Sunday, May 31, 2015

Surviving Through Storytelling, Leaving Learnings, Legacy and Love.

My visits to the care home in which my father spent his final days were never easy.

My father was far from perfect,
but the love and lessons he imparted
 are forever cherished.
Struggling with closing arteries, and the associated complications, he somehow, regardless of how his health had turned, always managed to greet me with a kind word and a loving smile. “Hello Princess,” he’d say with all of the warmth he could muster. To which, I’d respond flatly, “hi, Daddy.” My response was tainted by the overarching incredulity I harbored that he could continue to be so warm and loving in the face of such misery. We both managed to maintain brave faces despite the adversity.

During our visits, I would update him on his granddaughter’s progress in grade school, often bringing her report card for him to examine. Her math and science grades were of particular interest to him, a former aerospace electrical engineer, who would inevitably have some congratulatory or constructive remark to make. Other times, I’d read him bits of the newspaper, and we’d speak of what was new and news worthy. During our best times, he would share his stories.

As his condition deteriorated, our visits became more and more difficult. During one of our later visits, upon preparing to leave, I said, “I still love you, Daddy.”
“Why?” he’d replied, skeptically, punctuating his response by raising his chin. I knew this time it was he who struggled to believe my words. I answered without hesitation, “Because you’re still here.”

They were among the last words we spoke to one another. He died days later, finally succumbing to the increasing challenges of failing health.
Isaiah's birthday goes  terribly wrong.

Today, years after his passing, my words still hold true. Truth was, I hadn’t been speaking of his location when I’d praised him for being around, something I am sure he understood. Rather,  I was speaking of the enveloping love, the values, moments and memories he left with me, things which remain with me even today.

My father was far from perfect, but the love and lessons he did impart are forever cherished.

These are among the things that inform my writing. As much as Isaiah and the Chocolate Mountain® is a fanciful farce, a fictitious tale of a little boy’s disappointment over a dud birthday gift, the story is an expression of love, a graphic illustration of things hoped for and values I hold dear: family, community, love, self-reliance, independence and ultimately, forgiveness.

I once told a colleague who was going through a difficult time, writing is how we writers give order to our world. When things and the world around us get nuts, writing offers a means to control the chaos, a means to create order. In writing, and through imagination, each one of us can create things that are yet to be, never were or will be. Engaging one’s mind in the act of storytelling and creating, working through details, characters and plot twists, these acts command our full attention, fortifying us against external attacks.

Through storytelling, we heal ourselves, dream of worlds and conjure realities that often serve as life rafts that sustain us through stormy times. Through writing, too, we can revisit people, places and times of comfort, wholeness and love.

From Gyo Fujikawa's
 "Oh What A Busy Day"
In reflecting on the completed work, Isaiah and the Chocolate Mountain®, I see this clearly.  My creative impulses, my choice of simple drawing that are content-rich recall the fullness and diversity of imagery in one of my favorite childhood books, Gyo Fujikawa’s Oh What a Busy Day! I spent what seemed like hours pouring over the book’s water-colored pictures of children in all hues depicted with round, expressive, cherub-like faces. And so it is no surprise that I would choose Brooklyn Russell’s illustrations, images which to me echo the Fujikawa’s style.

In Isaiah and the Chocolate Mountain®, I dedicate the story to “my family for always providing rich fodder and loads of love in support of my writing on this project, and in life.” Taking that dedication further, the work raises up the name of my father, Isaiah Williams, my family and the values he spoke to his children to “keep the family together.”

Ultimately, reading the story is meant to create moments of family togetherness, moments I hope will be cherished and remembered.

Storytelling,  writing and reading, is a gift to share with children. The only thing I would like more, would be to see and hear my dad reading my book to his grandchildren: my daughter, Lorena and my nephew, his namesake, Isaiah. In his absence and in the spirit of paying that love forward, I bring to you and your family Isaiah and the Chocolate Mountain® and the coming titles in the three-part, Cocoa Kids Collection, with the hope that they will become books upon which you and your children will look back and remember, with love.  V~

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