Tuesday, December 21, 2010


When I was five years old my house burned down on Christmas Day. To the ground. Somehow this fact surfaced in a conversations with author Darnell Arnoult (Sufficient Grace) and she said, “Have you written about that River? You should write about that.” I said, “Nope. Never have. Isn’t that strange? I guess I should write about that sometime. “ So when my alarm went off to remind me that it was my A Good Blog Is Hard to Find Post day of course the first thing I thought of was – oh great, it’s Christmas week. I will write something sweet. Then the next thing I thought of was the fact that my house burned down on Christmas Day and in any writer’s handbook that is considered great fodder for material. A blessing I assure you that at five years old I did not ask for. In chatting recently with author Neil White (In the Sanctuary of Outcasts) we were discussing how some people crave writerly inspiration. Anywhere they can get it. Of any kind. He shared a story with me of a few writer's conference patrons who realized he had been sent to a federal prison what was known as a 'leper colony' during the day. "Oh, we wish we could be sent to a leper colony. Then we could have something to write about. I had a friend years ago who had shared a similar sentiment declaring her life was just 'white bread' so she had nothing to write about. I guess some folks do get all the good stuff. House fires, prison, or double trouble of any kind. BUT - it doesn't take these kind of tragic moments to find something to write about. It doesn't take losing your house, your dog, or your wife (in no particular order) to be inspired to write a great story. Story's abide in the soul. They ask, urge, cry out to be written. Particularly, the ones that house eternal truths. The important thing I believe is that we listen carefully, closely to the story that is calling our name.

We lost no family, friends, or animals on that tragic day. Only things. But still - I remember this . . .

Spending the night in an old, hotel by the bay. There wasn't anything known as cable then and the reception to the television was poor to middling. Mostly poor. My mother sat whispering with my Grandmother who had come out of the woods to spend the night with us. Their voices droned at a steady hum, them going over and over the details of the day. The horrible phone call that shared the news and them trying to understand what had caused the fire. One theory was that the Christmas tree lights left on had eventually sparked the curtains, which had spread to the solid pine paneling, which had taken care of business in a hurry. I had been the one to plug the lights in before we ventured off to my Grandmother's in the country. I remember thinking they would leave an impression on the neighborhood. It wasn't the one I had envisioned. Eventually, I fell asleep but it was with a  silent and heavy heart. One that plead guilty to the crime of our erased history and unknown future.

The following morning a gift was delivered to me by one of my mother's best friends. It was an exact replica of a special present, a beautiful little stuffed donkey I had opened the previous morning that had been lost in the fire. I clutched it to my face and breathed in pure comfort. Somehow, against all possibility and in sprite of my guilt something had been resurrected from the ashes. In that moment there was a hope that life although forever altered, would continue. And that in that grace I would be forgiven.

To this day the presence of donkey gives me an unexpected joy. I love to hear the one that lives down the hill when he calls out in the twilight hours. I'm drawn to books on donkeys, pictures of donkeys, and once considered being a rescue home for wild, Jerusalem donkeys.

It's still a simple wonder that something so simple, so small, and so humble could grant us an eternal Peace. But then, the best stories always do.

Wishing you a blessed and holy Christmas.

River Jordan
River Jordan produces and hosts Clearstory Radio from the woods of Nashville where she lives with her husband and their big dog. She is the author of four novels, and a collection of essays. Her memoir inspired by her New Year's Resolution - Praying for Strangers; An Adventure of the Human Spirit, will be available in hardback by Penguin/Berkley April 5, 2011. Her friend whose life was full of white bread has been on a wild adventure and completed her third novel.


Peggy Webb said...

How lovely that a humble donkey brought you peace at Christmas. My cousin had a donkey she called Henry. He was unassuming and homely, and everybody loved him.

Michael Morris said...

Thanks River -- a beautiful story with a great voice. I felt like you were sitting in my living room with a cup of coffee, reading it to me.

Susan Cushman said...

Great story from "the story woman"! I also have heard Neil tell his story of other writers being jealous of his stay in a prison/leper colony, and I remember being jealous of Mary Karr's life when I was still working on my memoir. Even with the trauma and darkness of my own childhood, it couldn't come up to Karr's. Now that I've abandoned the memoir for fiction, I'm enjoying the freedom my characters have to live a life more colorful than my own! Great post. Merry Christmas!!!

Hilary Hyland said...

What a touching, lovely story. Hope you have a Merry Christmas!

River Jordan said...

Oh, thank you for visiting on this beautiful, busy week!

Merry Christmas!


Andy said...

A wonderful, touching story.

blessings and Merry Christmas to all.

Ad Hudler said...

Wow...big difference between donkey and jackass, isn't there?
Thanks for sharing this story, River.