The Passionate Spirit

A friend who wrote and illustrated children’s books, Marsha Dunlap, died after a long battle with cancer. One of the first times I met Marsha was during a blinding snowstorm. A small group of us had rented a bed and breakfast and hired an award winning author, Marion Dane Bauer, to critique our work and share writing techniques. Despite the weather, we were not going to miss this opportunity.

My friend Eileen and I drove together, peering through the whiteout at the unfamiliar roads. We shook our heads. We’re crazy, we both agreed. Schools had closed early, the radio reported the state patrol had shut down the interstate, and the author’s plane was delayed. Our writing was important, but was it worth risking our lives? I squinted to help Eileen figure out where the road met the ditch. We kept going, bucking through mounting drifts.

We pulled into the bed and breakfast’s driveway, white-knuckled and shaken. We found out Marsha had called and was also struggling to plow through the drifts.

Throughout history, human beings have felt a powerful drive to pursue their passions, whether it’s furthering their education, writing, wood working, music, or art. Native women sometimes worked eighteen-hour days just to survive, yet managed to grab a moment to create beautiful beadwork or baskets. Frontier women, with work-worn hands, squinted in the candlelight stealing moments to cut leftover fabric and design a kaleidoscope of colors for their quilts. Why?

Is it that we long to set ourselves apart by our individual gifts? Maybe it’s our desire to pass something of ours onto the next generation. Or is it our longing to use our talents to bring joy and make this world a better place?

Back at the bed and breakfast, the phone rang. Marsha was lost and the owner ventured out to help. After a tense fifteen minutes, we heard the cars pull in. Marsha flung the door open, snow dusting her colorful cap and scarf. “I made it!” Like a tiger’s eye gem, her eyes sparked with warmth and fire. I would notice that same vibrancy in all the years I was privileged to know her.

The last time I saw Marsha she looked shrunken, but the spark and passion were still there. She told the writing group who met at her home that she’d spent a few minutes painting. I know my mouth dropped. Here she was, having to deal with all the pain and grief of preparing to leave this world, and she had spent time in her studio.

Why do we go to such extraordinary lengths to follow our passions? Our dreams and talents are an essential part of who we are, as necessary as water, breath, and sunshine. They bring us pleasure, allow us to connect with others, and through them, our memory lives on.


2 Replies to “The Passionate Spirit”

Sue Berk Koch

Thank you for sharing your story of what sounds like a special person.


Thanks for the comment, Sue, and best wishes to all the writers and artists out there with Marsha’s same passionate spirit.

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