Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Race to Finish

At the tender age of twelve I made myself a promise. Someday I would write a book about my grandmother's life. Thirty-two years later, that dream has blossomed into reality in such a way that I can only say, "It was God."

For thirty years this dream lay dormant, quietly sleeping in the heart of teen-age girl, then college graduate, then school teacher, then young mother, then blushing bride, and then busy wife and mom. Friends in the publishing business heard about my dream and asked a simple question, "Why not now?" Of course I had a lengthy list of excuses and produced it in my defense. But my friends didn't even do me the courtesy of glancing in its direction. "Why not now?" they asked again and the question hung in the air.

"Why not NOW?" Round and round my head the query whirled, gently at first, but soon with such intensity that I could ignore it no longer. After some time, the query morphed itself into, "Why NOT now?" It wasn't long before I found myself sitting behind my computer typing out the introductory sentence of what would be a nearly 200-page book. "Stealthily they crept like shadows through the gathering darkness, dodging Nazi soldiers and slipping between trucks bearing the swastika symbol..."

Long lost memories of stories my grandmother had shared resurfaced in stunning clarity. Sitting at my grandmother's knee as a child, listening with rapt attention, I had nearly memorized every story she told. As I began to write, questions arose. The stories I knew, but I didn't understand the reasons why the events of each story took place. I began to research Estonian history, especially during the time of World War II. What happened during that time to cause my family's life to change so dramatically?

My father had passed away in 2011, and so could not fill in the details of my family's life during that time. However, his younger sister was still alive and happy to help out, although she didn't think there was enough of a story to make into a book. We set up a once-a-week Skype schedule and for the next seven months I interviewed her about her childhood, ancestry, and what life was like during World War II. A stack of notes began to collect, but I did no writing.

In June, on my first day off from teaching, I rolled lazily over in my bed, peered out my bedroom window and wondered what I should do on that delightful summer day. A phrase flashed through my mind like lightning across the sky, "WRITE THE BOOK!" I leaped out of bed, dashed downstairs to my desk, and in the quiet of the morning, wrote Chapter 2. "The early morning sun caressed nine-year-old Marie’s dark brown braids..."

Time ticked silently by as I filled up page after page of stories interwoven with history. Finally satisfied, I attached it to an email to Aunt Ester and hit SEND. My smile widened as I imagined how pleased she would be to finally see that I was progressing with the writing portion of the book.

That afternoon I sat down for our weekly Skype session. Aunt Ester was indeed pleased with how Chapter 2 had turned out. But ...

A few days prior Aunt Ester had visited the doctor. Something hadn't felt right with her stomach for some time. She wanted it checked out. The doctors could not offer even a glimmer of hope. A rapid growing cancer would snuff out her life in less than two months. "I'm sorry I won't be able to help you finish this book," Aunt Ester apologized politely.

I was stunned. A wave of anger washed over me as I reeled from the news. Why had I waited so long to write this? Daddy was gone and now Aunt Ester was leaving too? I lamented all of this to my cousin who wisely admonished, "Never question God's timing."

So I didn't. I put my trust in Him and plunged into a writing frenzy. The following day, I churned out Chapter 3. Chapter 4 quickly followed. Then came Chapter 5... 6 ... 7 ... 8 ... and 9. I kept everyone on Facebook updated with my progress. Notes of encouragement fueled me onward as I raced towards the finish like an Olympic runner going for the gold. Aunt Ester valiantly kept pace, editing and critiquing each chapter just as fast as I could write them. Emails burned across the internet as we exchanged notes and comments ... and love.

Aunt Ester had always held a special place in my heart. Her courage under fire. Her determination in the face of adversity. Her sense of humor in spite of so many heartaches. She was my inspiration and I adored her. I was afraid of losing her and writing helped me feel closer to her, especially as her strength began to ebb.

"Adele was frantic with worry. Bruno hadn’t come home last night, and no one knew where he had gone..." The opening lines to Chapter 11 mirrored the anxiety in my heart. Aunt Ester was beginning to fade. Her daughters now read my chapters to her and emailed corrections back to me. My heart was heavy as I realized she would not see the book completed. No! That wasn't true at all. My heart was heavy because I knew I was losing her and I struggled between panic and pain as I pressed forward with Chapter 12.

"Shots volleyed back and forth around the Korpmans’ summer home in Aruk├╝la all day Sabbath, August 23. Believing the Germans were there to help liberate Estonia from Communist rule, the Forest Brothers fought alongside the Nazis to push the Soviet army back towards Tallinn. Sounds of war, both of victory and blood-curdling defeat, filled the air. Soviet soldiers ducked beneath a window of the Korpman home as they set up heavy artillery weapons in preparation for battle. The Korpman family’s concern mounted as they observed the fervor of the military preparations. Wilhelm’s wife, Anna, fluent in the Russian language, called out to one of the soldiers, “Are we safe here?”

This was the last chapter Aunt Ester read. Our Skype sessions took too much of a toll on her weakened body. She was fading fast and I knew it would not be long before she was finally gone. I began Chapter 13 with a pain in my heart, knowing this was the first chapter she would not proof.

"Her husband and mother were dead. Her house had burned to the ground. All that remained were her family and the few possessions they now carried. The harsh reality of her situation finally set in. Marie no longer had a home in Estonia." The last words of the chapter stared back at me from off the screen and for a time I could write no more.

Aunt Ester quietly passed to her rest on Thursday, August 7, 2014. Surrounded by her loving family, she quietly drifted away. Alone in a study room in The Netherlands, I received the expected, but dreaded news. My beloved Aunt Ester was gone.

Through tear-filled eyes I gazed out at the star filled sky and reviewed the recent events that had culminated into that one anguished moment. The words my cousin had spoken echoed through my thoughts, "Never question God's timing." If it weren't for the book, would I have spent the time Skyping with my aunt during the last year of her life? Would I have gotten to know her or grown as close to her as I had through this project. Another question came forward. "Why not now?" I had my excuses, but God knew the future. He knew that NOW was the only time I had left.

As I wiped the tears from my eyes I could only thank God for opening up a door to a path I never could have imagined possible. Only God!

For several weeks afterwards I could not write. I didn't want to. My heart just wasn't in it. Besides, could I even finish? Did I have enough information?

Rummaging through some old letters and files, I discovered two CDs that I had forgotten about. One was an interview with Aunt Ester that her son had recorded several years previously. The second was a recorded sermon preached by my father. Absently, I popped one into the player and began to listen.

Suddenly, I sat bolt upright. The information being given was exactly the information I needed to complete the book. The hairs on my neck stood on end as I pounded out notes onto my laptop. Exactly where I had left off in my interviews with Aunt Ester was where the CDs picked up. Nothing was skipped. Nothing was lost.

It was all too amazing to be coincidental!

Once again I plunged into a full writing frenzy. Chapters 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, came out in quick succession. The Epilogue followed and then my pages of acknowledgments. Pictures were added. A cover was designed. And then one Spring day, I held in my hand a box of books with my name spelled out across the front cover.

It seemed surreal and I just wanted to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't a dream. But it was a dream! It was my childhood dream that had lain dormant all these years until the time was right and God breathed life into it and set it free.

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