Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Heartache. Hope. Help. October 19, 2022

Sunrise on Horseshoe Lake in the central Minnesota lakes region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’M FEELING A BIT INTROSPECTIVE these days. Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s the state of the world. Perhaps it’s the challenges faced by people I love, people in my circle. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason for feeling this way, only a recognition that my thoughts seem more reflective.

(Book cover credit: Milkweed Editions)

My reading follows that thread. I just finished Graceland, at Last—Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South by Margaret Renkl. A friend recommended this award-winning book published by Minneapolis-based Milkweed Editions. She knew I would appreciate the essays therein which cover topics ranging from politics to social justice to the environment to family, community and more. So much resonated with me, inspired me, focused my thoughts. To read about these issues from a Southern perspective enlightened me.

Yes, this book includes political viewpoints that could anger some readers. Not me. Equally as important, Renkl also writes on everyday topics like the optimism of youth. I especially appreciated her chapter, “These Kids Are Done Waiting for Change.” In that essay on youth activists, she concludes: They are young enough to imagine a better future, to have faith in their own power to change the world for good.

Sam Temple, 21, is running for county commissioner in Rice County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That quote fits a young candidate running for Third District county commissioner in my county of Rice. Last week I attended an American Association of University Women-sponsored debate between the two candidates, one 21, the other 67. It’s refreshing to see a young person running for public office, someone who cares deeply about his community, about issues, about history, about humanity. He is well-informed, experienced in public service, thoughtful, a good listener, invested, and brings a new, young voice into the public realm. I felt hopeful as I listened to the two candidates answer written questions submitted by the audience. There was no mud-slinging, no awfulness, but rather honest answers from two men who seem decent, kind, respectful and genuine. Those attributes are important as I consider anyone running for public office. Candidates may disagree, and these two do on some issues, but that didn’t give way to personal or political attacks.

Among Faribault’s newest apartment complexes, Straight River Apartments. Many new apartment buildings have been built in the past year with more under construction. Yet, this is not enough to meet demand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Renkl, in Graceland, writes on pertinent topics of concern to many of us, including those seeking election to public office. In “Demolition Blues,” an essay on housing changes in her neighborhood, she shares how housing has become unaffordable for many who work in the Nashville metro. The same can be said for my southern Minnesota community, where high rental rates and housing prices leave lower income and working class people without affordable housing. That’s linked to a severe shortage of rentals and single family homes.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by real-life issues that flow into our days whether via a book, an election, personal experiences, media… But then I think of those young activists, the young candidate running for office in my county, and I feel hope for the future.

Among the many sympathy cards I received after my mom died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2022)

I feel hope, also, within. We each possess the capacity to “do something.” That needn’t be complicated as Renkl writes in her essay, “The Gift of Shared Grief.” She reminds readers of the importance of sending handwritten condolences. I understand. My mom died in January and I treasure every single card with handwritten message received. There’s something profoundly powerful and personal about the penned word, about connecting beyond technology. It doesn’t take much effort to buy a greeting card, write a few heartfelt sentences and mail it. Yet, the art of connecting via paper is vanishing. I’d like to see more people sending paper birthday cards again…I miss getting a mailbox filled with cards.

I photographed this message along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, WI., several years ago. To this day, it remains one of my favorite public finds and photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

One final essay penned by Renkl, “What It Means to Be #Nashvillestrong,” took me back to that candidate forum last Thursday. When asked to identify the most pressing issue people face locally, the younger candidate replied with “personal issues.” He’s right. No matter what we face jointly as a society (such as inflation), it is personal issues which most challenge us. Author Renkl, referencing a text from a friend, calls those—cancer, death, etc—our “private Katrina.” That in no way minimizes the death and destruction of large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina. But we all have something. Her friend texted: One day the sun is shining and all is intact, the next day everything is broken. And the rest of the world goes on. You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.

And when those pieces fly loose in our circle, in our community and beyond, what do we do? We can, writes Renkl, be the hands that help our neighbors dig out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



19 Responses to “Heartache. Hope. Help.”

  1. This spoke the loudest to me – “You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.”. I think about humanity and being of service, especially to one another and to do it with respect, kindness, compassion, etc. The hatred and the division make my head as well as my heart hurt at times. I think about that full plate and how to just let some of it go or just make it easier on yourself. It is okay to ask for help or say I cannot take on anymore and just give yourself a break instead of a guilt trip for not being super human. I have been thinking more about fluidity as well as care of self. Your post certainly has me thinking, pondering, et. al. Take Care 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • Your thoughtful comment causes me to think even more on the topic of today’s post. I fully agree with you on all points. I hope this country sees a return soon to decency, compassion, care. And, yes, asking for help is such great advice. Doing it alone is way too hard.

  2. This thoughtful post was a perfect morning read for me today. I’m putting Renkl’s book on my list. The way you describe it reminds me of another book I loved: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. Also an essay collection. I hope the young candidate in Rice county keeps his hopeful idealism intact as he goes through this election season, no matter the outcome. To witness a debate that did not devolve into mudslinging was a gift. Hopeful indeed.

    • Thank you for the book recommendation. I’m checking the library inventory next.

      The young candidate is incredibly upbeat. I fully know he will continue on his path of public service no matter the election outcome. He’s said so. He’s a remarkable individual. He gives me hope.

  3. How insightful and appropriate to our timeline of now. Reading about issues from other people who have endured helps us to see pass the daily snow globe to realize we are all just human, we all need a helping hand from time to time.

  4. Becky Richie Says:

    Thank you, i have been having similar thoughts and feelings. You always brighten my day♥️

  5. Gunny Says:

    I took a 100 page family history and have turned that into 20 volumes! I am passing this off to the Freeborn County Historical Society in Albert Lea, MN. plus passing it down to the generations who have since followed. I had ancestors in Northfield who watched the bank robbery, have been there for myself 9not to rob anyone), had coffee with my wife there who has since been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Talk about a shattered “snow globe”! I encourage others to take an active interest in government and politics. However, they NEED to be way more educated than they are. I am better, but not by much. I once asked a political candidate, the meaning of something often found in government offices. His answer was incorrect. I told him he needed to study more, ask more questions and find the correct answers before jumping into a run off for office. I told him if others gave the response he did, to pass them by. If others gave him the answer I did, he needs to talk to them more, MUCH more!

    • Gunny, it’s good to hear from you. First, I am sorry for your wife’s ALS diagnosis. That is most definitely an example of a shattered snow globe. I hope you both are getting the necessary help and support.

      On the political front, if a candidate/politician admits they’re wrong (without the “but” of excuses), don’t have the answers or need to research more, that speaks highly to their character in my opinion.

  6. beth Says:

    young, thoughtful, and passionate people are such a good sign of a continuing democracy. it is so wonderful to see the next generation care and get involved, it gives me great hope for the future.

  7. Rose Says:

    What a beautiful and soulful introspection. So much of what you wrote spoke to my heart. Politics, housing, our ‘private Katrinas’, sometimes the whole world seems as if it is trapped in a snow globe of crazy. Belated condolences on the loss of your mom. I lost my mom last year in November.
    However, it’s nice to find another person who appreciates cards and letters in the mail. I certainly don’t want to see handwritten notes disappear.
    I hope we get more candidates like yours in Rice.

    • Rose, first, I’m sorry you also recently lost your mother. It’s tough to lose a mom, no matter their age or health or anything. She’s your mom and a connection exists unlike any other, at least for me.

      I appreciate you sharing that this post spoke to your heart. Sometimes it’s hard to see through the blizzards to the end of the storm.

  8. Valerie Says:

    We do need young people to engage in politics. I was used to it while working at St. Olaf, but have been removed from that generation a bit now. There are passionate young folks out there. That’s hopeful.
    I, too, love handwritten notes.

    • That would have been encouraging to work in a place surrounded by young, passionate individuals. I bet you miss those conversations, those connections.

      I figured you appreciated handwritten notes as much as me given the ones we’ve exchanged.

  9. Norma Says:

    I just celebrated my 89th birthday this past weekend, and I did receive many beautiful cards. Some had handwritten notes enclosed. They all were beautiful. Because of the size of my family, I quit buying gifts 4 or 5 years ago. However, they all receive cards from me on their special days, like it or not.

    • A belated HAPPY 89th BIRTHDAY, Norma! I’m thankful you received many beautiful cards. I bet your family treasures the cards you send for their special days. I know I treasure those from my paternal grandma (my maternal grandma died within months of my birth), long gone. And I treasure the letters and cards from my mom, too.

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