I ended my first book, A Good Home, with excerpts from two poems that I love: William Wordsworth’s ode to the fields he played in as a child, and Nobel laureate Derek Walcott’s powerful reassurance.
William Wordsworth, from “Intimations of Immortality”:
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.”
Derek Walcott, from “Love After Love”:
“The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror.
And each will smile at the other’s welcome
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”
Unknown to me, thousands of readers across the world would read my book, and some would return, time and again, to this last reassuring chapter.
So would I. As I followed my life’s unpredictable journey, I, too, would return to that chapter – and those poems — time and again. They were good words to live by.
An Honest House, my new book, is the telling of that journey.
An Honest House tells the story of a family determined to find strength, joy and beauty – and indeed, faith – no matter what life throws at us. The book is a sequel to A Good Home, but was deliberately crafted to also be a stand-alone story in its own right.
It didn’t come into being without a fight.
I wanted to write a story about beauty, joy, strength and faith without ever delving into what for me is a minefield: PTSD. I’ve lived with this post-traumatic stress disorder since the car accident which changed my life, but I could never bring myself to talk, read – or write – about it.
Then I had a moment of bravery and decided to jump in headlong – only to land on my head, feeling like Humpty Dumpty.
So I did what all brave people do: I ran away.
Ran away from writing the book. Pretended I was an ostrich and hoped no-one would notice.
If you’ve ever heard my interview with Canada’s celebrated book show host, Shelagh Rogers of the CBC, you’ll note that I announced my switch to writing a gardening book instead, because “gardening is safe”. Little did I know….
At any rate, something big happened in our family’s life. I realized I had to go back to the book, and confront the scary topic of PTSD. This time, I put my family and therapist on notice. Everyone helped. The book was finally completed.
My publisher emailed me late one night to say that the book is “full of colour and beauty and emotion”. I sensed the wonder in his words. His wife later told me that it’s the only book that’s made him cry – in all his years of publishing.
How can there be such beauty and faith in a story that is also about PTSD, severe pain and depression? And how can a couple find strength and resilience when the fates seem to be conspiring against you?
These are some of the questions my book answers. It does so with a mindful appreciation for the important – even sacred — moments of life.
The moments in the garden my husband tends. Moments where we cook together the food he grows there (he cooks, and I try); the making of jams and jellies, herb oils and floral arrangements (I’m great with the former, terrible at the latter); the apple pies we make together (I peel and cut, he does everything else), and moments with family in the well-built farmhouse that shelters us from some of the storms of life.
There are sacred moments in this house, and in the tiny, 1869 Anglican chapel we attend. There are quiet moments in our local library, tense conversations with my doctor and therapists, hilarious encounters with neighbours.
But mostly, there are moments – cherished moments — with my beloved husband and family.
Early readers have written to say that they feel “at home” in the book. Reluctant to leave the world of An Honest House, many immediately return to reading it for a second time.
I’m enormously grateful for those responses.
There is a whole world in the single word, ‘home’. There is hardship, pain, great challenges that bring us to our knees.
But if we are lucky enough, observant, open and grateful enough, there can also be great joy and beauty around us, and strength and faith within us. To see these things – feel them, hear them, taste them and love them, is also to love ourselves.