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September 26, 2006

WORDS AS A RESOURCE FOR WRITING AND HEALING

In Frederick, the children’s book by Leo Lionni, a chatty family of field mice live in an old stone wall. Winter approaches. All the mice set to work, gathering corn and nuts and wheat, except for Frederick, who sits apart from the others, doing nothing, or at least he appears to be doing nothing. He’s the daydreaming mouse. The lazy mouse? The other mice scold him. Why isn’t he working? He tells them he is working. He tells them he’s gathering sun rays for the winter days. Yeah, right. How does one gather sun rays? They ask him again. Why aren’t you working? He tells them he’s gathering colors. Right. Sure. Finally, Frederick tells them he’s gathering words.

Winter comes. The mice hole up in the stone wall. At first all goes as well as can be expected in winter. The mice are well-fed and content. But the time comes when they have used up all their provisions. It’s cold. They’re feeling a bit less chatty. Finally they turn to Frederick. They ask him about his supplies.

He tells them to close their eyes. When their eyes are closed he begins:

‘Now I send you the rays of the sun.
Do you feel how their golden glow. . .’
And as Frederick spoke of the sun
the four little mice
began to feel warmer.
Was it Frederick’s voice?
Was it magic?

Next he conjures colors. Blue periwinkles. Red poppies. Yellow wheat.

And what happens? “. . . they saw the colors as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds.” And they were nourished by them.

Sometimes we forget what nourishes us. The winter comes and we forget. Words are a way to remember. We can write them on index cards, or on the palms of our hands. We can write them on the back page of a notebook, or the front page. We can write them in fall on those days when the harvest feels especially plentiful. We can store them like Frederick, and pull them out on flat winter days when we are most in need.

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