I know you hear me, Gabriel


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It was so much easier when I was seven years old, and my mother was God. My writing deemed inadequate, she authored all my book reports herself. To be fair, I had a lot to endure back then, dropped into the chaste land of catholic school after two cozy years in progressive education. I was skipped over second grade at her request. So, while I was busy dealing with painful penmanship and peer pressure, she feigned a third-grade beginner script. No one knew. At least she vowed to let me draw the cover art.

Long gone are the days of construction paper and pushpin reports, though all the epistles still sit in a box in her garage. I save my archives too. Snippets of daily life, fragments of profound thought, just because I like the way it sounded at 5:22 in the morning, other files reveal writing prompts wandering without context. Some are faint memories like blurry Polaroids with jotted notes on the white frame, yet many are concise compositions of spirited prose. No matter, I keep them all. I’m allowed to. They are nice to have just in case I need something for something, like stuff in the kitchen junk drawer, only they don’t require as much space.

I click to open one, then another, cutting and pasting chosen bits of each file to a new missive. In an attempt to piece together a complete essay, I keep reworking the sequence until it somewhat satisfies a particular call. When I think I have a sort-of-fits draft – despite being dissatisfied, in denial, and anxious to meet a deadline – I print it because, on paper, it can be refined with a pen well after the power button is pushed and the screen darkens. I say a prayer to Archangel Gabriel for guidance with the words, my editing skills, and progress, then fold and tuck it into my purple Filofax planner.

There it sits for several hours, possibly a day or two. In the meantime, duties requiring the daughter, mom, wife, cook, cleaning lady, and artist are met, switching vocations to fit the immediate need. Then, when I am alone with myself, I pull the sheets out to read the sort-of-fits draft.

No.

The original idea was interesting but much too grandiose for my beginner-level skills. I realize this after review of the first cut-and-paste paragraph. For all the elements to work cohesively with authenticity, such a daring piece needs genuine depth. I have to disclose my faults, examine them with a penitent heart, measure, and categorize. That’s a bit more soul searching than I feel equipped to handle at the moment. Best to save it as penance for a later version of myself.

Something suddenly clicks, and I must scrawl it out before the thought disappears, and the moment passes. I turn over the sort-of-fits draft to begin on clean white sheets. This time it’s fresh. There is the urgency I can actually see in the chicken-scratch, misspelled words, maniac surge, and get-it-down-fast sloppiness that starts to surface. As long as it can be deciphered later, it’s okay. I’ll keep writing until the train stops.

At some point, a theme emerges with a single sentence. It seems to come from a place deep within, a sudden divine intervention. I like it. I planned on finishing the trade show submission and cleaning the bathrooms, but the words and phrases are coming in a fury proclaiming their space. I slice the banana, squeeze a sentence along the edge. Sprinkle the granola, arrow a phrase to the top. By the time I sit down for breakfast, the commandment of thought cuts diagonal across lined paper grabbed from a telephone pad since I ran out of room on the reverse pages of my sort-of-fits draft.

This feels right.

I turn on the laptop and hustle to change out of pajamas. No need for a shower, I did that yesterday. I grab something decent to wear so I can at least feel presentable, not like I just dallied out of bed. My heart rate is a little quick, might be the coffee, and I slip into clean underwear and jeans. The sweatshirt I slept in is minimally wrinkled, so I keep it on but add a bra with a quick swipe of my husband’s handy stick deodorant. Checking on the laptop, damn, it’s still booting up and I am filling the sixth piece of paper as the epiphany continues. I run back to the bathroom to comb my hair and figure I can brush my teeth later after finishing the first mug of coffee, though I might make another pot.

Finally, a pristine white screen displays and the ritual can begin.

Where did it start? The missal of thoughts and words, arrows, and snippets scalloping the perimeter of the pages need to be assembled into a fresh file. My keyboard is greeted with a smile and a sigh – I did number all seven pages. If organization was an Eleventh Commandment, I would undoubtedly be absolved of all my other sins. The title I can worry about later, sure it will surface after at least eight hundred words if I offer another quick prayer to Gabriel.

Clicking the keyboard is structured now. Read a section, pause, reflect, type. In need of a thesaurus, I open a browser window to procure the aid at my fingertips. As each page is completely consumed, I compulsively scribble over the entire contents with a bright color gel pen like a huge checkmark, then rip and stack, rip and stack, until the sheet reduces to a pile of perfect little squares before dumping it into the wastebasket. Onto the next.

The whole morning continues as a heightened sensitivity to the mundane. I get up to make that pot of coffee and forget to brush my teeth. Breaks are taken with a mindless scrolling of social media after another page is studied and saved. Then my read-through is interrupted by the phone. It is my mother at 11:31 am. It’s her third call within an hour.

“So, what’s new? What are you doing now?”

“No, nothing’s new. I’m just working.” I casually avoid on what since she’s always quick with finding a stone to cast.

My thought and place now lost, I begin the piece aloud from the first line again. It’s getting there. Honestly, it’s progressing a lot faster than the sort-of-fits draft did. The essay might wind up like all my other PC files, but at least it has a purpose. The voice inside wants to be heard and professed, but the right words are needed for the sermon. I listen and learn; my faith strengthens the message and method. It is always about balance – the persistent taming of extremes effects a catharsis. To struggle with powerful mediocrity, I hope, will help me find the conviction to change things that I can while gaining wisdom to recognize the disparity.

The phone rings for the fourth time. My mother’s shrill voice radiating from the handset is unavoidable, but I keep typing despite the interruption. She proceeds to cite a recent confession from a friend.

“Did you hear what I said?”

Yes, I did, but this business of betrayal will not get the rise out of me she is hoping for. Although, I will store the verse, should there be an opportunity to make engaging conversation later during her evening lament. I am blessed; it is never about me.

At some point, I remember I didn’t brush my teeth, so I jump at the opportunity for another break. Welcoming the stretch of my legs, I mosey downstairs to deposit the empty coffee mug in the kitchen sink. The sun is out again, it was very cloudy before. As I pass through the dining room, my eye catches the gold-foil edge of the birthday sentiment from her on the table. The cards are always from Franciscan Missionaries heralding a healing mass from a select saint. Though I envision the missionaries believe her people are in desperate need of divine help, the reality is with every three-dollar donation she submits, they simply send replenishments. My former bedroom at her house is filled with bags upon bags of cards, more than she can ever use. But she will not allow me to give them away, nor sinfully throw them in the garbage as she might want to cut a flower from one to paste inside another. Quietly they congregate until she needs something for someone, a wish waiting with a prayer to be said.

My dalliance is interrupted by the cat’s loud summons from upstairs. Time to get back to work.

Returning to my place in front of the laptop, I realize hours have passed between glances at the screen and my last frenzied leaf. Starting at the top, I judge the assemblage. Choices continue to reflect the accuracy of perceived moments. Each persistent sweep collects redundant words, an exchange of emotion here and there, and sentence swaps, all to correctly capture and clarify. But enough, for now, my focus is waning. I know my limitations. As requested, the title revealed itself about nine hundred words ago. Time for a day’s save and print. The real reflection will come later after I say another prayer to Gabriel then fold and tuck it in my planner. This time I will let it sit at least two days to honor the weekend. I neatly rip the last note and deposit the squares in the trash.  

It is 5:03 pm, still time to switch pews with the cook and the cleaning lady, so I start dinner and polish up a bathroom before my husband returns home from work. Over the next couple of days, my vocations will shift again to dutiful daughter, wife, mom, and artist if time allows. Then, much later, when I am alone with myself, I will pull out the sheets to read this draft with fresh eyes. I already know how I will deem it to be.

Yes, better this time.

Thank you, Gabriel.

-SMF