By Paula Damon
“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” – Anaïs Nin, American author
Topics swirl about in a vertigo-like fit, spinning out of control. I lose my bearings on any one subject, as wildly disassociated ideas vie for my attention.
Story ideas range from the Victorian-age concept of dance as a wicked sport outlined in an antique collection of party games I came across at a rummage sale to the difficult 16th Sunday after Pentecost lectionary subtly anchored in suffering, loss and conflict as a sign that we’ve chosen well.
We could touch on the historic sites I toured near Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., in the Pacific Northwest while visiting my sister. Of special interest to me was the massive bronze statue of Illchee or “Moon Girl” – a powerful warrior princess of the Chinook Tribe who befriended Lewis and Clark near the early settlement at Astoria.
There’s the untellable beauty of the Historic Columbia River Highway, the first planned scenic roadway in the United States. Constructed through the Columbia River Gorge from 1913 to 1922, this is a 75-mile breathtakingly scenic stretch from Troutdale and The Dalles, OR.
On our little road trip, I learned about the Portland Women’s Forum, which since 1946 to this day has been actively preserving and beautifying the Columbia River Gorge. Founding members were responsible for recognizing that a viewpoint overlooking the Gorge should be kept in all of its grandeur for generations of visitors to come – or “forever” as their mission states.
Together, this hardy band of women worked together to raise funds to purchase land where the premier Gorge vista is situated. They eventually gifted the area to Oregon Parks and Recreation, who aptly named it Portland Women’s Forum State Park.
Bridge of the Gods is another whimsical stop along the way. Spanning the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, the bridge once was a natural dam created by the great Bonneville Slide – a huge landslide that dammed the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, OR. Named Bridge of the Gods long ago by an ancient Native American tribe, the earthen bridge was washed away by the river and eventually was replaced by a man made one.
Oh, lest I forget, the delicious piece of Northwest Cheesecake topped with basil chantilla (sugary basil crystals) that my sister and I savored at Scamamia Lodge in Stevenson, Wash.
Topping off our lunch stop, it was more of a sculpture than it was a menu item – really. My sister and I took photos before our first bite and drew straws over the last smidgen of this delectable delight.
And then there’s the topic of why our ears sometimes feel plugged with tears when we swallow hard. Not sure if I have the answer, but I wonder if it’s because our hearts are due for a good cry.
However, the news that my 62-year-old brother is jailed in New Mexico is completely off-limits.
I found out about it in late August, several weeks after he had been locked away.
I don’t want to say another word about it – the mere admission sends me into a shuttering fit of shame.
The reality that my childhood playmate, born 16 months before I came into the world, the big brother who caught my falls while teaching me how to ride a bike and showed me how to slow dance before my first date – is behind bars for selling drugs is indefinably painful.
I’m struggling, to say the least, so let’s not go there.
How can two lives from the same parents end up so drastically different? You tell me. Too embarrassed to bring it up in conversation, yet aching to get it out in the open, I’m haunted by an image I had of my brother not long before the bad news broke.
In a dream I had – which was more like a vision – my brother appeared older than his years – completely worn and withering, his complexion ashen.
Standing in the room next to him was the mother of our youth. (She passed away at 85 in 2005.) Her supple cheeks were smiling. Her eyes were bright and wide with joy. Her chronic depression was gone once and for all.
This 30-something version of my mom beaming almost to the point of rejoicing juxtaposed with my brother was stirring.
Mom was that way – always telling us not to worry and trust in the lord.
Why? Tell me why.