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Crazy Quilt: Author’s Postscript and Book Club Questions

cynthia yoder

Postscript to Crazy Quilt Pieces of a Mennonite Life

What to tell you? I could write a book or two about life after Crazy Quilt. In fact, I have—they just aren’t published yet! I will stick with questions you asked me at readings, in notes to me, and in reviews. Questions about my relationship, depression and spiritual quest.

After our year apart, Jonathan and I bonded again over things we’ve always bonded over: walks in the woods, swimming holes, conversation over take-out Chinese food, word plays and dry jokes. But we also had to learn to trust each other, over time, one conversation at a time. I had found my voice to a greater degree. This helped a lot.

But there were still compromises to make. We moved back to New York City so that he could go to graduate school – something he’d planned before we split. But I went with heavy feet and tears. I’d come to love life in Pennsylvania. I’d fantasized about buying a house on “the Hill,” and having a porch with a swing on it and flowers in window boxes. I agreed to go on the terms that we’d leave once his schooling was over. Which we did.

Patching it up with Jonathan involved working with a therapist. It involved us both learning how to communicate better. Our break-up had taught us a hard lesson: we needed to talk about uncomfortable things. I needed to ask for what I needed instead of expecting him to read my mind. We both needed to look at our triggers, too. We had to learn what we were projecting onto the other person that wasn’t accurate or true. Not every problem gets solved, I came to understand. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the dynamic of relating so closely.

My depression wasn’t part of the dynamic anymore. That was a huge relief for both of us. I could see Jonathan more clearly. I could feel more clearly. I was not carrying around a darkness that clouded every conversation. People have asked me how my depression lifted so quickly. I can’t say exactly how that happened. But I can point to the things I did, very intentionally, to heal. I can tell you what worked for me.

First and foremost, I stopped drinking. Even though I wasn’t an alcoholic, I knew that alcohol could act like a depressant. That was the first to go. I began exercising regularly, which took me right into nature on a regular basis. I jogged through the quiet woods. I jogged by a field of cows. I passed grassy fields dotted with sheep, old barns that evoked another era. Centuries-old plaster-sided houses and expansive fields of dancing wildflowers captured my imagination. The anxiety and sense of dis-ease that I carried around with me now prompted me to immerse myself in the natural world. And though nature wasn’t a cure-all, the beautiful scenery, the smell of the earth after a rain, or the sound of wind through the leaves were balms for my restless spirit.

I had built-in pet therapy, too, with evening reading time with Clyde the cat. As a teenager, reading was something that I often couldn’t take myself away from. A busy work and social life hadn’t left as much time for reading. I read volumes of books on the Hill, great works of literature by Steinbeck, Tolstoy and others that fed me and expanded my vision in their own way. Clyde joined me often on my recliner chair, sitting on my lap or purring next to me.

And then there was my actual therapist, who helped me name my inner demons, validate my choices, and help me forgive myself and the parts of my Mennonite heritage that haunted me. He guided me in seeing a better way forward. We had a shared Mennonite history and so he could understand the particular challenges I faced. He had made his own leap from a more conservative family than mine. I felt understood. I still think of him as an angel, who appeared just when I needed him.

But truthfully, I had many angels. Friends lent a listening ear, as did my parents. My parents, my aunt and uncle, all welcomed me back home again with loving arms. My project with my grandparents gave me an excuse for regular conversation with an extended family who had always shown me love. Love cures all ills. That is a simple but often overlooked truth in conversations about wellness. During my time on the Hill, I was too desperate to care about the things that I once held against my family’s religious culture. Instead, I wrapped myself with the love of family, friends, and of the earth.

My spirituality was cracking open, too. My time with family showed me a way toward the Divine. I would now need to put myself on that path. That is the subject of another book. But even just starting the conversation – who is God? – helped me open a part of my heart that I’d slammed shut. I began to consider that a power greater than my own will was at work. Because somehow, through crumbling apart, I was coming back together again in a new form. I began to believe the verse from Romans that my dad lovingly shared with me to contemplate:

“…Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character. Character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”

During the first year of Jonathan’s graduate studies in New York, we went to a meditation class on campus. We learned about slowing down your awareness to take in the present moment. It dawned on me, after years of studying meditation, that spending time on the Hill was a kind of moving meditation. The slow pace of my grandparents’ lives helped me slow down, too. Their love of doing ordinary things like shelling peas together on lawn chairs, or walking slowly through a farmer’s market to select a ripe cantaloupe, helped me stop and notice, too.

But to be fully honest with you, my tendency to be anxious was not fully resolved on the Hill. The heaviness that I carried lifted, but a low-level anxiety remained. Which, looking back, was okay, too. Because that anxiety spurred me on to keep seeking deeper truths, to continue to circle back to my family and learn from my wise parents. It compelled me to seek out meditation groups, and join a spiritual community that is still important to me. I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned from my year on the Hill was to trust the unfolding. To continually set my sights on Love and open myself to new ways of experiencing the mystery of the Divine in the here and now. Because even when life is dark and full of uncertainty, there is most certainly starlight twinkling above us.

With love and blessings for your path. May it be full of beauty.

Cynthia

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Book Club Discussion Questions for Crazy Quilt: Pieces of a Mennonite Life

  1. For the person or persons who chose this book for discussion, what made you suggest it to the group?
  2. What themes in this book do you connect to? Some themes addressed are a search for identity, love and marriage, family heritage, personal healing, and grappling with religion.
  3. If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
  4. Is there a particular section or theme that impacted you? If so, share what stood out to you and why.
  5. What do you think prompted the author to share the more difficult aspects of her personal story? Do you think she went too far? Not far enough?
  6. How is this book similar to other memoirs you have read? What sets it apart?
  7. Would you read other works by this author? Would you recommend Crazy Quilt to a friend?  Why or why not?
  8. If you have read Cynthia’s novel, Mennonite on the Edge: An Unlikely Romance, what are the common themes that book and Crazy Quilt share?
  9. Why do you think the author chose to explore some of the same themes in fiction?

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cynthia yoder