Despair Not: A Message from Vera B. Williams
“Together Sing”—A poem by Vera B. Williams introduced with a letter from Sandy Long
Times seem especially troubling as we cast a backwards glance at 2015. Navigating the waves of darkness, we celebrate and mourn the loss of another beloved friend—renowned children's book author, illustrator, poet, activist, mother and more—Vera B. Williams—whose passion, brilliance and zest for life shine an unquenchable light.
Enjoy this video of Vera gifting us with her illuminating poem, “Together Sing,” and lighting our way forward in 2016 with a powerful message of hope.
It's dusk. I'm peering through a sliver of window—drawing inward.
It's been an unsettling year, with death taking center stage all too often. And now you, too, have departed, gone in a final blaze of recognition for your life's work, just before that curtain closed on the colorful swish of your spectacular cloak, haloed glow of white hair reflecting light.
You rallied for that final flurry of glory, greeting those of us gathered at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance exhibit in awe of all you made of your life. You squeezed my hand surprisingly hard that night, leading me to think your days stretched longer than they would. A week later, you moved on, leaving us your books, drawings, poems and dear memories, an artifact here and there, like this video.
You shared your poem, "Together Sing," and set it up by saying, "The last sentence has a certain sadness to it, but it came to me very happily." You'd been sitting by that beautiful river birch on the front porch of your little place along the Delaware River, noticing the individual motion of the leaves, when "the apple seed eye of a small bird" caught your attention. There was a sense of connection.
"As I get older, I feel how much I am an animal," you revealed. Thus ensued a conversation with the winged one—and an apology for what we humans have done. Then grace came from the little bird's throat in a series of notes, freeing your heart of its "terror" that the damage inflicted by our species is too great. The last line emerged from that musical interface: "Despair can not, must not, will not be our final song."
The day of your burial was unusually frosty. I am told that against the brilliant fall foliage, early snow began falling, glints of light enlivening the scene of your final resting place along your beloved river. You were draped in that cloak, resting peacefully and in a state of great beauty.
In my mind's eye, it is a magical scene—the quiet quaint graveyard down a dirt road, your spritely spirit continuing its journey as the natural world swept you along in its shower of light and frozen flakes of water—love energy all about.
Later that day, we who loved you gathered at your cottage. Krista and I walked to the river at dusk, down the undulating lawn, threading the narrow lane through the untamed brush. Saw the crescent moon take its place above the hills across the way, just as a flock of geese came down the channel, honking as if in tribute to a life well-lived and a woman well-loved.
How love pounds—and yet pleases—the heart. In company with the winged ones, together we sing, "Despair can not, must not, will not be our final song."
More from Vera
[When I first interviewed Vera B. Williams years ago, her witty and astute comments charmed me permanently. Unable to use all of them in the story, I share these gems now. ]
"I think of myself as an advocate for childhood. Many things that are important to children are a vision of what they'll do their whole lives. They are human beings and are developing themselves."
"I love the way children look. I like the way they move. I like to watch the way they play, the way they explore. They're marvelous."
About children's books: "It's a very interesting genre because they have to appeal to children and adults. It's a shared piece of literature and a real bond between family members."
"You can't shield children from everything. Children have terrible things to cope with, but many manage to be spirited despite difficult lives."
"Children are our best hope. Every time someone is born, hope is renewed. Who knows where our best talent and imagination will come from to best advance our world?"