The Dormant Seed

Once upon a time and far away – in fact very far away in a small unremarkable market town in the center of England – lived a young girl who loved her books and stories.

She quickly learned her ABC’s and when her parents read bedtime stories she remembered every page, correcting them if they ever tried to skip one.  Her appetite for reading quickly grew – The Pilgrim’s Progress at seven – The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, science fiction, history – the library was her second home and so was planted the seed of a writer.

As a teenager she scribbled notes in a journal, wrote a few lines here and there and pursued English Literature and French at school – language and words were her fascination, her passion.  She studied Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Shakespeare’s Hamlet—the list went on and on.  Then at sixteen she had to make a choice in subjects – hers would have been Science and English Literature of course, but her teachers knew better, apparently, and said, “Oh no you can’t mix and match. It has to be all science or all art.”  So science it was.

The seed lay dormant.

The next few years she spent writing science reports, answers to exam questions and dissertations, one of the highlights being the Reproductive Life Cycle of a Barnacle!  Then on to a corporate job–crafting statistical reports, training plans, committee reports, performance reviews, job descriptions–words that seemed so stale and flat.

The seed lay dormant.

The years went by, life went by, and her writing was limited to e-mails and the occasional letter.  Books were still her sanctuary, and friends often said “we love the stories you tell” or “you should write a book.”  The seed gave a little shake at the sounds of these words, but she often asked herself, “Who am I to write a book. I have no stories and no time.” The seed would bury itself a little deeper into the dark earth.

Still the seed lay dormant.

In nature, of course, it can often take a significant event such as a hard frost or even a fire to unlock a seed so that it can in fact sprout–this little seed had lain dormant for so long that it was questionable whether it was still viable after almost 50 years.

Then came the events that would shake and inspire the seed into action–cancer diagnosis, her father’s death, the pandemic.  On clearing out her father’s house, she found some of her stories, essays, and poems she loved and had shared.

Covid was the final wakeup call–socially isolated, in lockdown she joined communities on-line including the local cancer support group who held a weekly class called “Notes to Self.” The seed shook a little harder, especially when she showed up and wrote a few words. With great trepidation she ignored the voice in her head which said, “You are not a writer, No one will take any notice. They will laugh at you.” But the seed was taking hold.

A dear friend in the group provided water and even fertilizer for the seed. “Sandra Marinella is giving a talk through Healing Journeys. You should sign up! So she did.

The seed was so happy that a shoot appeared although it was not sure which way to go–up or down?

She listened to Sandra, purchased a copy of the book, and this time the seedling shook so violently she signed up for a writing class.  How did that happen?  Again, she showed up with trepidation, read the book, and finally understood that she could write. She had something to write about.  Sandra and the beautiful community she created provided fertile ground and a framework to write stories of overcoming trauma and loss, positive stories, heroic stories. It all made perfect sense.

The roots of the seedling grew stronger and finally the shoot pierced through the soil to the light—throwing out a bud or two when a piece was written and then started to bloom as she told her stories.  She became proud of the writer she was, proud of her stories, proud to tell them, and proud to be part of a community of budding seedlings seeing the beauty of the blossoms unfold.


– Pam Sheppard

April 2022







My Mantra – You Can! You Can!

It is shortly after 5 am on Saturday. I know this because the woodpecker who is entranced with the eaves near my bed has started to drill his song. When I pound on the wall, he thinks it is a game, and imitates my pattern. I give up and get up.

Saturday mornings. For years I would rise this early and gather my book bag that was stuffed with thirty or fifty essays from my high school seniors.  I would make the 12-minute drive south on the 101. When I arrived at the Wildflower Café, I would try to snag the booth right inside the door. Sometimes Lupita, a server-extraordinaire, would save that spot for me!  Sometimes Mae, the manager-extraordinaire, would bring me oatmeal before I ordered it. While marking up essays and stories in that booth, I climbed inside the hearts and souls of my students.

It was there I learned Tamiko wanted to be a doctor because her father had died of cancer. It was here that Nick confessed in his artful words that he knew deep inside that he was gay, and he could no longer run from his truth. It was here I edited Jason’s essay that would admit him to Yale and a life out of the poverty he had known. It was here I first discovered Ben’s painful story of finding his uncle in his garage after he shot himself. It was here in a journal that Alicia confided she wished to be a poet – and later she became one.

Perhaps this sounds crazy, but I rarely tired of grading student essays. Oh, sometimes it was a slog, but it was also a privilege to open the window into the minds of these young people who were on the cusp of a new beginning. They would struggle, they would strive, and often they would find their voice and ground themselves with their words. At the end of many essays, I would cheer a writer on by scribbling the words, “You can! You can!”

This Saturday morning as I brewed my black tea, I kept repeating those words, “You can. You can.” Unconsciously it had become a mantra that I often shared with students, and they would thank me. One day I remember shy Erica staying after class, to point at the poorly scrawled phrase at the bottom of her paper. When I read my scribble to her, she got tears in her eyes. “That is what I hoped it said. You can. You can!” Then she scurried toward the door to catch up with her friends, but she stopped and turned back to me, calling in voice that sounded like a symphony accompanied with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, “Thank you. You made my day!” And she made my day.

But this Saturday there are no essays to grade. Today I hope to write a few sentences in a new book I am birthing. There is a moment of light-headedness. I have started this book before. I was going to coauthor a workbook with a like-minded physician until COVID hit. The pandemic littered my path, like your path, with many potholes that made it hard to navigate. I went from workbook back to a book, back to a compilation of stories. Writing is a messy business.

But this morning, I feel am filled with something new. Something deep-seated. And I am ready to try again. The metaphor that has wrapped its arms around my soul is storycatcher. I embrace stories because they are my teachers. They allow me to understand you as well as to understand me. While I went to battle with myself over sharing my personal stories as I wrote The Story I Need to Tell, I learned to do it.  Indeed, the process pommeled me with both beautiful and painful moments. Then I watched as the process changed me, and I grew.  Now as I share this work, hoping others can learn to find and hold the beauty in their life experience.

Writing a book is my way of searching for truth in my life and in this world. It is why I come to the page each day. Often it feels like I am navigating across the Antarctic in winter. Long silent stretches. Pain. Trudging across the tundra and feeling lost, but then something happens. A stray flower breaks through the ground and spring begins. The journey is long and hard, but worth the pain and growth that comes of it.

As I dip bites of granola into yogurt, I realize I have seen slivers of insight that dance in front of me in recent days. Taunting me. They know I must catch them, or they will slip by and out of my reach. They will fall into the synapses that dance in another mind or perhaps tumble, lost into the universe forever.  I want to capture these words. I want to run as fast as I can and dance and tumble and juggle and struggle until the whole of it comes to me. While it looms as a daunting struggle, I can do this, I tell myself. I can. I can.

And I smile for those words keep slipping out of me. They are indeed a long-time mantra for me. I guess we all need one. My students needed those words, and I understand that more fully now. For that reason alone, I will scribble those words across the top and bottom of this page. Also, I will write them in my heart.

I can I can!

The Beauty of Imperfection

Five years ago I made a trip that changed me. After hours on a plane and a short train ride, we arrived in the stunning train station of Kyoto, Japan.  I had long wanted to see this architectural glass wonder. But after a day of traversing the 171 steps of staircase and tiring of hip restaurants and high priced shopping, I found myself drawn outside where I was captivated by the historic streets, the local people, the carefully sculpted gardens, and a charming pottery shop.


On the third day of our visit, I found my way down the cobblestone streets back to the pottery shop that smelled of sandalwood and displayed local art framed like treasures in the windows. At the back of the shop was an artist painting floral designs on teacups and plates. A kind clerk treated both the pottery and the customers with reverence. I was searching for a gift for my mom when the clerk showed me the blue cup. It was Mother’s color. My dad had died recently, and in her stoic midwestern way, my mom was grieving.  We all were. After a serious fall, she agreed to move into assisted living. “Perhaps I am old,” she announced firmly, “But I am not broken.”

But she was. For weeks I had watched  Mom shuffle ahead of me to the dining room from her new apartment; and I could tell each step was painful as she hobbled. While she forced a smile, I had seen the scans of her back—several of her discs had disintegrated into near dust.



The Kintsugi Cup

I bought the cup with the silver lines etched like Pollock strokes across it. I bought it because it was not outrageously priced.  I bought it because the crooked lines reminded me of the films of my mother’s crooked back. I bought it because it felt like a sacred act to share it with my mom who could not see herself as broken. But mostly I bought it because it reminded me of the wisdom found in the art of Kintsugi, a wisdom my beautiful mother carried in her.

The art of Kintsugi may have been invented around the fifteenth century. A shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, broke his favorite cup. When he sent it to China to be repaired, he was told it was unsalvageable. Refusing to accept the news, the shogun found a Japanese craftsman who agreed to transform the cup into a work of art by filling the cracks with lacquered resin and powdered gold.  The outcome was a jewel. The practice became a revered form of art.

Kintsugi teaches us that when something is broken, it can be repaired and perhaps the flaws or imperfections can be made even more beautiful. As we journey through life, we learn that imperfections are a part of being human. Kintsugi reminds us to accept our flaws, learn from them, and embrace the beauty of moving forward.

After returning from Kyoto, I gave Mom the cup. She gushed over it. I thought I would explain Kintsugi to her in the right moment. But the moment never came, and I began to realize that as one who had managed the relentless challenges of aging, Mom already held inside of her the wisdom of finding beauty amid life’s struggles.

For two more years my dear mom hobbled forward with her crooked, painful back, and all the while, she made every effort to fill her imperfections with the silver and gold to be found in this life. I miss her, and each day I think of her “kintsugi wisdom.”

My Kintsugi Mom