Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Going the distance, staying the course

Sometimes, as one friend has described, we’re simply “riding the donkey”. Decades ago, this was how one got from one place to the next and in many places, it still is.

It could be tedious. It can be tiresome, taxing of heart and testing of patience — even of confidence and faith, when the going is especially slow. Eventually, inevitably we all face such biding and abiding (ask any pregnant mother). Ideally, we make peace with it, yield to receiving what it brings – what our own ideas and designs often chafe against.

A heroine of mine, Marion Jack, learned a lot about this. When I need inspiration for staying the course, going the distance, perhaps when I most want to quit, I remember what her life demonstrates about accepting this price of some of life’s most valuable outcomes, even though our urge may be to flee, dodge, or fight.

Marion Jack

Marion stayed the course, consciously, willingly in very trying times, and places. One was Nazi-occupied, and filled with treachery. She could have left – she had opportunity. She chose to stay for others’ sake, and for commitments she’d made.

“As I have the capacity of suffering much, so I also enjoy much,” she once observed. She also noted with real pleasure, “It seems wonderful, what one can do without.”

Other words of hers hit close to home: “Each one has his own little work to fill in the great scheme of things. Mine seems to be to work quietly in new fields or in assisting the real [workers]. So I always think it wisest to try and do one’s own work and not think of attempting the line of other people.”

She was well-experienced with riding life’s donkey. I imagine her as thankful for the steps it covered on her behalf, however much the movement may have sometimes seemed backward. Or, at best, like treading in place.

She didn’t forget that, whatever circumstances felt like around her, she was being carried. And no matter what she could see, things were advancing. Often, the biggest of those was love, just as the real means of their advance was love, too.

She knew from experience that the pace that took, even when it resembled a donkey’s, was always exactly right.


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What are the legacies that outlast war?

23e8d548b431a8370101c479685e1ee6My novel, The Munich Girl, is about many things, including a secret friendship between two women, one of whom was Hitler’s mistress, and later wife, Eva Braun.

But its themes are really about two realities that matter a great deal to my heart.

The first is the experience of reunion with and “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter in our life. We each have our own timetable for this, but my opportunity to accompany many people toward the end of their lives has assured me that this is so. That privilege also allowed me to see that the benefits of achieving this inner reunion always extend far beyond our own small selves. MunichGirlWebAd

The novel’s second and particularly fascinating theme, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in the process of how our inner reunion occurs, often in highly unexpected ways.

As a child in Germany, and when I returned to visit as an adult, I heard little about the years of the Second World War — mostly just “thank God it’s behind us.”

Yet, similar to characters in the story, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and to help others as they did. 11072937_833787143357991_5837640068723456300_n

They found the way to endure, not lose heart, and keep faith and hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering.

And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves.

I believe that the example in their lives applies more than ever in our world, and that we’ve barely tapped into the spiritual gifts and lessons they offer. 11695795_500214500133570_7923245893122866371_n

As Elizabeth Sims, novelist and contributing editor at Writer’s Digest noted in her kind comments about the novel:

“Love can manifest itself in enigmatic—and unexpected—ways.”

And, as one character in the novel observes:

“Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined, because we believe in the things that are good.

So that there can be good things again.”

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of The Legacies That Outlast War at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447865405&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Munich+Girl


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Families who learn that home is the whole world

My sister-in-law, Happy, and I share a piece of personal history: If it weren’t for war, we might never have been born, let alone been Americans. In my case, a U.S. Army officer fell for a British girl who’d barely survived the Blitz, Happy’s life began in Vietnam, in the midst of a whole other war.

Both of our fathers were Army career men. But while my experience of military family holds memories that tend toward nostalgia, Happy, who’s watched her husband deploy to Iraq, and, multiple times, to Afghanistan, experiences military life in more current and challenging ways.

It’s part of a subculture many know little about, which I finally came to recognize as my own when I saw Kris Kristofferson’s film, Brats: Our Journey Home, about growing up military. All of those years of seeing myself as a citizen of the world yet feeling like a misfit when I came back to the States suddenly made sense. Like any overseas living, the military takes you out of the culture you’ve known, immerses you in situations where you must find ways to get along with others then once you return “home”, things can never be quite the same, Our shared experience of military-family life in childhood is unquestionably a foundation in the bond my husband and I share. So are whole perspectives and ways of being that this experience forged in us. index

Happy once told me that gender equality is a de facto reality in military families because when your spouse is away for months at a time, every need your family faces comes down to you. Back in the days when my mother kept the home fires burning — or, more accurately, kept starting new ones in different places, that inescapable pattern of military life – she relied on the same thing that Happy does: an indomitable sense of humor. It’s vital in a life fraught with potentially immense ups and downs. It’s also proof that no matter what life throws your way, the stable stance of a good nature helps you keep level ground beneath your feet.

Each time Happy’s husband Will has deployed, she hasn’t wanted to answer the phone. She’s already had to live through the latest version of a harrowing conversation about what they’ll do if he doesn’t return. I remember my mother shuddering when a U.S. Army staff car arrived in our neighborhood, heading for someone’s home with ghastly news. You felt the most awful combination of relief and survivor’s guilt as it passed you by.

On the other end are the anguished days between that call that tells you the deployed family member is coming home at last and the day they actually arrive. It would almost be easier not to know, for the uncertain fear that torments you during those tenuous days, Happy says.

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Peden Barracks, Wertheim, Germany, circa 1960s. Once, the gateway to “home”, for my family.

The first night the refrigerator’s icemaker started making funny noises, her husband’s response from the floor above was a regular recon mission as he took the stairs slowly one at a time, freezing in place and braced for action on each one. Happy learned early never to climb into bed after he’s already asleep. He can’t help the inevitable fight-or-flight reaction that months of constant vigilance and inadequate sleep have trained into him. She doesn’t want to put him in a position like that. She knows how badly he feels afterward.

Families like hers make sacrifices while their loved one is in active service, and continue to make them long afterward. Many bide with situations a lot of us couldn’t begin to tolerate, and often do it gracefully and willingly. A lot of them don’t have enough money, while the service they’re rendering is truly immeasurable.

Military commissaries once had a slogan printed on their grocery bags that said: “Military spouse — the hardest job in the military.” Through the years and now, the generations, I find these to be some of the bravest and most generous people I know. LAFS6377506

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

Find more about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1FYGVM9S5BGBZH2TJHR4