Linda Oatman High
Dream. Believe. Fly.
This is my motto in life, now that I am fifty-five.
Dream, Believe, Fly. These three words have a ring, a truth, a purity. As an author of books for teen readers, I gave these three words to one of my characters, and these three words became her mantra. She was sixteen; I am more. The motto works for both of us. My character had those words tattooed onto her skin; I have them tattooed into my soul. Dream. Believe. Fly.
The first step to achieving is to dream. You need to see, you need to dream, you need to believe. Faith and fervor result in the necessary work, and the work gives you wings. The wind beneath those wings is the dream, the belief, the need to achieve.
We are given one life. Some of us live soft; some live hard. Some laugh a lot; some cry. Some are brave; some are not. Some live many years; some live few. At the age of fifty-five, I’ve seen many friends leave this earth, and I’ve learned that we need to seize not only the moment, but our dreams. We need to seize our dreams, grab onto them, and never forget what we hope to accomplish in this world. We need to seize first, then to believe. We need to believe with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our very beings. We are each instilled with the magic to make things happen. We are resilient and we are strong and we have the power inside, if only we dream and we believe that we can indeed fly.
I’ve wanted to write ever since I can remember. My first memory of elementary school is that of the library, and of a pink Mary Poppins book that I reached up to pull from the shelf. Mary Poppins could fly, and this much I believed: So could I.
It would be many years, though, before I got my wings. There would be hardships and hurt, suffering and struggles. There would be days of hard work, and nights of worry. There would be dark nights when I could not see the stars; days when I tried to believe that life might get easier with time.
“When a man can observe himself suffering and is able, later, to describe what he’s gone through, it means he was born for literature.” A writer named Edouard Bourdet said that in 1927. Many years later, those words still speak to this writer’s soul.
1989 was a rough year. I was 31 years old, and my motto at that time might have been “Hang in there.” I was hit by a drunk driver in July. He left me by the roadside with injuries, a demolished car, and a shattered faith in mankind. He went to jail; I went home to heal.
Two months later, my stepson’s biological mother deposited him on our doorstep. He was six years old, and all he had in the world was a trash bag stuffed with his earthly possessions. He awakened sobbing every night. With my own six-year-old son from a previous marriage, I couldn’t comprehend how a mother’s heart could be so cold.
Two months after my stepson came to us, I unexpectedly became pregnant. I still had no car, and was undergoing treatment for persistent neck and back injuries incurred by the accident. We were poor. My stepson was aching and confused. So was I. Hang in there. Hang in there hang in there hang in there.
In the middle of the pregnancy, I contracted Fifth Disease, a form of the measles. There was an outbreak in the elementary schools of our area, and the medical community was unsure as to the effects of the illness in pregnant women. I was sent for a level two ultrasound, and told by the doctors that I could be “cautiously optimistic” for a healthy baby. However, I’d need a weekly ultrasound. If the fetus contracted the disease or showed signs of anemia, it would be necessary to undergo a blood transfusion in utero. The risks, I was told, were stillbirth and miscarriage. Oh, please, please. Hang in there.
On the day before our baby was due, my husband John came home from work, weeping. It was August of 1990, and the Gulf War and recession had resulted in a permanent lay-off from his longtime construction job. It was the first (and only) time I saw him cry. His heart was broken.
Our son was born: a perfectly healthy and beautiful baby boy. We were ecstatic, despite the fact that John didn’t have a job and we were living in a cramped mobile home with three children: his, mine, and ours.
“Maybe I should get a real job,” I said. “Give up this crazy dream of writing books.” I was an established newspaper and magazine writer, but had been attempting futilely to break into the competitive world of children’s books.
“Keep at it,” John said. “Don’t give up.” Don’t give up. Another three words to grasp onto. So I didn’t. I didn’t give up. I stayed home and wrote, raising our children and grasping tight to my hopes. I prayed for the strength to continue writing despite the obstacles and staggering odds. Don’t give up. Hang in there. Don’t give up.
Several weeks after our son Zach was born, John saw an ad in a local paper: “Old Barn: Free For The Taking-Down.”
John took the barn apart, piece-by-piece, and found that there was a market for the materials. The boards and beams, windows and doors and weather vanes were all sold. The barn would live on for another hundred years, in a hundred different places. It was
the beginning of John’s own business, but we still didn’t have much money. One writer and one self-employed Barn Saver plus three children is an equation that doesn’t always equal promptly-paid bills. Don’t give up. Hang in there.
When Zach was two months old, I began writing a novel for pre-teen children. Working on an ancient and clattering typewriter, I used the kitchen table for my desk. I plugged away on the typewriter as Zach dozed contentedly in his swing. Through the window of our mobile home, I could see the green Welsh Mountain of Pennsylvania. This mountain would be the setting of the book. The main character, Maizie, was a girl who’d been abandoned by her mother. She was hurting. Maizie had lots of wishes, but life was rough. I knew: I’d used bits and pieces of my own. But still, Maizie had hope. Someday, somehow, everything would be okay. Don’t give up. Hang in there.
The book Maizie would be published five years later, in 1995. In the meanwhile, I wrote a picture book based on John’s work of dismantling and recycling old barns. The book – Barn Savers – was published in 1999 and was honored by the American Library Association’s Booklist Journal by being named Top Of The List, Best Picture Book of 1999. It was also lauded as a Notable Book in the Language Arts by the National Council of Teachers of English, as well as short-listed for the Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award in Kansas and the Keystone State Reading award. A mention of the book appeared in the pages of People Magazine.
Since then, I’ve written about twenty more books. I went back to college at the age of fifty, and earned an MFA in Writing. I got to travel to Italy, because of my writing. I taught on cruise ships, and I taught in a medieval castle on a hilltop in Tuscany. I was honored in England in 2012 with a short story prize, and I got to travel to the U.K. for the first time, staying in the dorms of Oxford University. Dream, Believe, Fly.
Somewhere around the time that I changed from forty-nine to fifty, somewhere around the time that I applied to Vermont College and was accepted, that was the time that I changed my motto for life. I still believe in “Hang In There” and “Don’t Give Up.” But those words never held the power, the faith, the magic that my new motto does.
I had to get a student loan in order to go to school, and that was scary. I kept repeating my motto, though, as I waded through the mounds of paperwork and forms and red tape. “Dream. Believe. Fly. You are Linda Oatman High and you love to write. Dream, believe, fly. You only get one life. Now is the time. Dreambelievefly.”
Our youngest son went through some struggles in his teenage years. We got through them. He’s still finding his path in life, at the age of 23. As long as he dreams, as long as he believes … he will indeed fly.
The kids are now grown, and I’m on my way to growing old. I’m fifty-five. I love my life. It’s hard at times; it’s fun at others. But it’s always mine, and we only get one life.
I’m now a grandmother, and I hope to instill the things that I’ve learned in my grandchildren. I hope that they find the strength and the courage and the faith to dream. I pray that they believe.
And I know, I know, I know in my soul … they will fly.