My friend Cynthia died yesterday. She left behind two gifted children, her husband Jon, and scores of families who took her art classes and fell in love. Before she died, she posted these words on Facebook: "Life is full of twists and turns, and riddles and puzzles, that call us to figure them out. God is the mysterious giver of wisdom, by which to do this. We must face our challenges bravely, face to face, and learn from what is being given. C.Y."
Y stands for Youngblood. I gave her name to a character in "The Rivers Run Dry." Fictional Cynthia Youngblood runs a homeless mission in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Not only was that something the real Cynthia might do, I wanted the world to meet her. She had large eyes, blue and intuitive, full of compassion, and when you spoke to her, she always held her head just-so, as if tuning her mind to the pitch of your words. Although a visual artist of abundant natural gifts, Cynthia also wrote verse. One of her ballads struck me as an ideal children's book. It revolved around her husband, Captain Youngblood, an Alaskan fisherman, and a comical pursuit to find matching socks. The poem had everything a great children's book needs -- delight, rhythm, humor, surprises, and love. I asked Cynthia if I could share it with a friend, a multi-published children's book author. Cynthia was thrilled; she was an enormous fan of this writer's books. What happened next still hurts. The author tore Cynthia's poem to shreds. Not formal. Doesn't obey standard publishing rules. What is the poem's point, really? On and on it went. When Cynthia asked to see the author's comments, I prefaced the criticism: "It's only one person's opinion. I still believe your poem could be published as a children's book, and a great one at that." The author's opinion stung. It stung Cynthia the way a pinprick punctures a balloon, deflating the contents, sinking the vessel. Several days later, I sent Cynthia another note, more forcefully asserting the poem's strengths. And I described my own battles with rejection, including the top NY literary agents who insisted my books "would never make it." I'm not saying there's a direct connection but sometime later Cynthia stopped writing. She was so busy. Teaching more art classes. Her own children needed her, so did her husband. She would get to it later. The following year Cynthia began having stomach pains. She lost weight. When doctors found the cancer, it was deep within her organs. She had lost so much weight that her already large blue eyes became enormous, as if trying to see everything before time ran out. Time did. In my grief, I find myself wishing I'd encouraged her more -- and understood better the lancing pain of rejection, particularly for a sensitive soul. But blame and absolution are for God alone, if He so chooses. But the real point is this: Our time is short. "Life is full of twists and turns," she wrote, "and riddles and puzzles, that call us to figure them out." Write, paint, speak. Love. Share what you find. Give. "God is the mysterious giver of wisdom, by which to do this." And I would add: Refuse the mean critics their audience.
Benediction Time flows swiftly,
--the cool, sweet morning of your life-
and hours lie ahead before your sun sets
on the distant horizon.
How you spend these coming hours
cannot be bought again,
nor wound backward,
and choices made yesterday
blend into today, becoming part of who you will become