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A child went into the forest and became lost. It seemed to him that he had been lost for days. The child tried to follow what appeared to be pathways through the trees, but each pathway came to its end at an impenetrable place, just when the pathway seemed that it might open up further and lead to an exit from the forest.

What the child imagined would be the case when an exit from the forest was found was that a landscape of openness and beauty would be revealed. This landscape, as imagined by the child, would be a place where the child’s difficulty of escaping from the forest would be forgotten and instead happiness would reign.

It would also be a place where whatever was real was actually, really, real.

What would be important about this new landscape would be its provision of truth. If the day were sunny, then the actual sun would actually shine, and the sky would be blue—actually blue—and the sun would not be named something other than “sun” and the sky would not be colored chartreuse, which no one would be able to spell nor to define as a color.

The child had gone into the forest originally because the mother of the child had died and the father of the child had married another woman who was mean-spirited and who would not tell the child the truth.

This woman came from a different part of the country where different things were believed—in fact, some people in that different part of the country believed in nothing at all—and so trouble existed everywhere in that different part of the country. The trouble which existed there in that other part of the country explained why the step-mother had become mean-spirited in her maturity, although she was beautiful, which is what had impressed the father.

One time the child asked the step-mother, “What color is the sky?”

“The sky is whatever color you think it is.”

“The sky is blue.”

“You are a fool. The sky is whatever color anyone wants it to be.”

“But it can only be the color that it is.”

“No, fool. It can be whatever color anyone wants it to be. There is no such thing as it is. The sky does not have a color. You are free to make up its color to suit yourself. You are the authority. Not it.”

The child and the father and the step-mother lived in a small cottage next to the forest, where the father went each day to cut fire wood to sell at the market.

The child had sometimes gone into the forest with the father during the work day, particularly after the mother had died. Now, with the step-mother not telling the child the truth, the child was all the more inclined to go inside the forest and to speculate about finding what might be a more truthful landscape on the other side of the forest, if a way to such a place existed and could be found.

So one day the child went into the forest with the father. As the father was setting out his axes and saws, the child asked, “Father, what is on the other side of the forest?”

“I have never been to the other side of the forest, but I know men who have been there, and I believe the tales they tell. They tell of a place that is what it is—truly what it is. I am told it is a beautiful place where men and women, as well as children, can be safe because power exists there for rightness. It is power for the truth.”

“Father, I should like to go there sometime.”

The father chuckled. “So should I. But now I must work. You go along and play, but don’t wander off.”

The child did wander off and soon became lost.

Days seemed to pass. The child felt hungry and tired. The child missed the father. The child did not miss the step-mother. The child hoped soon to break through a final barrier and to emerge in the beautiful place of rightness and truth on the other side of the forest.

One evening, the child, who was exhausted, lay down and slept. In his sleep, he dreamed a dream. In his dream, a barrier at the end of a pathway through the trees did, at that moment, open up. What once had been confusion and difficulty for the child—what had been scratching and thorny to push through—suddenly broke open, and the child was able to step out from the forest and, in his dream, to stand where bright white sun shone in the blue sky.

A spirit being appeared. The spirit radiated light and truth and love and a deep urgency of welcome.

“Welcome Home, boy,” the spirit being said.

“Is this my home? I must return to my father.”

“This will be your Home, in time. For you and for your father.”

“I cannot abandon him.”

“Of course. But first, before you go back, look around. What do you see?”

“I see….” The boy looked around and thought. “I see…what I see is what always has been. What always has been…and is true.”

“Is it true now?”

“It is true now.” The boy looked around some more. He took a breath. “It is true for always and forever.”

“Good! That is good, boy. I will send you back to your father, who otherwise might miss you and worry you are lost.”

“I was lost.”

“No longer. Here’s what I charge you with. Help your father talk to his wife about what is true, here, on the other side of the forest. Your step-mother is lost as well. Perhaps all three of you may someday come Home.”

The child stretched and rolled over and opened his eyes. He was in the clearing where his father was cutting wood. His father smiled at him. “Nice nap?” he asked.

“Let’s go home and talk with Mama,” the boy said.

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Stay with me now…

It’s cold outside while I write this. Apparently, it’s cold everywhere while I write this. When you read this, on Saturday or after, it’s not going to be as cold outside as it is today. Today at dawn it was 6 degrees here on the Blue Ridge.

But here’s the thing. I’m thinking about the cold because our son Sam and I are attending another Special Olympics ski meet next Monday and Tuesday in northern Virginia—time trials Monday; races Tuesday. Hoping forward, I’d love some of this cold air to hang around until then, to keep the snow harder, easier to turn on, faster.

But no. The current prediction for those two days is high 50s/low 60s and showers about 40% of the time.

Now, Sam has done well on wet, sloppy snow that clogs his skis on the slalom turns—three weeks ago in North Carolina, on that same sort of snow, he came away with a silver medal at his competition level.

But skiing in that kinda snow just ain’t any fun.

Now, maybe you are a reader who doesn’t care a fig about skiing, but hang on a moment—I’m getting to something.

At many times in my past life, particularly before our children were in their teens and needed me to ski with them as they improved, I skied by myself very aggressively, although I never formally raced.

Here’s the “something” I am getting to.

Many of you readers—skiers or not--you may have had similar pleasures, when you were young. But now you have put them aside, and they have gathered dust—as my skis did—in the barn. There was never quite enough time to drive to the mountain. There was never quite enough money to afford the expense.

Here’s what I conjure for you. I conjure that you stop.

I conjure that you come with me on a trip to the mountain—to your mountain—wherever that is, right now.

Reach out—let’s do it—right now, let’s reach out for muscle memory.

I snapped my ski boots shut, stamped into my bindings, and pole/skated my way to the lift at the bottom of the mountain. The chair swung round—I was a solo this time—and I sat. I pulled down the bar, settled my skis on the footrest, and looked around. The sky was clear in northern Maine, and the trees all around were rimed thick with ice. It was cold, cold, cold—ten degrees with a twenty mile NW wind, making it seem as though it was about fifteen below. I pulled my balaclava up over my nose and cheekbones, glad I had my ear warmer snug round my head under my woolen watch cap. Loved my minus-twenty parka and mittens.

I reached the top and dismounted smoothly, slowed to a stop. There was an operator inside the upper hut, secured away, maybe with a kerosene heater. His eyes and mine met for a second. Yes, I tried to signal to him, I’m good for this. Hope you are, he seemed to answer, and his eyes shifted away.

I studied the trail map—black-diamond trail or a more moderate blue? I’ll return for that black diamond, I thought, but I need the slower beginning, the reaching for muscle memory, the remembering that my next big birthday is seventy now, and no longer thirty-five. And the blue trail winds along the ridge to the north, seems to dip and then flatten, dip and then flatten—that would be good.

I picked blue. I started down. It was a long, broad run, a good one to wake up upon. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing: if you had it once, you’ll have it now.

Halfway down that first tentative run all diffidence blew away. Deliberately, I set my downhill inside edge, forced my knees into the hill, bore forward with my downhill ankle…and steered a course closer to the fall-line, shot forward, nearly doubled my speed. From then on, with my mind plucked out, it was a dance, every muscle falling familiarly back into its racing place, attacking the hill.

I reached the bottom, winded and sore of thigh. But I had been relieved also of quotidian duty, for a moment, which had been plucked away from me, this once. I was relieved that I could still carve five or six perfect turns, each one increasing my speed by a percentage, each turn wrenching out a fear and leaving it behind me to shiver in the snow.

Do—you—the same, my friend.

What do you fear? What bears you down, as your age? What brings you despair? What leaps out at you when you encounter it and, this time, shrieks at you—‘NO YOU CANNOT!’

That is Satan.

He may have been the greatest of the angels, but he is FALLEN.

He wants to--




Don’t you let him. He is fallen. God is on YOUR side.

…and God wins.

Reader, I want to look behind me on our next ski run together and to see you, smiling as broad as heaven, carving your turns, transported, over your wall of limitations!

Ah! Won’t that be blessed!

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Last week I asked for recommendations of good memoirs for me to read…since I’m writing another one which I desire to be good. Who knows if my new memoir will turn out to be good, but recently my wife Channa gave me excellent critiques, on two levels.

So there’s hope!

One level of Channa’s advice was structural. That is the easier critique to address. The other level posed a greater challenge. Her advice was conceptual. Here's the advice. Take out anything—and she pointed to some things—take out anything that is, in the end, self-indulgent.

Hoist with my own petard!

When I mentor writers who struggle to produce their own memoirs, the first exercise I assign to them is to tell me what their memoir is about--in a single, short, snappy sentence. I don’t want their story at this point; that’s not what I want to hear. I want a billboard, not a book report.

In my experience, this is the single hardest piece of writing for many of them undertake. Me, too. However, when successfully undertaken, that single, short, snappy sentence becomes the memoirist’s lodestar. ANY writing that DOES NOT fall under its direction—however delightfully personal and engaging to the taste of the writer—is SELF-INDULGENT.

It must be taken out!

And here I was writing happily along while being guilty of that same fault! Bah!

Good on Channa!

You readers answered with suggestions—in Comments and on FB, or when we ran into one another during the past week—for which generosity, I thank you! Last night, one reader expressed curiosity about the list of books, so I said I’d present it in this next post. I’ve edited it a bit. Several of you listed one book among your lists…some strange book whose title begins with The Time Mom Met Hitler.

I’ve excluded that one. I wasn’t looking for lurid histories about discreditable social events!

What I also received were delightful statements from you among your suggested titles. For example, here’s a favorite--

Regarding the list of suggestions, one person characterized them as “All non-whiny memoirs of challenging childhoods with deeply flawed but not cruel parents.”

How enticing a blurb is that!

So here’s the list. (So far: you’re welcome to send more suggestions, anytime!)

Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron

All Over but the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg (mentioned twice)

Through the Eyes of a Lion – Levi Lusko

The Fire of Delayed Answers – Bob Sorge

As Soon As I Fell – Kay Bruner

A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman

Educated – Tara Westover

Don’t Let’s Go the to Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller

Glass Castle – Jeanette Wall

Liar’s Club – Mary Karr

Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson

…and add one historical fiction – Becoming Mrs. Lewis – Patty Callaghan.

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