren and I will graduate from college, and Abigail, who is starting to show battle scars from the war the cancer is waging against her, will graduate to whatever kind of paradise awaits her on the other side of this life. I won't be living in a dorm and I won't be living here in Abigail's house after May. I am most likely headed to LA to go get my MBA wherever I can, wherever I can afford it. It seems like I will be starting all over again. Just when I got comfortable with my life.

We don't really talk much here in Abagail's house about what the future holds. It's just the three of us now. Ryan got an apartment with her sister - unwilling, I think to live in a lovely house where someone is dying - so it's just me, Lauren and Abigail after Esperanza goes home at the end of the day. We've started another book in our little book club of three, not Pooh this time. We are reading Sonnets from the Portuguese from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Abigail's choice, course. Love poems. After all these empty years, Abigail is in love with love.

John Beckett took me to meet his parents over Christmas. I should rephrase that. I didn't go to meet his parents. I went to a party at his parents' house in LA and they were there and I met them. When he brought me back home, John told me he'd been gone the month of January on a business trip to Tokyo. And he asked if perhaps while he was away if I would not see anyone else.

"See someone else?" I said. "You want me to keep my eyes closed for a month?"

He drew me close. "You know what I mean."

I did.

I kissed him this time.

Abigail met John Beckett that night. She told me after he left that he suits me. I reminded her that she just met him. She told me, "Yes, but you've been living here in my house all these weeks since you met him. He suits you."

Dang it all. I miss him . . .