Friday, November 15, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson and I

The Swing, by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

As a small asthmatic child often confined to my bed my beloved Mama would patiently, lovingly read to me by the hour.  There was virtually no daytime television for children then.  (No, I am NOT older than dinosaurs...OK...maybe some of the younger dinosaurs!)

Mama did her best to help me focus on the bright parts of life, and learn from the hard parts of life.  The day that Mama introduced me to Robert Louis, changed my life forever. 

I remember that amazing morning.  We were snuggling in my small bed.  Mama held a large volume that contained multiple childlike stories, and lots of delightful poetry.  Mama read the above poem to me.  She then closed her book and sat quietly for just a moment.

Then she said, "Caroljoy, did you know that the man who wrote that poem started his life just like you?  He was asthmatic, had a very poor immune system and was stuck for long periods of time in bed, just looking out the window.  He looked out the window wishing that he could get up, get dressed, and just plain live."

"Really?" I replied with wide open eyes. 

"Yes," my wise Mama said.  She continued, "He wrote books and poetry lying in bed, just like you have to do lots of the time.  There weren't any oxygen tanks for him when the asthma was so bad that he could not breathe.

I stopped and wheezed in and out.  "Do you think it scared him sometimes Mama?  You know when no matter how hard you try the oxygen just won't come in?"

My Mom looked down at my small self.  My lips were just the tiniest touch of blue.

I was laboring just to get air.  When I became an adult she shared with me how the doctors told her and Papa that I couldn't live, I was too allergic, too immune compromised.  Yet she and my Papa as a team continuously worked to help me look forward to a future.  They helped me to find ways and means to be a contributing human being...contributing towards making the planet a better place.  Even though at times I do that work from a recliner, or bed. 

Robert Louis said (I'm paraphrasing), I have written in the throes of fever, in the midst of coughing spells so extreme that I had a hard time focusing on the paper.

Mama said, "Mr. Stevenson wrote lots of books.  I am certain that as he lay in bed he would make up different worlds, he would travel places in his mind.  No doubt his parents, and other family members gave him lots of books so that he could explore, grow, and use his mind when his body did not work properly."

This concept rushed into my small brain.  "Mama, could I write poetry, novels?  I have a good imagination.  If I wrote books what would that be like?"

That is how it started.  I would lie in bed and create worlds.  I would even think of the interaction of my characters and speak out loud as one or the other of those characters.  The time became more friendly, while I focused less on my struggles to breathe.  The distraction actually helped me to calm which usually made my asthma a tiny touch better.

I owe you a grand debt Mr. Stevenson.  I hate that you had to suffer from this rotten malady.  Yet somehow you wrote a book about a tropical island, "Treasure Island," and at that point you had never seen a tropical island!  Yet your description was so real that I could hear the waves, see the water in vivid shades of blue and green.

You, Mr. Stevenson, helped me to gain a vision that life was not all about my miserable health.  You helped me learn my letters, and then find creative ways to make the letters and words sing,, dance, and distract. 

Of course, my Mama and Papa had a little bit to do with it as well.  (Gentle smile)

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