It first happened a few weeks ago, when I was trying to fall asleep one night. I was worrying—not about my husband or myself, but about the people close to us. Aging parents, health problems, joblessness, divorce. It felt like watching a tsunami getting set to roll in.
At times like this—especially when it’s dark and quiet and too late to be awake—even if you aren’t a praying kind of person, you can find yourself doing something that feels suspiciously similar. You let your thoughts rest for a moment on each of your loved ones in turn —and hope that whatever kindly force that might be hovering around will keep them safe.
So I’ve been doing that lately. Not every night. But often enough
A few weeks ago, something odd happened. Someone else’s words started to come at me, in a singsong rhythm from childhood.
“Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed. Droops (?) on the little hands little gold head.”
Then the words came in a rush, clear and true:
“Hush, hush. Whisper who dares.
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.”
“God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold and the hot’s so hot.
Oh—God bless Daddy. I quite forgot.”
Then—nothing. The rest of the poem receded. But now I’d recognized it, at least. One of those Christopher Robin poems by A.A. Milne. I’d grown up with them. I used to know a bunch of them by heart.
How did the rest of that poem go, anyway? God bless the house, God bless the air, God bless noises everywhere? Oops—wrong poem! The half-remembered verses from my childhood had started to morph into a more modern classic: Goodnight, Moon, one I’d read over and over to my own sons.
I was stymied. But I thought the A.A. Milne poem ended with: “God bless me.”
So now I had an addition to my sometimes-nightly ritual. A visit from a tow-headed little English boy from an upper-class world of nannies and teatime and nurseries. A time and place that was long-gone, one that bore no resemblance to any world I’d ever inhabited. Well, perhaps just one. It took me back to a time when I, too, used to pray, in the unquestioning way of a little child. It felt oddly soothing—if a little peculiar.
Earlier this week, I came upon the book. I was browsing the sale cart in front of Pegasus Books on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, one of my favorite new-used bookstores. There it was, just like the book I remembered: A familiar pink cloth cover, dingy with age, of an old edition of A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.
For one uncanny moment, I wondered if this might be my own copy. I hadn’t seen it in a long time. I thought perhaps we’d lost it in that basement flood, years ago in Chicago.
I picked up the book, wondering at the strange coincidence. I checked the title page. No, definitely not my copy. Mine had an inscription in it. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time.
“To Blair. So that we may share an adventure in fiction, if not in reality. Joan.”
Joan and I were about two at the time, so the book had really been more of a gift from her mother to my mother. Still, this was the first book I ever owned. The first one with my name in it. When We Were Very Young.
This copy I held in my hands, on a spring day in Berkeley, had definitely belonged to someone else. There was no inscription in the front. And another give-away: someone had cut out a few of the poems. Horrors! I would never deface a book.
I wondered whether I’d find the half-remembered poem inside. I did. It’s called “Vespers.” It’s the last poem in the volume.
Now I know how the rest of the poem goes. Christopher Robin’s thoughts turn to his nanny’s dressing gown, glimpsed on the floor. Then he thinks of himself, curled up in bed in his own dressing gown, eyes closed, so small no one knows he is there.
It ends like this:
“Oh! Thank you, God, for the lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember. God Bless Me.
God Bless Me. I remembered that part right.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders