Prompt: Discuss the ideas developed by your text creator in your chosen text about how acts of courage develop and nurture personal integrity.
This is a creative response to the following poem:
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.
Never Say Goodbye Before You Go
I woke to the smell of pancakes.
I knew he was downstairs whipping the butter cream, keeping an eye on the pancakes as they cooked on the stove. I knew he would wait exactly two minutes and ten seconds before flipping the first pancake, giving it a nice crisp outlook. I also knew a pancake is not necessarily what I would receive on my plate, but rather the face of Mickey Mouse staring back at me. Oh how he loves disney. And food.
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to drown that face with maple syrup and butter cream. Of course to maintain a healthy diet, I would also have berries on the side…or maybe on his nose. Cranberries, to be precise.
Dressing myself was done in haste before heading downstairs. Yet the frenzy of it all felt qualm. As though something were in disarray. Regardless, I took comfort in the fact that my meal would be served with his eyes staring down at me, waiting for some form of approval. I was waiting for that moment more than anything else. More than the taste of syrup and butter cream harmoniously mixing in my mouth and setting my taste buds aflame. I wanted to revel in the moment when I would look up, and find those eyes of soft silver staring back at me. The kind of silver that is gentle yet strong; the kind that will slip under your covers at night to hold you until your limbs stop shaking from the nightmares of a past you fear letting go of, or a future you fear holding on to.
But as I entered the kitchen, he was not there. I was confused. Until that confusion lulled into a realization I should have had before the scent of pancakes made me delirious: he would never be there. Because his home is no longer by my side, but rather 10 kilometres east of me, six feet below me, and a million minutes away from me. His absence in that moment was perpetual.
They say death is simply a form of moving on, and even though I have faith in the fact that God will let him enter the gates of heaven, I won’t be seeing those gates for a very long time. Death always seems like a faraway concept to me. I understand that when one’s heart stops beating, it is death that becomes the immediate conclusion. However, to me it seems almost immoral. It is not right for a daughter to be separated from her father. It is just not right.
Such were the substance of my thoughts as I sullenly picked away at the circular pancake served by my aunt. Even though it tasted great, there was something missing. It was then that I realized that the food before me was an insignificant detail of breakfast as a whole. The eyes were what filled me; the food was an excuse. I sigh as my eyes roll upwards and I lean back in my chair. These realizations are beginning to take a toll on me. I feel tired. Tired of waking up and seeing him when he’s not there. Perfect, now death seems like more of a disease than anything else. I must cure this disease, for I feel my sanity slipping away, as though someone is unwinding a vital spool of thread and I am doing nothing to stop them.
The evening breeze is chilly as I walk to the cemetery. Not the kind of chilly that is cured by heavy jackets and cotton scarves. The kind that makes your bones grow cold and rigid. At one point I thought my nose would fall off. Then again I probably wouldn’t have noticed even if it did, considering I can no longer feel my face. I remember he would pull my scarf up to cover my nose when it turned the perfect shade of pink; he called it blossom pink…
I stopped wearing scarves a while ago.
I like telling myself I stopped because spring was just around the corner. But of course life must show me the flaw in my thinking by killing my hopes and dreams…and so the damn groundhog saw its shadow.
Another six weeks to go.
Another six weeks of numb faces and pink noses and scarf-less necks.
Thankfully I have begun to feel the air passing though my nostrils as I sit in front of my father’s grave. Then again it’s not really a huge consolation when tears make my vision go blurry. But I don’t let them run their regular course down my cheek. I hold them in, forcing my eyes closed ‘till the pain subsides.
So I open my eyes.
As I stare at his grave I feel the urge to say something but the words don’t come. I thought part of accepting his death meant saying goodbye, but how does one say good bye to another who has already left? I mean he should have been the one to say goodbye. That’s basic protocol: to say goodbye before you leave. Of course death is immoral, so I suppose regular protocol does not apply.
As my thoughts wonder, as do my eyes. They land on a flower, or I would assume the beginnings of one anyway. It’s green. No petals. More like a green stick. Or stem. I feel the urge to pluck that stem right out. It seems so vulnerable. I grow more and more eager and as my fingers graze the base of it, they stop. I want to carry it with me, hoping its weight would offer a consolation of sorts, but I don’t. I let it be. Maybe letting the little thing fight a little longer is not such a bad idea. Besides, if the next six weeks hold its death, the hedgehog is to blame. On the other hand, if it survives, maybe I actually have the ability to do something right.
As I lay in my bed that night, I pray he’s not “there” when I wake up the next morning. I need to accept the fact that he’s gone or another walk to the cemetery will be a must. If I keep seeing him when he’s not there I have to make myself believe that he will never be there, and that stone with his name on it is the only way I can think of doing so. But I know I am going to have to close my eyes to find out if all this will be necessary. I’m afraid. How long will I have to keep doing this? As my hands grow a little colder, and my eyes grow heavy with exhaustion, I feel myself sinking into the mattress under me. My heart beats a little faster as my last conscious thought formulates and then dissipates: what if accepting means forgetting?
As my mind resurfaced, I felt something digging into my thigh. I lifted my head from my pillow and saw a book, its corner piercing my skin. It was not long before that book had a hand on it, and that hand connected to a body, and that body belonged to him. His hair was a mess and his body moved up and down very slightly, as though he were breathing. My hand slowly made its way to the book: it was real. Then to his face, right at the little stubble on his chin: my fingertips fell through the stubble as I pushed against it and the world seemed to recollect itself as his form dispersed into small particles. All that was left was my hand hanging there. Lost. Confused. Alone.
It was snowing as I walked. I stared at my hands as the snowflakes fell and melted into another form. They would fall and disappear. Fall and disappear. And I would stare at them as they did so, linking each snowflake to a life. One was born and then they died. Birth and death. Birth and death. Soon enough each snowflake hurt. But I kept staring at them. Because maybe, just maybe, one would decide to stay a little longer.
I eventually got to him. To his gravestone anyway. Again me and a block of cement were face to face for another twenty minutes or so. I was still unsure as to what I should do, and not even thirty seconds into my estimated time frame, I saw that green stem again. There it was; beside his stone, submerged in an ocean of white with a little bit of green poking out. It was struggling. As was I. It felt nice. Almost like a friend holding my hand. I smiled in what seemed like a lifetime.
That night I had an idea. Perhaps I continuously envision him because of a lack of spirituality. Maybe cleansing my soul was a good first step in moving forward before heading to bed. So I sat on my knees with my intertwined fingers resting on my bedsheets. I prayed for forgiveness, as that was what my father classified as “cleansing.” I began to speak, “ God please forgive me. Forgive me
for…” I choked up. Forgive me for what? Have I done something wrong? No, I haven’t. All I did was walk to the cemetery to see a dead man day after day for the sake of forgetting that same man and it does not seem to be working. All at once, for a reason I cannot place, I feel a sadness like no other. I begin to sob, “What do you want me to do…?” Thus far my life comprised of remembering him, walking to his grave, walking back, and remembering him more. I look through my window at that moment and see the moon. “It’s silver,” I whisper to myself. “It’s soft silver… and it’s out of my reach.”
That night closing my eyes was not a fear of mine. It was the knowledge that my tears were preventing me from doing so. At one point I was screaming into my pillow; out of anger? Yes. Pain? Absolutely. The fact that my soul seemed trapped within the limits of my body and my heart had too many scabs to pick off that there seemed no point in trying? Most definitely. But I had to endure it. I had to.
It was a dark night. Darker than most. I was leaning against my window, staring at the moon, wondering why it aroused such a dramatic outburst of emotion. The moon didn’t do anything wrong. It was just there. It’s always just there. Like…like he was. In fact, the moon seemed to be the perfect reflection of his character. As though his spirit somehow manifested into this glowing ball of silver. I smiled. What a beautiful thought. I made a mental note to keep having beautiful thoughts.
The next morning I woke up and immediately made my way to the cemetery. At one point I grew desperate and began running. I was in a state of emergency and once I reached the grave I was sweaty, out of breath, and smiling. I stood at his grave and found that green stem. It seemed alive and well. I sigh with relief as I sit down, my gaze still on the stem. I was nearly doting on the thing and if at that moment someone walked by, they would probably find it strange that a girl would be sitting in front of a grave with the brightest smile she could muster spread across her face. I admit I was a happy. Because for once I understood why people called those whose heart stopped beating, dead. It was because they need an excuse for the pain. They need to be able to say that death is the reason they’re sulking around. Death is the reason they cannot move forward. Death is what has killed the courage they once had to face the little things in life. But really, death is non-existent for the world is simply a continuation of life itself. People cannot last but their essence will always be captured in the world they once loved. They will be seen by their loved ones in the rays of the sun, or the dew on the grass, or the silver of the moon. The world is an honest host to man. It shows you day after day the legacy of those deemed dead. It does not hide this legacy. Therefore, I want to live my life with this same honesty, integrity even.
Yes, that pancake facade was cruel; the blossom pink nose, a painful memory; the hedgehog, a harsh reminder of colder days yet to come; the book, a paralyzing moment; the snowflakes, a hypnotizing yet despairing cycle; but all of these elements required raw courage because they were mirror images of him. The world was simply showing me the truth, which is often painful. It often feels like “a small coal [I must keep] swallowing,” but it built my integrity. Envisioning him day after day, walking to the cemetery day after day, that nurtured my integrity. If I have to face a similar circumstance in my life I will feel comfort in that the world knows I am strong enough to face the pain, and now, so do I. That being said, death is not immoral, however, those who use it as an excuse, I would are argue, are. For me, death is simply a circumstance that requires courage and nurtures the integrity I have already developed.
And so I fold in on myself, digging my nails into my sides as my arms wrap around my bodice, and whisper, “Thank you for never saying goodbye, Papa, for ‘it is in the small things [I will always see you].’ ”
THEME STATEMENT/THESIS: Courage lies in enduring life alone; it lies in the little things that you are responsible for facing daily regardless of how they beat you down or constantly force you to “ [pick] the scabs off your heart.” This endurance alone showcases your courage, while simultaneously building your integrity, as you begin to discover the strength of the human spirit: how much pain it can endure. How much sorrow it can hold in. How much love it is capable of. Therein, one begins to appreciate the strength associated with courage, and that very appreciation is what develops integrity. Likewise, when it comes to nurturing integrity, one must recognize the will it takes to endure; the will it takes to keep swallowing a “small coal” whenever it forces itself down your throat. For this repetitive nature of courage is what nurtures integrity. All in all, one’s will to endure life alone develops integrity, whereas the continuous reoccurrence of said endurance it what nurtures it.