This Is What It Means

I learned several weeks ago, while in NYC, standing in line to visit the 9/11 Memorial, that I had won the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award, a prize hailed as “one of Ireland’s most prestigious awards for the single short story.” I felt winces of guilt–celebrating amidst the shadow of death and the 9/11 Memorial, but I couldn’t help my excitement and the leap of my insides.

Shortly after my return from NYC to San Francisco, I booked my flights to attend the Listowel Festival to accept my prize in person (approx. $2,600) and to read my winning story. However, my mother passed away on April 11th and I had to phone the airlines and ask them to change my itinerary, bringing my travel forward and allowing me fly home for my mother’s funeral. The expense aside, I did not have the energy or heart to return to Ireland again this month for the Festival–even though I very much wanted to be there.

The award remained confidential until last night, when it was at last announced at the opening ceremony of Listowel Writers’ Week. During the ceremony, I received the most surprising and touching of emails–from someone I had met for the first time in Dublin the day after we buried our mother. In his email, he said he was standing inside the Listowel Arms Hotel, amidst the applause for my “great win.” He also said that he had no doubt my departed mother was also sharing in the joy. I really like to believe that. That my mother’s spirit continues, whole and well, and that at long last she can be the kind of mother she always wanted to be. I can see her nod and smile, her eyes alight and her face full with pride, just as I see in this win my mother country nod and smile, telling me to keep on. And it feels like grace, like I can breathe better.

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