THE SWAN by Bill Coulson, Logan, Utah
My wife, Loretta, who had terminal pancreatic cancer, received a package containing a beautiful white ceramic swan. It had cost $100, and our bills were multiplying rapidly. “How could you do this?” I burst out. “I ordered it a long time ago. I really wanted it,” she replied tearfully. “It’s all right,” I said, ashamed. “I love you, Bill, and I don’t want to die,” she said. “I love you too,” I said. The darkness of my scolding turned into a bright moment of mutual love. Twenty-five years later, the swan remains. That moment is etched upon my heart.
KINDRED SPIRIT by Judith Spargur, Cody, Wyoming
They were the best cookies I’d ever baked, the ingredients more expensive than a state dinner’s, a mix of my son’s favorite recipes. I wrapped each cookie in plastic, sealed the box, affixed the customs declaration form, and presented the parcel to the postal clerk. Destination: Afghanistan. She pointed to an uncompleted section of the form. “If non-deliverable: Abandon; Return; Redirect.” If non-deliverable—an incomprehensible phrase. I stood stone-faced. “My son’s in the military,” she said quietly. “You can check Redirect, then write Chaplain to redistribute at his discretion.” Our mother‑eyes met. I nodded. Thank you.
ROSES FOR CHARLOTTE by Laurie Whitman, La Grange Park, Illinois
When I came home after the birth of my granddaughter, I found a tattered copy of Charlotte’s Web on my kitchen counter, along with a rosebush in a gallon jug, cookies, and a card—gifts from my neighbors. I was puzzled until I read the note: “Thought you might want this back.” I had given them the book years ago, when their kids were young. The inside cover had my daughter’s name written in her fourth-grade cursive. My granddaughter’s name is Charlotte. And the rosebush is thriving.
MIRROR IMAGE by Elana Pate, Palm Bay, Florida
In mythology, humans had four arms, four legs, and two faces. Fearing them, Zeus split them into two, forcing an eternal search for their other half. Zeus failed. When my (now) husband arrived at my house for our first date, I opened the door to my other half, dressed exactly like me, head to toe: aviator Ray-Bans, Levis, Timberland boots, the same yellow ski jacket. After our amazed laughter, he said, “One of us has to change.” I changed my clothes but not my mind. I knew we’d be together forever.
MY SHINING LIGHT by Deborah Kahn Schreck, Sayville, New York
I volunteered at Ground Zero after hometown firefighters responded but never returned. Lt. Timothy Higgins was one of them. I felt Timmy’s presence during dark moments, guiding me along every path. Working in sight of the burning piles, I met a fire marshal named Steve. I told him I was from Freeport. Steve said he’d been a firefighter with a guy from Freeport. I asked, “Who?” He replied, “Tim Higgins.” I followed this path and married Steve in 2005. I think of Tim every day. He must have been a shining light. Certainly, he was my beacon.
DESTINY AT THE DENTIST by Kathleen Curran, Canyon Country, California
Having just cemented a new bridge, my dental-assistant mother said to her patient, “Your girlfriend’s going to love your new teeth.” He replied, “I’m between girlfriends right now.” She said, “Don’t go anywhere. I have two daughters, Kathy and Vicky. Let me get their pictures from my wallet.” Dan was still reclined in the dental chair with his bib onand wasn’t going anywhere. Rushing back, she showed him her daughters’ photos, saying, “Here is our phone number. Give Kathy a call—she’s the older one.” He called, and we’ve been happily married for 39 years. Thanks, Mom!
HIDDEN JOY by Brianna Blanchard, Springfield, Massachusetts
Coming from a destitute family, my brother and I were used to having very slim Christmases. We expected nothing more one Christmas morning, as we scooped wrapping paper from the floor. “Grab the blanket hanging over there and wrap it around your mother when she comes in here and tell her how much you love her,” my father whispered deviously. Grabbing the blanket and pouncing on our mother, we noticed two upright guitars that the blanket had been draped across. Those guitars became the sole form of expression all throughout our growing-up years—and up to this day.
HER FAVORITE CAROL by Andrew Caruso II, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Ruth was in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease. She could no longer move nor speak, but she had always loved to sing, her husband said. At the facility’s Christmas party, we sang our favorite carols. When we got to “Silent Night,” Ruth squeezed my hand, smiled, and then began to sing. She sang every word clearly in a beautiful alto voice. When the song finished, she grew silent again, but the smile never left her face. These moments are the reason I go to work every day.
AT WAR ON CHRISTMAS by Jim Griffin, Chickamauga, Georgia
Christmas Day, 1969, Vietnam, 101st Airborne Division. On a hill somewhere around Hue, the supply chopper comes in, usually loaded with mail, C rations, ammo, and sometimes clean clothes. What is this? An ammo canister full of beef stew. We have no utensils to serve the stew, so the platoon leader uses his hand as we go through the line. When he finishes, he has stew up to his elbow! What a pleasant surprise that leaves a lasting memory.
LAST, BEST VISIT by Diane Rhodes, San Jacinto, California
Our relationship lasted just five years. He was a gentle, caring man who put me at ease when I was stressed and made me laugh when times were tough. He was the kind of person you want around all the time, yet I will not miss him. In fact, our last day together was one of the happiest days of my life; a cause for celebration. I smiled as I hugged my oncologist goodbye after five years of being cancer-free.
A MUTUAL CALLING by Lauren Belski, New York, New York
Brian and I have been married three years, but we’ve been together ten. We met as AmeriCorps volunteers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota—a tucked-away place with a scattered population of 1,000. He taught computers and played guitar. I taught English and wrote poetry. In the volunteer house, we courted each other by making a phone out of tin cans and a string. I still remember his voice in my ear. Automatic goose bumps. A year later, our mothers discovered we were born in the same hospital in New Jersey, 1,600 miles away.
A SCARLET SYMBOL by Priscilla Hartling, West Allis, Wisconsin
My mother was my best friend. She loved cardinals, the male red ones. When she got sick with pancreatic cancer and knew death was near, she told me to always look for the red cardinal—that would be her. I never paid too much attention to that statement; I was too busy becoming an adult. Twenty-five years later, every time I feel at my wits’ end, there is a cardinal flying past me or in a nearby tree. Is it coincidence, or my mother, all these years later, letting me know that everything will be OK? I’ll take the latter.
MY GRANDMOTHER’S SECRET by Angie Ruan, Los Gatos, California
One summer during college in Beijing, I visited my grandma in Tsingdao. I was one of her favorite granddaughters since I lived the farthest from her, and she let me stay in her bedroom. There on the wall was a big color poster of a white lady with a gentle smile. I never dared ask about this poster. When I brought my mom to America years later, as we left the airport, she asked if I would take her to a church. I realized that my grandma’s family had hidden its Catholic identity for the last 40 years.
FLOWER POWER by Marissa Reay, Peoria, Arizona
The hummingbird was lost in the supermarket, exhausted, starving, and near death as it spiraled towards the ground on helpless wings. I snatched her away from the crushing carts, cupped her in my hands, and rushed for the exit. She was tiny and soft against my palms. I ran out towards the flowers. She was too weak to perch; I cupped her in my palm and held her up to each flower to drink. Slowly, she perked up and her claws tightened on my finger. Then she spread her wings and flew on her own: a tiny, sweet miracle.
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO by Vrinda Vasavada, Cupertino, California
I sat in the comfort of my grandparents’ house, enjoying the rain and the “Cat Concerto” episode of Tom and Jerry with my grandfather. Munching on one of my grandmother’s fresh, scrumptious rotis, I saw a monkey suddenly swing onto the bars on our door. My grandfather encouraged me to offer it my roti; it gently accepted the gift. Peering in, my new friend stared with interest at the TV. The curious monkey, my grandfather, and I watched the rest of Tom and Jerry’s adventure together, astonished at the harmony that exists between humans and animals in our world.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER by Barbara Whapeles, Spokane, Washington
At 12, I believed honesty was always rewarded. One afternoon, I hit a ball through a vacant apartment’s window. The sound of shattering glass was followed by kids running in all directions screaming, “Run! No one will tell.” I went to the manager, expecting praise for being so honest. He laughed, saying, “I’ve never had a kid snitch on themselves. Kind of dumb.” I didn’t understand until my mother said, “How did you feel when you told the truth? Remember that instead of what he said. Pride in yourself will always be your reward.”