Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Century or Centuries (02/17/11)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Ester’s arthritic right hand jerked; her dull pencil tripped across the crisp, too-polite page of the blue-lined journal. Scritched-scratched words painfully emerged in poetic form:
Years march in procession,
Each with a confession
Of life and death and in-between,
Of hearts and souls and things unseen.
She stopped writing and glared through smudged trifocals with mock disdain at her crippled hand, then shook her fingers to wake them from their Rip Van Winkle-type sleep. But there was more to be said, so she clumsily clutched the taskmaster pencil as new words poured forth from it, this time in regard to grave markers:
Rock sentinels stand bold,
Proclaiming facts of old
With chiseled names and obscure dates,
Small window-views of lifetime’s gates.
Gently, almost tenderly, Ester placed the pencil on her tray as if it was not an uncompromising drill sergeant, but rather a helpless, sleeping infant. She, in fact, was this babe’s weary governess, desperately needing to also retire.
Exhausted, her head reclined on the stacked foam pillows of the hospital bed. The yellow #2 pencil with its absent eraser remained obediently on the tray and stared back with its worn lead, daring her to pick it up.
But Ester didn’t pick it up. Instead, she closed her eyes and napped, dreaming of another day …
Several months earlier, Ester’s children and grandchildren had orchestrated a pre-birthday outing for their almost-centurion matriarch: an outing to the local cemetery to visit grave markers. On the appointed sunny Sunday afternoon, Ester had happily ridden along in her wheelchair as family members hovered around with laptop computers like wordsmith-vultures, greedily devouring and recording Ester’s memories of long-deceased family members.
“Now great-uncle Joe … see there …” Ester’s feeble voice shook as her bony finger pointed toward Joe’s splotchy limestone grave marker. “The letters … have faded … in the ice and rain … but you can still read them … Joseph Rudkin. I understand he was … a man of few words. He meant what he said … but he didn’t say much.” She chuckled and waved one arm haphazardly as if shooing flies. “Joe wouldn’t have known … what to do with the likes of you folks … always writing each other … on those … computers and phones.”
In the midst of her nap, Ester dreamt of the stone that would mark her grave upon her own death. She envisioned it clearly, as well as family members who would visit it in the distant future. In her dream they viewed the marker and reminisced about HER, which seemed odd and yet natural.
She pictured their faces and conversation. “She was sweet but eccentric, and obsessed with writing, always writing," someone said. "It was a passion, something she had to do. She always had a pencil – not a pen - in her hand. And the eraser was almost always gone because she’d made so many corrections.”
The dream began to fade as Ester groggily opened her eyes to re-greet the dimly lit hospital room and her open journal. The previously insistent pencil continued to lie very still - either in overt submission, or more likely, mockery. It suggested there was SO MUCH MORE to say before her hundredth birthday that was fast approaching next week. Did she have stamina enough to expose her heart on paper?
DID SHE? The pencil wanted to know.
A new blank journal page beckoned, and the pencil jumped back to life in the grip of Ester’s gnarled claw-of-a-hand:
Grave markers speak of those
Who leave earths highs and lows,
And rise beyond to holy ground,
Where lasting peace in God is found.
Ester’s inner thoughts were crystal clear despite a nagging filmy grogginess. Could she go on? Yes, she must:
My stone should speak of Him,
Though its letters may grow dim
From pounding sleet and snow and rain,
Its tribute will not be in vain.
As well as name and date,
It should reveal my state
And so I share one last request,
My stone should say that I am BLEST.
Ester again laid the pencil to rest as she envisioned her grave marker – a sort of personal Stonehenge - with the italicized word BLEST in capital letters carved beneath her name. One hundred years of God’s blessing. It was her testimony.
She sighed. Inner lights dimmed as if a scene in a theatrical drama were closing, and a blanket of darkness fell. Dawn would appear; she had but to wait. Her Lord would come.
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