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Wrapping story around horrific events disseminates their skeletal outlines into bite-sized pieces for readers’ assimilation and learning.

 

Such an event occurred the night of January 30, 1945, during a freezing snowstorm upon the Baltic Sea. The Soviet submarine S-13 torpedoed the German transport ship, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, nine hours into its passage. On board were 10,000 refugees fleeing from the Russian and Allied offensive. Only one thousand survived.

For three years the author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee from World War II, researched this disaster until, in her imagination, Salt to the Sea (2016) was conceived. The story unfolds, piecemeal, through four characters: Joanna, a twenty-one-year old Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a seventeen-year old East Prussian preservationist and restorer of works of art; Emilia fifteen-years old, Polish and eight months pregnant; and Alfred, a seventeen-year old delusional German seaman assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Like a skilled minimalist painter, Sepetys reveals more by what she leaves out. Her precise words have dropped depth charges upon this reader’s psyche, its rumble evoking a slow burn and profound feelings for the characters.

Salt to the Sea, an historical novel, also leaves me with questions. In seventy years, will anyone be writing of today’s refugees caught within the crosshairs of greedy global politics? Since when has it been all right to minimize the losses of the poor, even their lives?

All of this cries out to God.

 

 

 

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Goats from Bob’s Mobile Petting Zoo munch the begonias along the front walk of the brownstone. On the front stoop, kids bottle-feed spring lambs and pet others. Nearby, a saddled pony tosses her blonde mane and waits with her handler for the next rider. Ducks squawk as a neighbor, broom in hand, shoos them from her roses. Rock music and squeals of laughter pour through opened windows, their lace curtains frisked by winds within the froth of play.

It’s Chris’s surprise party for his twelfth birthday.

Inside, multi-colored streamers festoon the walls and fixtures, helium balloons smooch the ceilings, paper plates drip with remains of pizza and ice cream. Upon the dining room table dances the father who organized this after-school party; Chris and his buddies gyrate in tandem with him. In all the rooms more kids wearing party hats jump on sofa cushions and dance.

A sense of concerted play makes complete sense of this apparent mayhem until abruptly ended by the return of the irate mother, an interior design executive. “The party’s over,” says the father, and their shared camaraderie fizzles.

So the 1994 movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, begins.

Had not the mother axed this party, it would have continued into the evening; its momentum, open-ended and spiced with joy, fired imaginations of the participants and blessed them.

Imagine if Mrs. Doubtfire (the father’s later disguise) would throw a similar party on Capitol Hill—It would have to be a surprise.

 

She hiked herself upon the seat of the ladder-back chair and grabbed a mound of pink clay from the tub on my dining room table. Her head bowed, her red hair swishing the sides of her round cheeks, she set to work. Small hands kneaded the clay, stubborn under her touch. She worked harder. Her freckled nose twitched as she rolled it flat on the table, one side, then the other. She hunched back in her chair and inspected the results, then rolled it out again.

Finally satisfied, her narrow fingers fashioned the flattened piece into what appeared to be a container. Her work continued. Again, she reached into the tub and pulled out an orange piece. After having smoothed it, she shaped it into a circle, a process she repeated with lavender, blue, and yellow clay. Next came narrow green strips of clay she rolled into tubes; upon them she mounted the circles.

“I need a toothpick,” she said to her mother and grandmother, looking on and smiling. One emerged from the tub. With deft fingers the young artist inscribed her message, I love you, from Mary, then offered me her creation: the pink vase with summery flowers.

Such was the fruit of Mary’s industry, my six-year-old great-granddaughter who was visiting from her Minneapolis home.

Her love offering reminded me of a striking parallel found in the prophet Isaiah: “You are our Father; we are the clay, You our potter, we are all the work of Your hands.”

May we be willing to participate in this daily kneading. It’s about letting go of the kinks in our instincts and thriving.

 

 

Available on Amazon

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