This chapter was one of the hardest, yet most important ones I’ve ever written.
Perrin has to decide if he’s going to give up his life or fight for it. He’s stuck in a debate where the rational thing to do is the most irrational. Someone once asked me how I wrote it, and I said, “Easy. I write what I know.” Especially when I was pregnant with my girls, my mind was in a terrifying, dark place for months at a time.
I’ve written about the “rationality of suicide” in a blog back in 2014, after Robin Williams died: https://forestedgebooks.com/2014/08/15/suicide-is-rational-in-its-own-mind/
I caught some flak for that blog, too, from some who said I shouldn’t have written it, or shouldn’t express such ideas. I still don’t understand why not. It’s a debate many depressed people are trapped in, and it’s important to know.
Last year I taught at a residential treatment center for teenagers, many of whom had attempted suicide. The “rationality of suicide” was a common feeling, and therapy was geared to helping students discover the irrationality of it, especially suicide’s potential affects on those who are left behind.
That’s where the internal debate gets sticky. Depressed people often feel they are a burden on their loved ones, and if they removed themselves, the burden on their families would be removed.
Their death is a self-sacrifice for those they leave behind, so believes the irrational mind.
However, I personally know that’s not what happens. Survivors don’t move on. My grandfather killed himself when his first and only child–my mother–wasn’t yet a year old. She had no memory of him, but the weight of his untimely death at just age 28 dragged on her for her entire 87 years.
If you don’t choose to stay for yourself, consider staying for those you leave behind. Your death doesn’t fix anything, no matter what the rational-irrational argument in your head believes.
I had several readers contact me about the descriptions in my book series of the Pox and how it mirrors much of what we’re seeing with COVID-19. While I based my “plague” on a genetically-vulnerable version of small pox, and the Spanish Flu of 1918, much of what I learned while researching and writing applies to now.
Here’s what I think we should be doing:
1) Stop complaining. All of us are suffering—every last person. Universally, we’re universally disappointed. I’ve had students and friends tearfully tell me that dances, graduations, weddings, and events are being postponed or cancelled. Well, mine too. Money and hours I’ve personally put toward an event may never come to fruition, and here’s the thing—EVERYONE is suffering from extreme disappointment. And there’s always someone suffering far worse than you. So let’s get past it and start being useful.
Jaytsy hid her face in her hands, feeling betrayed by everything in the world. “It’s not right!” came her muffled cry. “It’s just not fair!”
(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)
2) Check on your neighbors and friends, especially the elderly, those receiving cancer treatments, or otherwise dealing with compromised immune systems. Many of us find we now have extra time. Perfect! Knock on the doors of your neighbors, take several steps back to keep a safe distance, then ask, “Do you need me to pick up your groceries and drop them on your front step for the next few weeks? Do you need your dog walked? My kids are home from school, they can help. I see you have chickens. Can we gather the eggs for you? It’s going to snow tomorrow—can we clear your sidewalks later?” Take care of each other. There’s never been a better time.
Perrin pointed at him. “Remember this moment when you first realized that the government can’t properly take care of people. In fact, that’s never been their responsibility. They’re supposed to keep our borders safe so that we can live as we wish. It’s our responsibility—yours and mine and Zenos’s and everyone else’s—to take care of each other.”
(Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn)
3) If you get sick, STAY HOME and keep everyone home with you. We know what to do: binge watch TV, surf the internet, or—best of all—read a book and get some sleep until you’re better. We know what to look for: fevers, aches and chills, coughing, and runny noses. You or your family come down with those symptoms, stay home. Do NOT run to the hospital. There’s nothing they will do for you because it’s a VIRUS. Antibiotics don’t work. Your body will fight it off in time. Treat the symptoms with over-the-counter drugs, and rest, rest, rest. So when do you run to the hospital? See #4.
About two hours later, after half the neighborhood consisting of Hycymum’s old sewing club had come to her Cottage, assured Mahrree they would prepare her mother for burial, and gave her wet kisses, Mahrree finally accepted a ride home.
(SPOILER: this outpouring of kisses proves to be a bad strategy for old ladies. Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn.)
4) IF you find yourself unable to breathe, that means pneumonia is settling in, and that’s when—and ONLY when—you need to go to the hospital. Pneumonia’s the real problem, which very, very few people develop. So for 98% of us who might get sick, don’t even bother the doctors or hospitals. You’ve weathered nasty colds before. Just deal with another one. You’ll be fine.
Mahrree remembered something. “Wait a minute—you’ve been here the entire time I’ve been ill? What about the fort?”
He looked into her eyes. “The fort can function without me for a while. I had some leave coming anyway. I belong by your side.”
Mahrree blinked. “Four days? You’ve never been away that long without being unconscious or seriously injured.”
He shrugged. “Shem kept an eye on things for me. So did Jon Offra. Whatever Thorne may have changed in my absence, I’ll just right again.”
(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)
5) When all of this is over, realize that the bigger problem will be coming. “Wait a minute,” I hear you saying, “the danger of illness is over—all is great again, right?” No, it won’t be. Look at all the businesses closing, the massive amounts of revenue being lost to canceled events, the shortages we’re facing because of fear. Generosity of companies now (providing free internet or paid leave of absence, etc.) means they’ll have to make up those losses later. The financial cushions companies have built up will dry up in a few weeks, maybe months. Unless they find ways to recoup those losses, their employees won’t be paid and companies may collapse.
No one’s saying it but I will: We’re looking at a future financial crisis, likely globally, that will take months, if not years, to recover from. This, I believe, is when the real trouble will begin. People will become greedy. They’ll want “compensation” of some sort for their suffering (although ALL of us have suffered). They won’t accept that suffering is a part of life, but will panic when they feel they’ve “lost” experiences, possessions, or people that won’t return. That’s when #6 will become vital.
“Once that numbness wears off, it will turn to pain. And no one seems to think that pain is part of the human condition; they seem to think they should be compensated for it.”
(Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea)
6) Realize that we are a resilient species, that physical and financial losses in one area always mean emerging opportunities in others. When this is all over, we’ll have choices to make: Will we a) graciously acknowledge that life is hard but we are creative and can cope, or will we b) crumple like spoiled children, demand someone to make everything better, and throw violent tantrums if they don’t? We’ll be a lot happier and more satisfied if we follow the first route rather than the second.
In my books I speculate about people looting and rioting to be compensated for their losses. The fact that they lived through the illness wasn’t “reward” enough. Greed and fear take over. In a way, that’s already happening. (I don’t know why people stock up on TP and water. I was stocking up on chocolate, and I made sure there was plenty left for others.)
Mahrree looked out the dark window. “They’re just like animals,” she decided. “No. Worse than animals. We may no longer debate but we’ve retained our ability to rationalize away logic and compassion. We can be so great, or be so terrible. It seems we’re content to just be terrible.”
(Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn)
There’s little we can do about the events already set in motion; we need to seclude ourselves, take care of others, and ride out the virus. It’s after COVID-19 has gone, when we try to make sense of what we have left, especially financially, that we need cool heads, calm hearts, and reminders that we’ve come through far worse.
“Yes, the world’s unfair, Nature’s unfair, because the Creator is allowing us the opportunity to resolve that, as part of our Test. We can choose to bring balance. We can choose to fix those inequalities . . .
“I believe the Creator intends for us to use our surplus to help those in need. He’s giving us an opportunity to do something good for others, not take a reward just for surviving.”
(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)
All of us had ancestors who survived multiple bouts of the Black Plague. (If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.) Our species has also survived massive volcanic explosions, world wars, tsunamis, and financial disasters. We’ll survive this, and quite well, too, with the right attitudes. Faith over fear, every time.
Help everyone around you remember that as well.
“We realize that we’re asking you to put a great deal of faith in us, but I promise—you’ll be glad you did.”
(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)
(And by the way, I have been blogging every week, just not here. If you’re at all interested in AP Lit, here’s what we’ve been doing this semester. This has taken a great deal of my time, and seeing as how our school will likely sometime follow suit and go online with all of our classes, it’ll take even more.)
Only two weeks into the new semester and I’ve created anxiety in my AP English Literature classes.* I’ve told them that I’m going to be ruthless, and I’m keeping my promise by deleting words, phrases, and even sentences from their essays. “Cut the fluff,” I tell them, “and give me substance.”
Delineating between the two, however, is the challenge. They send me emails of angst, unsure of what is marshmallow and what is meat. They confuse the two, and I delete and rewrite to show them what’s what. Some sweetly email me thanks for my editing. Others greet me in the morning with a crusty glare and the words, “I thought it was good, but apparently not . . .”
I love these kids. I love their anxiety, their frantic messages, their pleas for help, their apologies for mistakes, their worry that they won’t be ready for the AP Exam or college, which I tell them I’m prepping them for.
I love them because they’re demonstrating desire to improve. They want to be better, they want to do the right (write) thing, they want me to highlight their sentences and share them on the board with everyone else as a good example.
And when one of them says something insightful about a poem or a character, and I write it on the board and say, “Ooh, I hadn’t considered that,” they beam: they got it right. They surprised the teacher.
Already more than once I’ve been able to say honestly to the classes, “Oh, good job, guys–you’re getting it! You’re so smart, I love it.”
And oh, how they glow.
Then I grade their essays and show them how half their words could be deleted to make the paper twice as effective. And the glow fades a little, but I’m not worried.
It really is all about gardening: they dig deep and plant new ideas, and weed and water–and a fair amount of manure is involved–and they worry and fret that nothing may come from all of their effort.
But already I see budding that they don’t yet recognize–my cruel pruning has its purpose–and in a few months these teenagers will bloom. Oh, how they’ll bloom.
I love spring.
From Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, available in paperback and Kindle.
*And why I haven’t had time to post here. There’s a lot of prep–I’m putting all my lessons on a website for when kids are absent or need reminders–and it’s a lot of grading. Whatever I make them do, I have to grade. (Who came up with this system?! It’s a punishing cycle for all of us.)
My five-year-old is currently in the dungeon. Well, others might call it a “basement” but with the damp floor and that smell which permeates every inch of the concrete and rock down there, we’re calling it a dungeon.
He’s chosen to be there, because that’s where his dad’s and brothers’ Warhammer 40k figurines are set up. (I call them “hideous plastic things.”)
Here’s the weird part–he’s not afraid to be down there, alone, with the spider webs and damp and creepy windows . . . but he’s terrified to pick up his new 6-week-old kitten.
It’s the cutest little thing in the world, cuddly and purring, but it has those needle-like claws and THOSE freak him out. He’ll pet it, he’ll croon at it, build her shrines out of blankets and pillows when she sleeps, but the moment it comes after him and his bare feet, you’d think a mountain lion had been released because he goes RUNNING FOR THE HILLS!
On the other hand, his 13-year-old brother will love and play with the kitten endlessly, but he’s so terrified of the dungeon/basement that he LOCKS the doors going down there.
This poses a problem for the 5-year-old trying to come back upstairs, and freaks out older brother when he hears the door rattling because SOMETHING HAS COME UP FROM THE BASEMENT!
Fear is a weird and random thing.
Sometimes it makes us run and slam the door. Other times we charge it, like my 18-year-old daughter armed with the shop vac sucking up every spider web with the extension tube. (The dungeon/basement is next, but only once she stops shivering from her last extraction triumph upstairs.)
Other times we call for help, as with my 5-year-old (the dungeon tolerator) who came from the bathroom to announce he couldn’t brush his teeth because of the “critter” in there. Turned out to be a moth in the sink. Another reason why we got a kitten, who I wanted to name “Moth Killer” as a reminder as to how she’s supposed to earn her keep.
Sometimes we’re quiet about our fears, such me pretending to know how to talk to people–especially strangers–all the while my heart rate is at 120 bpm and I’m praying I don’t pass out before the conversation is over, to my own father who I didn’t know was deathly afraid of snakes until I, as a kid, came up to him with our neighbor’s boa constrictor draped around my neck. I’ve never seen a man go gray faster than my father did, and still live.
It’s strange that what makes some people afraid has no effect on others. Birds, for example, send some people into a panic while others keep them as pets. Same with rats. And chihuahuas.
Everyone hates needles, however. I’ve asked phlebotomists about that every time I’d had blood drawn. One nurse told me, “If I met someone who LIKED having a needle jabbed into a vein, THAT would terrify me.”
What’s the point to this rambling? I’m afraid I don’t know.
“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Be honest. You, like me, hear that phrase that think, “Oh yeah? What about [fill in the blank]?” There are DOZENS of things to fear, and here’s the good part: all of us fear something. All of us are cowards about something.
Openly or quietly, there’s something that worries each of us, which is good to remember. That’s not meant as a challenge to figure out someone’s fear and exploit it, but to comfort us all that we really are all the same.
Once I dropped by the house a 13-year-old when her mom wasn’t home. In a small and terrified voice, she asked me to do her a favor. Worried that I was walking into a home invasion scenario based on her solemnity, I nevertheless agreed. Moments later I felt like Wonder Woman as I went downstairs (a nice downstairs, with carpeting and lights) with tissue in hand to extract a spider that had kept this sweet girl from entering her bedroom for the past hour.
I realized then that maybe different fears exist to let all of us be heroes at one time or another. My husband is my hero whenever a live mouse or a dead animal is involved. (Bonus points to him if it’s a dead mouse he bravely disposes of.) Perhaps that’s why he moved us here, so that after a year of living apart I’d have plenty of reasons to rush into his arms and ask him to be my hero because there may have been another mouse . . .
Which now has may thinking that maybe romance is also a weird and random thing.
When Perrin came home for dinner the tiny cat was still there. It hobbled up to him and began to climb his trousers.
“Get it off!” he yelled, shaking his leg.
Mahrree extracted the kitten from his knee. “Honestly. How can a grown man be so afraid of a tiny kitten?”
“Afraid? That’s what you think I am? Afraid!”
“Yes! Give me another reason why you run in terror from it.”
“I don’t run.”
“Well, you shout!”
“You’re shouting now!”
“So are you! Give it to me.”
Mahrree clutched the kitten to her chest. “What will you do?”
“Prove you wrong,” he beckoned. “Hand it over.”
“Don’t hurt it!”
“I won’t hurt it. Just hand it over.”
Reluctantly, Mahrree gave him the kitten. Perrin held it up to his face. It mewed in a manner that sounded like a whimper of fear.
Perrin stared into its tiny eyes.
It stared back, then looked down at the height at which it was dangling. It flailed in fright, so Perrin cradled it in his other hand, and the thing began to purr.
“Why does it do that?” he asked, bewildered.
Mahrree’s mouth twitched. “Because it likes you. I can’t imagine why, but it does.”
He evaluated the creature.
It didn’t resemble a Thorne—captain or general—in any way. It was just a tiny, helpless animal. With needle-like claws. And it made annoying sounds, although quietly.
Still, those claws were unreasonably sharp, snagging the wool on his uniform.
Still yet again, it was just a baby.
“Hm,” he said eventually. “Fine. It can stay.”
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, Forest at the Edge series
Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:
Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.
(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)
I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:
. . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.
Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?
I’m not. I’m miles away.
And I’m glad of that.
To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.
Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.
I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.
Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.
How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”
Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.
We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”
Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?
For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?
But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?
Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.
Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.
But maybe not always.
Halloween’s coming up.
Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.
Maybe it’s just all about timing.
“Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
“They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
“Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn
Not only do I get to present to you the new cover (will be available on Amazon in the next 24 hours) for Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea . . .
. . . but here’s also Book 4!
I’ve had far too much fun playing with colors and images these past few months. I’ve never pretended to be a professional anything: not a writer, and certainly not a graphic designer, as is likely obvious. But creating these books has been a pure joy and absolute delight. Deciding to develop new covers as vivid and lively as I dared was just the next step in my all-consuming hobby. I’m immensely blessed that my family tolerates me and my little obsessions. My husband especially has been a good sport, even if not a natural actor.
“So what do you want me to do? Just stand here? How about I put my hand on my hip? I can scowl. Wanna see a scowl? Should I point? Like in baseball, that’s where the ball’s going . . . Why not? You want more emotion? What’s that supposed to mean? Dammit, Jim–I’m a doctor, not a soldier! How was that? Are you about done? Why are you laughing? What? You need me to dress up again?! I think you’re doing this on purpose . . .”
(Most of the time I was waiting for him to close his mouth so I could take the pictures. He also gets very chatty when it’s time for family portraits. Rarely do we get a picture with his lips together. Yes, I think my husband’s adorable . . . and I’m not just writing that because I’ll need him to pose again for the next book!)
The actual book will be release FRIDAY, MAY 29 on Amazon and also here! Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it’s ready to fly . . .