Under an empty sky

When I was in third grade my mother was killed. That one act of violence changed my life. My sister and brother and I soon crammed into an old station wagon with a father I hardly knew, heading off on a 5-day journey up the Alaskan-Canadian highway.  I don’t remember much of that trip other than the endless dust from over a thousand miles of gravel road. It is nice and paved now, but in 1972 pavement was a luxury neither the Canadian or US Government was willing to pay for. I remember the dust.

It was in fifth grade that I discovered the power of words. Grown-ups are funny people. Teachers would ask me how my mother died and I matter of factly said “Homicide.” Every one of them would be speechless and start to stammer and get flustered. Then I would get nervous at their distress and smile. That did not go well for me. That smile must have looked very creepy because soon I was in the Principal’s office. He asked me if I was glad my mother was dead.

I didn’t know how to tell him that a single word spoken by a skinny nine year old flustered grown-ups and that their reaction to that word, made me smile. He must have wondered if I was psycho, while I wondered if he was stupid.  I learned one thing when I left his office. Words had power.

I discovered that the world of words and story could wrap around me like a cocoon.  I became deaf to the world outside of whatever book I was living in at the moment. Thank God for Laura Ingalls Wilder. I could leave the dreary winter in Anchorage behind and run wild in the old west.

I don’t know when I started to imagine words floating above me like those cloud shaped dialogue boxes used in comics. I started to write poetry and would imagine my sky filled with words that I must pull down to put on paper. One day I read a poem and it was so well crafted that I ran to my father and cried that all the good words had been taken and my sky was empty.

Living under an empty sky was like having a wordless dialogue box over my head. It silenced my voice, my vision. I needed more words so I could adequately express my inner world. I needed a better three syllabus word than homicide to rock the world. I needed weighty words like concrete to anchor my soul. I needed words of sorrow to finally mourn the loss of my mother; the best friend I would never have. I needed words of faith to find the one who is above my limited vocabulary — the God who is higher than my sky

It was while reading The Word, His Words, The Bible, that I found the words I longed for. I no longer live under an empty sky, for the heavens declare the glory of God.  I am now the one speechless in awe and wonder at the God who spoke words to create the universe.

Natalie

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