Commencement: Go Where There Is No Path

Graduation Day, 1970, Elvin Kraybill, me, Myron Augsburger,  Conrad Brunk. Truman Brunk

Graduation Day Eastern Mennonite College, 1970: Elvin Kraybill, me, Myron Augsburger, Conrad Brunk. Truman Brunk

 ”Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Graduation Day 1970.

I was nervous and excited.

My friend Elvin and I were the student commencement speakers.

We marched with the college president.

After that day, we would not see each other for another decade.

Elvin became a lawyer practicing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I became a professor at Goshen College.

Both of us pioneered new roles.

We met again when my father was very ill.

Our family needed a lawyer. Elvin was there.

The will he drew up allowed Mother to keep the Home Place when Daddy died.

Daddy's gravestone. D. May 3, 1980. Age 55.

Daddy's gravestone. D. May 3, 1980. Age 55..

I went back home to Indiana.

Elvin and I met again in 1997 when Elvin chaired the Mennonite Board of Education

Once more we stood together on a platform looking out at a large audience.

He inaugurated me into the office of college president.

We laughed about meeting again on a stage neither of us foresaw in 1970.

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Elvin Kraybill (nearly hidden), Victor Stoltzfus, me, 1997

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Myrl Nofziger, Elvin Kraybill (nearly hidden), Victor Stoltzfus, me, 1997. Goshen College inauguration.

Name someone you know who has gone where there is no path.

Now think of one way you too have broken new ground. What is it about your life that you could not have foreseen at commencement?

I wish the Class of 2015 a life full of friends in time of need, surprises along the way, and jubilation in the end. Want to add a story or a good wish of your own? Please leave a comment below.

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When the Lost Thing Appears: The Completion of a Circle

Those white gloves! Spring Banquet 1967.

Spring Banquet 1967.

A month ago, I looked everywhere I could think of

for Spring Banquet photos.

Then last week, looking for a photo of our friend Joel,

I found the two pictures that had eluded my search.

With my banquet beau, Spring Banquet 1967
With my banquet beau, Spring Banquet 1967

Here is the date who found the corsage I lost.

Sometimes when our minds are totally consumed by other thoughts, we find a lost object.

Sometimes the story isn’t complete until we find the picture.

Can you relate?

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Our Friend Joel’s Life Legacy: Eternal Laughter and Love

Joel Kauffmann about 1985

Joel Kauffmann about 1985

I had planned to write about graduation.

Now it is otherwise.

I had planned to enjoy a riotous old age with this man as friend.

Now it is otherwise.

Our friend Joel, cartoonist, script writer, story teller, died May 8.

He was walking with his wife Nancy.

The hidden clot in his lung grabbed him.

He fell backward, hard, head on concrete.

A week later we friends came.

Happier Days: Our "small group" gathers in New York City, 2009. Joel center right.

Happier Days: Our "small group" gathers in New York City, 2009. Joel center right.

Carrying bouquets of stories.

Discovering so many other “best friends,” their own memory posies clutched tightly.

We cried and laughed. Laughed and cried. Together.

At College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana,

We sang and played our hearts out,

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Jesus Loves Me

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow

Sudden death is a terrible thing. Sudden community, a balm in Gilead.

If you knew Joel, please leave a memory below. If you have lost a friend without warning, what did you do to assuage the loss? How have you continued to remember that friend? Where did you find comfort?

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The Red, Red Rose of Memory: A Surprise Update

Red rose preserved in scrapbook from Spring Banquet, 1967

Red rose preserved in scrapbook from Spring Banquet, 1967

This rose is 48 years old.

When it dropped from my shoulder in the dark,

my date promised to come back the next morning and look for it.

He found it along the path we walked on College Avenue.

Why do I still have this rose?

Because my “date” became my husband.

And his trip back to the street to find the rose

was a gesture that became his signature.


New sidewalk, old memory.

New sidewalk, old memory.

Recently we walked on College Avenue, retracing the steps Stuart took

very early in a spring morning, 1967.

We laughed at our romantic memory when we saw the sign,

the new sidewalk,

and the portable john.

Nothing stays the same forever. Not even carefully preserved roses.

Writing Prompt: can you think of an action, a gesture, that has become a signature in your life? Someone else’s life? Have you preserved any items that you might want to revisit? Let’s talk about it below!

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An Old Tree Growing Stronger: The Thrill of Discovering My Younger Self

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

The tree outside the chapel building. Spring, 2015

Walking across campus with my college sweetheart brings back many memories.

Outside the chapel, a tree stopped my in my tracks.

“This is the one!” I exclaimed.

I recognized the branches, remembered climbing into them as a college senior.

I rushed home to look at the yearbook picture again.

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

From The Shenandoah Yearbook, 1970

Do you see what I see? The same tree at nearly the same time of year,

45 years later.

That young woman has no idea she will be so excited, 45 years later, to find this tree.


Writing Prompt

 Did you carve your initials into a tree when you were young? Make a mark some other way? In wet concrete? Wet paint?

Do you have a special tree like the one above? What feelings do you have as you rediscover the old place?

Bonus: Here’s John Prine singing about Old Trees just growing stronger.

I remember listening to this song as a young mother wondering what old age would be like. 

How about you? Say hello in the comment section below!

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Do You Have a Landscape of Love? A Walk Down Memory Lane

Northlawn Residence Hall, Eastern Mennonite University

Northlawn Residence Hall, Eastern Mennonite University

This is Northlawn, my college dorm, 1966-1969.

I fell in love with Stuart in the spring of 1967.

He was a grand senior. I was a lowly “frosh.”

Stuart pinned a red rose corsage on my lime green Spring Banquest dress while I stood on the porch of that dorm.

Now, after 45 years of marriage, we have returned to live less than a mile from this place.

We walk nearly every day through familiar scenes infused with memories of giddy joy.

The profusion of blooms bring back the intensity of first love tempered by the security of love tested, tried, and true.

If you are interested in more pictures and stories comparing past and present in the landscape of love, let me know in the comment section below.

In the meantime, here we are together just before Spring exploded.

On the deck March 25, 2015. Photo by J. Daniel Hess.

On the deck March, 2015. Photo by J. Daniel Hess.


Writing Prompt: Our landscape of love is here in the Shenandoah Valley. Where is yours? Can you tell a story? Why not leave a paragraph below?

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Seven Lessons from My Lenten Sabbatical

Doves on the Deck

Doves on the Deck -- Contemplative Photography

I expected that a Lenten Fast would give me a time to rest. I craved a less active, more contemplative, life.

Did I get it?

Well, yes.

What improved?

  • Exercise. At least an hour/day of stretching, weights, walking, yoga, and even a little jogging. I feel stronger and leaner, especially when I wear Spandex biking pants. :-)
  • Food. I ate mostly plant foods and avoided sugar successfully — except for a mindless bite of my granddaughter’s pancake.
  • Reading. Most of my Facebook and Twitter time went into books, about ten of them.
  • I kept a daily journal except when I was traveling. I posted one picture a day on Instagram in order to keep a visual record also.

Seven Lessons from a Facebook/Twitter Sabbatical


1. Everything is connected to everything else.

The worldwide WEB is well named! Unless you go to a desert island, or unplug from the grid (or at least from your computer and smart phone), you can’t escape the omnipresence of social media. People tag you on posts, notifications come into email, etc. I didn’t initiate updates, and I stayed away from my news feed but I could not avoid minimal contact.

2.  Relationships form webs also.

Even though my life during Lent became more contemplative, I still could not evade the feeling of “busy-ness.” I gave two book talks, two radio interviews and one Skype interview, revised a book chapter, spent three days of vacation in New York City, traveled also to Illinois to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend, and made other stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I also spent a day at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

For two weeks of the seven, I helped take care of grandchildren in New Jersey. Stuart and I entertained numerous guests. And then 40 Hershey family members converged at my sister Sue’s farm in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, on Easter Sunday for a glorious celebration of faith, family, and food. On the way home, inspired by grandson Owen’s new-found love of rhyming, I wrote a children’s book called The Bear in There.

Family Hug on the Wooden Hill

Family Hug on the Wooden Hill

Each of these individual events was wonderful.

Overall, I recognize that Being and Doing are as intertwined as Facebook and email.

3. Life is paradox.

In the midst of contemplation, I got an exciting new idea for a new writing project. I felt that familiar “powerful pulsing of love in the veins,” a feeling I have known since childhood and now associate with all creative work. I have been buzzing with gratitude for the gift of inspiration, even if it comes to naught or goes into directions I can’t foresee.

The electrical feeling of touching God’s garment can never be dismissed. As long as I have it, I’ll never feel old. I’ll be working on this new idea for weeks or months before I can talk about it. For now, I just want to report that I wasn’t expecting it and that I’m enjoying it. By getting calmer, I also got more excited.

4. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Okay, I stole this line from Anne Lamott, whose list of everything she’s learned in her 61 years on earth includes this great sentence. When in doubt, reboot! I unplugged for seven weeks, and now I’m turned on again.

5. The world around us is moving at warp speed.

The universe pays no attention when you unplug. It keeps moving at full speed. It takes a village of helpers when you choose to slow down even a little. For example, my husband kept me up to date occasionally on important news I would have seen on Facebook. Also my friend and fellow author Carol Bodensteiner took the lead in arranging publicity and interaction with our new adventure I Grew Up Country, a Facebook page for people who are sharing country stories, pictures, blog posts, etc.

6. Time is like a vacuum. It sucks up all available space.

You may recall that I said I wanted to be more passive? I love the word my spiritual ancestors used, Gelassenheit, which means submission to God, a condition of the soul necessary for true contemplation. I found it hard to keep space open and had to actively fight not to fill one form of busy-ness with another. So I was still active in order to be more passive (another paradox).

Which leads me to a question about self. Is it useless to try to bend the restless spirit? Can we submit in the midst of activity also, if we notice more of God’s gifts, feel more gratitude, and open ourselves to divine guidance? I believe the answer to this question is YES, and it is the one gift I hope to keep carrying into life beyond the sabbatical.

7. A feast tastes even better after a fast.

The Easter Dinner served at noon at my sister’s house was delicious. My first sugar in seven weeks? I enjoyed the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch sweet and sour dressing on cole slaw and kale salad (perfect complement to ham and cheesy potatoes). And then I had a Hershey Kiss, a tradition in our family you’ll recognize from reading Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

Hershey Kisses -- How I broke my sugar fast.

Hershey Kisses -- How I broke my sugar fast.

Now, I’ve told you what I’ve been doing, thinking, and being. What about YOU? I MISSED YOU. I promise to respond and to visit your latest updates and posts to try to catch up. I’m a little starved for news. :-)

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Entering Lent and Leaving Social Media Behind: Welcoming a More Passive Life

What do you get when you cross Lent with Sabbath?

I’m about to find out.

Oyster Bay, Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Oyster Bay, Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Taken during last week's writers' retreat.

The last four years of moving to Virginia, living in Brooklyn as a “granny nanny,” writing a book, and traveling, have been wonderful. You might call this period of time The Active Life.

This style of living has been a great blessing to me. I relish waking up in the morning to a list of tasks to accomplish — and even more, going to bed after I have crossed them off my list. I even made a list of things to do when I went to a writers’ retreat!

Along the way, I have made thousands of new friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn. I even have Flickr , Tumblr, and Pinterest accounts, although I did draw the line on actively using all of these. Facebook has been my favorite. Twitter next.

Because of social media, the launch of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World was fun! Without social media, book sales would not have exceeded my hopes and dreams. Audiences at book talks would have been smaller. I would have traveled less.

As grateful as I am for the Active Life made possible by social media, there’s a part of me that needs more time for rest and reflection.

I crave a more Passive Life for awhile. I want to surrender to silence.

To show you how my brain has  been trained, I wrote those words and then thought, “That would make a great tweet.” :-)

I need to stop looking for inspiring 140-character quotes and start listening to my own questions.

I need to return to my favorite red chair where I read, write in longhand, and pray.

The red chair with a view of the mountains.

The red chair with a view of the mountains.

I want to lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help. I want to listen and notice.

When will the first signs of spring appear? How do the passages in the Lenten Meditation booklet stir signs of new life in my own spirit?

The Shenandoah Valley last Spring

The Shenandoah Valley last Spring

Here are the concrete steps I am taking. I make them public so that I will feel more accountable when I return.

1. I’m taking Facebook and Twitter off my phone.

2. I’m leaving my phone on my desk at night (and not taking it into the bedroom).

3. I’ll check my email, and I’ll send out a weekly Magical Memoir Moment to the people who have signed up to get one every week (see email signup on the upper right-hand column)

4. I’m giving up sugar while I’m at it!

Will I go crazy? I’ll keep track of my withdawal symptoms and try to go for walks when they get too bad. What else will I do?

I’ll spend a week helping out with grandchildren and another week in New York City getting ready to celebrate Owen’s fourth!! birthday and then Easter Sunday with my family in Pennsylvania.

I’ll also spend some time with that pesky Box in the Basement.

And when Easter comes, and Passover ends, I’ll come back here on April and report in.

I promise.

In the meantime, I leave you with this Irish blessing I’ll look at every day:

An Irish Blessing

An Irish Blessing

Yes, if you look carefully, you’ll see my reflection as I took that picture. That’s where I’ll be. Behind the glass of the internet, looking out into nature itself.

Taking inspiration from Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

Do you ever long to go on a social media fast or sabbatical? What questions do you have for me to think about during this last week before Ash Wednesday?

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Be a Namer! How Madeleine L’Engle Named My Vocation

Every writer hopes to find words that resonate in other lives.

And every reader chooses favorite writers, partly based on their proven power to penetrate the veil of death through language.

Madeleine L’Engle plays such a role in my life. Even though she died in 2007, she lives in my memory through her visits to Goshen College and, even more, through her books.

Be a Namer: An Admonition

Be a Namer: An Admonition

I encountered Madeleine L’Engle many times over the course of her 88 years. The first time, I was a young teacher who tried to read A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet). One of my tenth-grade students loved the book. I could not connect with it. I assumed that I just didn’t like fantasy, the genre, since the book had won a Newbery Award and was already a classic.

After fours years of graduate school and after becoming a mother, I tried the book again. This time I loved it. And as my son Anthony grew older, I placed this book and the others in the series on my list of books to read to him at night.

Mother and son taking in the view above Port au Prince

Mother and son taking in the view above Port au Prince

One night, as I was reading to Anthony from A Wind in the Door (second in the Time Quintet), I came across an exchange between Meg, the teenage heroine of the book, and an angel named Progo.

Progo is explaining why he is calling out the names of the stars. He knows they need to be named in order for peace to exist on earth.

The enemy of peace is a force called the Ecthroi, which Progo interprets to Meg this way:

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming – making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

As I read these words to Anthony, tears began sliding down my cheeks. My own deepest desires surged through me. I wanted him to know his name. Anthony. A family name, yes. But also the name of the desert father St. Anthony, a Christian mystic and first monastic.

"Piero di Cosimo 025" by Piero di Cosimo - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

From the Visitation of St. Nicholas and St. Anthony by Piero di Cosimo

St. Anthony was a namer.

When Madeleine L’Engle came to Goshen College and signed Anthony’s copy of The Wind and the Door, she reached me, too, with her message of “Be a Namer.”

I took on the role of Namer as mother and Namer as teacher.

As a result, I paid attention to my own literal name in Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World and have talked with my children, husband, students, colleagues, and friends about names and their importance in our lives.

I have also tried to reach the depth of metaphor Madeleine L’Engle discovered. My deepest desire is to contribute to peace by helping others find their names — their callings and purpose in life. In so doing, I have found my own.

Anthony has become a namer too. He has found his own way to follow Madeleine L’Engle’s advice. I think she would approve.

Anthony reads to Julia

Anthony reads to Julia

Does this idea of being a namer resonate with you? Have words from an author entered deeply into your own life and vocation? How?

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The Snowstorm that Wasn’t: Legendary Busts and Blizzards

Yesterday the internets were alive with jokes about the Great Storm Bust of 2015. For those who lived in NYC, especially, a huge gap emerged between the hyped predictions (“historic storm coming — two to three feet!) and the actual snowfall of between 1.5 and 10 inches in the greater NYC area.


The poor politicians and meteorologists had snowballs  — small ones — on their faces.

It could have been otherwise, of course.

The blizzard hit further north and east than predicted. It came. It just didn’t come to where the subways and media outlets connect nearly nine million people to the rest of the world.

Snowfall is like wine and fishing — the longer the distance in time, the greater the size and quality of the product.

I remember, for example, the Great Blizzard of 1958 — the year 42 inches of snow fell in Lancaster County and closed Fairland Elmentary School, where I was a student in fourth grade. You may remember reading about that school in Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

The snowstorms of that year never made it into the book. Nor did this picture of the Spahr Farm covered in two feet of snow.

Spahr Farm after the snow fell and wind died down, 1958

Spahr Farm after the snow fell and wind died down, 1958

My father and his neighbor Dan Martin worked together to create a path for the milk truck to use, since the road that connected our two farms had blown shut. They used tractors and trucks and saved the milk from having to be dumped, which would have been a calamity.

We children, however, loved the blizzards that year. We pressed our ears to the radio to hear “school closing” announcements. When the announcer finally said “Manheim Central Schools,” we shouted with joy and began to plan our adventures in the snow. Sleds, snowball battles, forts, snow angels, ice cream. We did it all.

Our soaked mittens, hats, snowsuits, and coats hung over the radiator to dry. Sometimes the smell of hot wool sizzling reminded us that they were dry enough to go outside and play again.

Now, when I look out my window and see snow, I just rejoice in the beauty.

January 2015 view from the deck

January 2015 view from the deck

It matters not to me whether blizzards come or not. Unless I am headed to an airport, which I am today. That’s the luxury of this stage of life.

Tell us your snow story, either recent or long ago. Have you survived real blizzards? Busts?

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© Copyright Shirley Hershey Showalter
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