Mar. 17, 2010


by Thomas R. Smith

It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

"Trust" by Thomas R. Smith, from Waking Before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is St. Patrick's Day. It was on this day in the fifth century — probably in the year 460 — that Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, died. He was born in Britain to wealthy parents, but not much more is known about his childhood until he was 16, when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. He was a slave for six years, herding sheep, often alone. He wrote in his memoir Confessio: "I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time." He said that he heard the voice of God telling him to escape from Ireland, and then to come back as a missionary. He made it back to Britain, was trained as a priest, and then returned to Ireland. He wrote that he would have loved to go home to his family and his country, but that it was his duty to remain in Ireland, converting people to Christianity and baptizing them. There were few Christians in Ireland at the time, so Patrick tried to integrate traditional beliefs with the new religion, and legend has it that he introduced the Celtic cross as a way to combine the Christian cross with a symbol of the sun. Another legend says that he used the three leaves of the clover to explain the Trinity, which is why shamrocks are a symbol of St. Patrick's Day. And March 17, Patrick's Feast Day, has been celebrated as a religious holiday ever since.

But the green clothing and all-out festivities of St. Patrick's Day are largely a product of the United States. The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City in 1762 by Irish immigrants. These days, about 3 million people line up to watch the parade in New York, and there are similar huge celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, where they dye the river green.

It's the birthday of William Gibson, (books by this author) born in Conway, South Carolina (1948). It was he who coined the term "cyberspace," in a short story and then in his novel Neuromancer (1984). Gibson wrote: "A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he'd cut in Night City, and still he'd see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void."

It's the birthday of Arab-American writer Gary Paul Nabhan, (books by this author) born in Gary, Indiana (1952). He grew up fascinated by the outdoors, trying to spend as much time outside as possible, picking flowers or poking around the woods.

He dropped out of high school, but he ended up going back to college and studying environmental science and botany. He said that coming from an Arab family, he was attracted to the desert, so he moved to Arizona when he was 19. And he was fascinated by all the ways that food was a part of life there — for ranchers, Native Americans, immigrants. So he became an advocate for preserving heritage plants and animals, foods that are tied to a place's culture. And he started raising heritage sheep and turkeys. He has helped found and promote initiatives like RAFT, which stands for Renewing America's Food Traditions, and he has written many books, most recently, Where Our Food Comes From (2008).

It's the birthday of the only writer who has ever won both the Carnegie Medal (for outstanding children's books) and the Booker Prize (for fiction written for adults): Penelope Lively, (books by this author) born in Cairo (1933). Her father worked for the Bank of Egypt, but eventually her parents got divorced and she was sent off to boarding school, which she hated. She went to Oxford for college. There she met Jack Lively, and they got married. And when she was 24, she gave birth to their daughter, and a few years later, to a son. She loved to read with her kids, but it wasn't until she was in her 30s and both her kids were in school all day that she tried writing. She has published 25 books for children, including the Caldecott winner The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), about a boy named James Harrison who moves with his family to a cottage in the country that is haunted by a 17th-century ghost.

She went on to publish 16 books for adults, including Moon Tiger (1987), which won the Booker Prize, Beyond the Blue Mountains (1997), and most recently, Family Album (2009).

It's the birthday of writer Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., (books by this author) born on this day in Plainfield, New Jersey (1911). He is most famous for a book based on his eccentric upbringing — his parents were engineers and efficiency experts. They pioneered a mode of efficiency for the workplace called "motion study," but they liked to apply the theory to their own household as well, to their six sons and six daughters. The book was Cheaper by the Dozen (1948), which he co-wrote with his sister Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

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