Award-winning flash fiction!

I’m coming to you fresh from ANWA’s beautiful, fabulous, inspiring NW retreat! The past three days have been filled with so much learning and new friends and great books. The highlight of the weekend was our keynote speaker, Lisa Mangum–amazing! I’ll be sharing a few treasures I picked up from her in coming blog posts.

When we first arrived, we were given a prompt for a flash fiction contest that we had essentially 24 hours to write. Flash fiction terrifies me, guys. I can’t even do short stories because I’m too long-winded. A story in 300 words? No, thanks.

And then I woke up at 4:30 the next morning with THE STORY in my brain, and there would be no rest until it was down on paper.

And it won second place!! Which meant I got a FREE BOOK!!

So I thought I’d share it with you. It’s a quick read. Enjoy!

***

He built the footbridge in 1916. Two days later, he traded his hammer and saw for a bayonet.

She was savoring the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot when she saw him. The sight of her old playmate in uniform proved too much for her. She fled to the new footbridge with no more ear for the leaves swirling behind her, tears joining the clear stream below. He found her there and promised to return. When she refused to believe him, he sealed that promise with a kiss.

Seventy-one times she returned alone to the footbridge on the anniversary of that kiss. While she grew weathered and worn as the boards beneath her feet, her memory of him remained as tall and strong as ever.

On her seventy-second visit, she sat beside the bridge, her joints cracking and creaking louder than the old handrail. The handsome young subject of the photograph in her hands had long ago faded beyond recognition, but it didn’t matter. She could hardly see for the cataracts anyway.

“I told you I’d return.”

A smile creased her wrinkles at the long-silenced voice. His face shone like a beam of late autumn sunshine, clear and bright amid the muddled dimness of her vision. In the glow of its maker’s presence, the bridge took on its old glory. Without knowing it, so did she.

“I’m too old for you now, you know.”

“Nonsense. You’re every bit the woman I plan to marry.”

He took her hand, and she rose without creaks, without aches, without effort. The world burst into bright autumn glory, trees robed in colors she hadn’t seen for years, sunlight bouncing off the stream with crisp laughter. With her age shed behind her, she leaped into his embrace, never to be torn from it again.

I missed September 11, 2001. I was at a school nature camp, and the teachers chose not to tell us what had happened, leaving it for our parents to do four days later.

As such, my memories of that time are different from most. By the time I got home and saw the video footage, the paralysis of shock and fear had already passed by. There was still so much grief and pain, but the country was moving again, people pulling together to do what needed to be done. Churches of all denominations united in prayer. People offered food, clothing, shelter, whatever they could give to complete strangers who were in need. Stories surfaced everywhere of people taking the part of angels, bringing relief to those who grieved, who toiled, who couldn’t go home.

For a while, our country–and others as well–remembered something: we are all human. We are all in this together. We need each other desperately.

I wish we could remember this more often. That instead of picking apart each others’ differences, we could see the things we all share. That we could put aside our opinions long enough to see a person’s soul instead of just political views. That we could build each other up as we did in the wake of destruction, instead of tearing each other down in our comfortable prosperity.

And so I’ll start with me. I’ll work a little harder to see that person on the street or in the store not as an Other, but as a fellow member of this human race. I’ll work on not letting a difference of opinion stand in the way of what could be a great friendship. I’ll seek to salve the hurts that I can. I’ll remember–not the the terror or the hate or the pain–but the greatness that rose in our souls to push that darkness away.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Windshield Wipers

When my husband and I moved to the Seattle area two and a half years ago, we had both just graduated from BYU. He was on his was to a PhD at the UW. I didn’t have a job, his job didn’t start for six months, and we were living in his parents’ basement until we found a place.

Our windshield wipers had already been baked by an early Utah summer, but it was still pouring rain in Washington. Still, with no immediate promise of income, I was willing to put up with a few streaks on the windshield rather than buy new wiper blades.

But after my husband and I returned from a walk one day, my father-in-law, Jim, mentioned in passing, “I put a new pair of windshield wipers on your car for you.”

Alone, it’s a small, sweet example of the way he lived his life, noticing needs around him and quietly filling them. But you have to understand that Jim was suffering from severe back pain, so bad that he hadn’t been able to lie down for months. He had tumors the size of golf balls spreading through his body. He was in and out of chemotherapy, and suffering from neuropathy from previous bouts of chemo. And through all this, he was still working so hard to keep up with his job as a sports photographer for the Seattle Times.

And he had gone out, bought windshield wipers, and installed them for us while we were out walking.

We had six more months with him before the cancer treatments became too much. That was two years ago today.

Those windshield wipers are starting to leave streaks behind, and with holiday travels ahead of us, it’s probably time to replace them again. But I count it a blessing that this gloomy Washington weather gives me frequent opportunities to use those wipers and give quiet thanks in my heart for the selfless man who changed our wiper blades.

Sweet Gifts from the Sky

I’ve been traveling for the past week, so I’ve been a little quiet around the blogging universe. But yesterday, I went to meet my publishers face-to-face! It was delightful, and I loved talking to the people who are doing amazing things for my book. I am so glad to be working with a team of such wonderful people.

AND there was an unexpected surprise sitting in the lobby when we walked in: Colonel Gail Halvorsen.

The Candy Bomber.

Col. Halvorsen was a WWII pilot who dropped rations during the Berlin Airlift. Following one of his missions, Halvorsen started talking to a crowd of hungry children who were watching the enormous airplanes through the fence at the Tempelhof Airport. When the children asked if he had any candy to give them, he had only two sticks of gum; but he promised to drop more for them next time he flew over the airport.

Halvorsen collected candy rations from several of his buddies and put together three packages of candy for his next mission. As he approached Tempelhof, he wiggled his wings to let the children know it was him, and then his flight engineer threw the three packages out the flare chute with handkerchief parachutes. As he taxied past the children, they waved the handkerchiefs at him in enthusiastic thanks for the candy.

Word spread, and other pilots started donating candy and handkerchiefs for Halvorsen to drop throughout Berlin. Letters addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings” streamed through the post office, pleading for candy to be dropped in their area. Before long, thousands of pounds of candy were coming into Germany from the United States, and Halvorsen had to enlist other pilots to spread packages of sweet love to the children of that war-torn country. A few disappointed children wrote to say that they hadn’t been able to reach the packages before the others had cleaned them out, and Halvorsen mailed them personal packages filled with treats.

The airlift was already providing the necessities of survival. But Colonel Halvorsen saw a need beyond that of just hunger. He saw children who desperately needed some semblance of childhood pleasures. He saw something he could do that would bring a few smiles to a people whose lives had been torn down from the inside.

My friends, charity is not just giving money. Charity is filling a need that not everyone can see. Charity is looking for ways to make people smile. Charity is showing people their worth. Charity is love.

And Colonel Halvorsen had charity.