As a lifelong writing student, I’ve resisted writing prompts—a lazy doubting stubbornness that’s fading as I see repeatedly in my classes their utility and power. Spurred by an exercise, my “Writing Life Stories” students have just produced some of their best work of the semester.
I can’t go into the stories my students told. But suffice it to say that their essays’ opening lies—in their yearning and often-iconic specifics—take on such power, resonance, and frequently sadness as we learn the truth. Yet the retrospective wisdom fostered by the nature and placement of the truth-telling narrator makes it all moving, bearable, and a gift.
A former neighbor and hired helper of mine, whom I portray as Sam in my book Shepherd: A Memoir, used to call daffodils “Easter flowers.” I doubt Sam knew their “real” name, and his folk-poetry label for the Narcissus species spoke volumes.
Right now, in a perennial bed paces from where I write, my daffodils ordered last Fall are up and blooming for the first time. I’d planted them in the root system of a massive silver maple, and feared I hadn’t gotten them deep enough. Maybe they didn’t all make it. Yet now, at least some are blooming and some will replicate, Spring’s very essence. Their white and yellow faces form a luminous statement of hope and joy—indeed of rebirth—in this weary world. There they’ll endure, annually remaking what’s so old into news that’s forever so new.