Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: SING (08/16/18)
TITLE: Happy Birthday
By LeslieJean Anderson
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Clinical depression was a constant threat. I’d battled that condition years before and recovered, thanks to a 12-step program. But it could be triggered again at any time. So at the end of each grief-soaked day, I looked at my crossed-off to-do list with relief. I was still functional.
Then I’d collapse under the covers exhausted and think, “I beat you today, you monster of darkness. You want me to surrender to despair and defeat, to give in to discouragement, but today I didn’t. I worked a full day. God and I win this round.” Somehow that gave me a sense of satisfaction and hope. If I managed today, maybe God would help me do it again tomorrow. One day at a time.
But the silence in the house haunted me. And soon the time-sensitive tasks were all done. What would I do for the rest of my life? To fill the hours, I began writing letters to my departed husband. The hours I spent doing this took me out of the silence and connected me to the river of love and companionship we’d enjoyed for twenty years. My fingers flew across the keyboard, and when I was done, I was content for a little while.
This activity awakened a dream that I’d had since childhood – writing. My mother had been a writer. She’d been a newspaper reporter, in fact. I almost followed in her footsteps but ended up as an English teacher instead, evaluating literature and writing reviews.
Suddenly this decades-old dream seemed possible as I looked at my new financial condition. The loss of my dear husband had opened a hole in my life, but it also opened a door that had been locked for decades. I could afford to go back to school and write.
Soon I was researching the internet for the degree program I wanted. There was only one in the entire nation at that time. And to my amazement, I discovered that it was at a university in my husband’s home town! What were the chances of that?
The next two years were filled with classes and papers. I was the oldest person in my class, but a few others were not far behind me in age. I found out later that my presence in that group encouraged a few other older students to sign up too. These folks became a wonderful peer group for me and gifting me with a priceless memory at the end.
For two years I spent part of each semester in my husband’s home town, I met some of his relatives, visited his high school and walked the same streets he did. I talked about him freely with people there, which is harder to do with relatives. I felt young and alive every day I was on campus, and a sense of his presence strengthened me and encouraged me. During his lifetime he’d been renowned for his hopeful positive outlook, which I felt as I walked the streets of the town where he’d grown up.
Then came the day I had to present my academic thesis. This was the big moment I’d been waiting for – the crowning jewel of all my studies and writing. It fell on my 65th birthday, and unbeknownst to me, my classmates had a surprise for me. When I’d finished the follow-up questions and began to thank them, one classmate raised his hand.
“Is today really your birthday?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m sixty-five today.” Then on cue, all my classmates burst out in song.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear classmate! Happy birthday to you!”
Never had that song sounded so good. Waves of affirmation and happiness crashed over me, bringing the first real smile to my face in three years. Gratitude filled my heart, until there was no room for grief, despair or discouragement anymore. It all washed away at that moment, leaving only hope and joy.
744 words This is creative nonfiction.
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:13 “…I will turn their mourning
into joy and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”
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