Category Archives: Sara Etgen-Baker

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 1 – Awe, Color, and Magic

by Sara Etgen-BakerMy first television set was a 21-inch black and white Philco console television that Santa delivered on Christmas day, 1956. It carried only four black and white channels; ABC, NBC, CBS, and local KERA. Well, five channels if you counted the test pattern.

Unlike today, the broadcast day had a beginning and an end. It started at about 6 a.m. with the national anthem followed with a “daily devotional” then “The Today Show.” Midday consisted of game shows and soap operas. Kiddie shows filled late afternoons and Saturday mornings. Network news came on at 6 p.m. Then came prime time programming. At 10 p.m. local newscasts aired followed by “The Tonight Show.” Then the broadcast day ended with an announcer bidding us “good night.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” played; then there was static until the test pattern appeared on our screens about 6 a.m.

The television signal itself was delivered to the television through a flat, two-pronged brown wire that was connected to screws at the back of the set and then strung through a small hole cut in the window frame to a large multi-pronged aluminum antenna that was mounted on the rooftop. Theoretically, once the antenna was in place, it didn’t have to be moved again. But that wasn’t always the case! Ofttimes Father climbed onto the rooftop and turned the antenna until the picture improved.

I certainly didn’t understand how that archaic brown wire and antenna worked, but watching television was nothing short of a miracle for me and for those of us who, prior to television’s popularity, only used radio and records for entertainment. You might think that life with a mere 21-inch black and white TV and only four channels would be bland and colorless, but I remember it as being colorful and magical. Whenever I turned the television dial, I stared at the screen in awe wondering, Who might appear on the screen? Where would I go? What mystery might I solve?

Television has come a long way since its infancy. Today, broadcasting is continuous, running non-stop with over 200+ channels and an endless stream of programs and choices. Television sets themselves have progressed from black and white to color. Yet my life seems to have digressed from color to black and white, having lost my faculty for awe, mystery, and color. Why? Perhaps, I’m so mesmerized by the technology that sits in my living room and addicted to the programming choices offered me, that I’ve been anesthetized.

One day I stopped mindlessly flipping through the channels, choosing instead to walk through a nearby woods. I meandered along the path, stepping carefully over tree roots that knotted the pathway. I lifted my head, letting the warm, amber rays of sunlight dance across my face.  I saw small patches of clear blue sky peering through the weathered trees that rose out of the earth. I picked a red berry from a bush and popped it in my mouth, tasting its sweet and tangy taste. Awe, color, and magic re-discovered!

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

February 1 – Me and My Shadow

by Sara Etgen-Baker

It was just before dawn as I ran along the wooded trails adjacent to my home. I was making slow and painful headway against a stiff winter wind when dense fog settled all around me. Suddenly, I felt as if something was coming up behind me. My heartbeat quickened as did my pace. Who or what was following me in the silent darkness?

Was it a small animal searching for food? Was it another lone runner seeking refuge and contemplation in the predawn stillness? I turned around and looked behind me and thought I saw the black, shadowy figure of a woman following me. She trailed me, hushed as the night, dancing between the trees as the sunlight flickered. So I moved aside to avoid her presence, but I couldn’t escape her. She was the immaculate outline of my shape, an echo of my movements, and my lifetime companion. She was my shadow swirling in the mists, brought into being by the little flashlight I carried with me.

But she’s more than my silhouette that disappears at night. She’s also my shadowy little self who, day in and day out, dogs me at every step adding her loud voice to every thought I think, every word I say, and every word I write. She cares too much about what others think of her. She’s an intolerant perfectionist; prideful, strong-willed, and compulsive often holding me captive to my own fears, doubts, anger, and worries. She’s also weak and, therefore, feels she must control a situation or others. She shields herself from vulnerability, infiltrates my relationships, and occasionally keeps me awake at night. She sometimes ignores the truth and lives in denial. She overshadows my spiriting and obscures my creativity. Unlike my daytime shadowy silhouette, she lives in darkness knowing that the light I carry in my heart steals her very life. She is my ego.

Although the light I’m carrying with me is small in comparison to the darkness surrounding me, I turn and confront her. “Not everything is about you,” I say.

“Possibly,” she replies, “but you do have to admit that the majority of things are.”

“From your perspective, yes. But you’re an ugly part of me and a burden; I’ve tolerated you way too long. I need to let you go and contemplate the deeper significance of life.”

“You disappointment me,” she says. “Enlightenment and transformation are highly overrated. You need me. Just you wait and see. You’ll come crawling back to me.”

“No! You’re wrong! I won’t need you. Just YOU  wait and see!”

Pshah! was her response as she disappeared in the early morning sunlight.

I was transformed that morning, my ego shattered. Over time, many of the things that concerned me diminished. Many of the superficial, material things that mattered to me before, suddenly ceased to matter as much. I came into being that morning no longer caring what my ego or the world thought of me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

January 1 – A Gift I Couldn’t Have Imagined

by Sara Etgen-BakerWhen I was a small child, I rose on my tiptoes and stared out our living room window, watching and waiting until Father arrived home from work. “Mama,” I hollered as soon as I saw his pickup truck ’round the corner, “Daddy’s home!” Then I raced to the front door to greet him. Although he was weary, he often picked me up and twirled me around until I said, “Daddy, daddy, stop! Pleeeease!” He eased me down; and we giggled together, walking hand-in-hand towards the kitchen where I sat on his lap while he drank a cup of steaming coffee and talked with Mother about his day.

Now and then Father stood at the front door with his hands behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he’d say. His words touched me like an electric current, for I knew hidden behind Father and buried in the folds of one of his hands was a surprise meant just for me.

“This one,” I shouted, pointing wildly. He whisked out his hand and slowly, too slowly, uncurled his fingers. Finally, there it was: a gift I couldn’t have imagined; a prize from his box of Cracker Jacks, a package of M&Ms, a silver nickel, or a feather for my hair.

And I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it seems Father’s surprises had a curious way of coming on the days when I needed them most. The days when I fell off my bicycle, broke something irreplaceable in the house or went to the doctor with a sore throat. I suppose Mother told him. Somehow he knew I needed to be surprised with a gift of love that would help bind up my broken day.

His gifts of love taught me that no matter how devastating my struggles, disappointments, and troubles were, they were only temporary. A lifetime has passed since my childhood when I stood at the living room window eagerly awaiting Father’s arrival. Yet at the end of many days, I often stare out my office window and find myself thinking about Father and his special gifts for me. Even now, I can hear the voice of Father’s love whispering in my life.

I am reminded that the deepest need of the human heart is to be loved. To be loved utterly and completely just as we are, no matter what. We respond to our need for love in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to be perfect in order to earn love. Or we repress our need until all that remains is a vague restlessness and yearning. But one is loved because one is loved. Love is always bestowed as a gift, freely, willingly, and without expectation. No reason is needed for loving. And there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

December 18 – The Christmas Helicopter (When Santa Came to Town)

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kongvector

It was Christmas Eve morning at our house. The Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled, and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out the window; newly fallen snow blanketed the neighborhood streets. Barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from shimmering housetop roofs.

The temperature outside was well below freezing. Mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat and forced my hands into last year’s mittens. We stepped outside, the gentle snow crunching under our boots as we walked to the downtown plaza where Santa was appearing.

As I stood in the plaza with other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. I looked up in the sky certain I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling. I glanced above me and realized I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells; rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued waiting in the bone-crunching cold until I heard an unfamiliar sound; a steady but rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound.

Out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the overcast, wintry sky and slowly descended toward us, landing just a few feet from me. I watched in disbelief as Santa turned off the helicopter’s engine and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival just didn’t seem right. When I approached Santa, I blurted, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”

“Well, little lady,” he chortled, stroking his white bear, “it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”

“What’s wrong with your sleigh?” I continued.

“Oh, just some minor repairs. Nothing for you to fret about.”

“Who’s fixing it?”

“Well, uh…the magical elves, of course.”

“But..but I thought elves made toys. Will they fix your sleigh in time to deliver presents to all the boys and girls? And what about Rudolph and the other reindeer? Where are they?”

My persistence rendered Santa speechless. He raised his right eyebrow, which was brown rather than white like his bear. I gasped; in that moment the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.

I leaped off Santa’s lap. “You’re not real, Santa Claus!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Mother wiped away my tears and took me aside.

“You’ll be okay, Sweetie,” she said reassuringly. “I’m proud of you. You’re right; Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s made-up like the people in the stories you read. Those stories aren’t real, but you like them anyway, right?

“Yes,” I said, my eyes meeting hers.

“Writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The Santa Claus story is like that. It’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving. That’s what’s important. You understand, Sweetie?”

I nodded, taking comfort in Mother’s forthright explanation. Despite my disillusionment and disappointment, Mother gave me a timeless gift that Christmas Eve: An understanding that life is sometimes fictional, and reality isn’t always what it seems to be. So, don’t waller in it!

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

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