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Not all those who wander are lost.    -J.R.R. Tolkien

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_MG_0787A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.     -Lao Tzu
Zion                    _MG_0853

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In every walk with Nature one receives far more than one seeks.      -John Muir

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For more of Eunice Beck and her work, please visit http://eunicebeck.com/

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The Toddler by John Brantingham

I’ve been traveling around China for five days now, seeing as much of the country as I can in the limited time I have. It’s not possible to understand a place as diverse and complex as this in five days, five years or five decades, but I’m doing my best trying to meet as many people as I can, when I find myself in the middle of Shanghai, in a kind of historical tourist attraction called Yu Gardens. There are all the kinds of things one might expect from this kind of cultural outreach to tourists from China and beyond. It’s a celebration of the ancient architecture of this country.

But there are only so many buildings I can stare at, no matter how beautiful and ancient they are. Soon my attention is captured by a toddler, running up and down the square in front of me. Someone has fitted him with shoes that squeak every time he takes a step. He’s become a kind of celebrity here, everyone waving at him and laughing at him. His grandmother is there too, and she picks him up and cajoles him to blow kisses to all of us who clap for him.

That’s when Sister Mary Fuckyou sits down next to me. I didn’t expect to see her here. She was my fifth grade teacher, and she’s been dead and burning for the last ten years. She’s shaking her head at this kid, making that little grunting noise she always made when she disapproved of our existences, which was often.

She turns to me and tells me what she used to say in class once or twice a week: “You know, if you were to line up all the Chinese people in the world, five abreast, and march them into the sea, they would never die. That’s how quickly they reproduce.” She pauses and takes a breath, building for the cosmic blow she’s been building toward. “There’s no way we could ever kill them fast enough, and every single one of them is an atheist.”

I stand up and mingle with the crowd clapping and calling to this child, this newest little atheist to prick the good nun’s ire. He’s gone into a high stepping dance that has everyone but her laughing. I try to get away from her, but she follows me. She pulls at my sleeve, and when I turn around, she says, “Pray for the conversion of the unbeliever, and if they do not convert, pray for their defeat. Whatever you do, pray.”

She told me that over thirty years ago, and she’s been telling me ever since, so here in Shanghai, among the believers and unbelievers, I say a prayer that only she and I and God can hear: “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, if this woman ever gets her way and the world forces these atheists to march five abreast into the sea, this child high-stepping his way at the beginning of the pack, please God, let me be waiting for them in the surf, let me be the one to give them swimming lessons.”

The toddler of Yu Gardens dances on unaware that the sister or I were ever there.

And here’s a bio: John Brantingham is the Writer-in-Residence at the dA Center for Cultural Arts, and his work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and he has had hundreds of poems published in magazines in the United States and England and five books. His books include the short story collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods and the crime novel Mann of War. His newest poetry collection The Green of Sunset is from Moon Tide Press. He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California and is the president of the non-profit, the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival.
For more on John Brantingham, check out his blog at

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