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Sara Whitestone,  Cherubs Playing with a Swan

Sara Whitestone


It was gone. I had rushed back to the National Gallery of Art where I had mistakenly left my journal on a stone bench in one of the halls. That notebook held everything I had been scribbling down for the past three years—poems, stories, ideas, musings. But the bench was empty. The journal was gone. 

Although I lived more than an hour outside of Washington, D.C., I often drove to the art museum—not to study its portraits and paintings, but to hope that the serenity of its fountains would bring me quiet writing confidence.

In the center of one hall stood my favorite fountain, a sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Tuby titled Cherubs Playing with a Swan. A few hours before, while I was working on a poem, the bubbling water sounded cheerful, and the cherubs above the pool played sweetly with their swan. But that was before I lost my journal.

Do fountains laugh? I sat on that empty stone bench, staring at that fountain. Was its water babbling at me in mockery? And what were those cherubs really doing? Were they actually laughing as they choked that poor swan?

And then I felt choked myself, as if those cherubs’ chubby hands were squeezing my own neck while they laughed at me—laughing as they seemed to ask, “Who are you to think you could write—that you could ever be a writer?”

My journal was gone. And my fragile confidence that I could create art through words was gone with it. “It’s a sign,” I told myself that evening as I drove on the dark backroads of the Shenandoah Valley toward home. “Losing that journal is a sign. I should just stop trying to write.”

A few days later, I got a call from a man named Darin. "I found your notebook,” he said. It wasn’t on the bench where I thought I left it, but in a different part of the Gallery altogether. Darin had picked it up and flipped through its pages. Then, as he glanced at the first lines of a poem, he decided he wasn't going to read any more of the journal because of the personal nature of the words. “But I'm so glad your phone number was on the inside cover so I could track you down,” Darin said. “I know how important this notebook must be to you as a writer.”

Darin put my journal in the mail. When it arrived, I lay back on my bed and pressed its paper to my chest. This gift—this return—was a moment of choice. “I am a writer,” I whispered to myself. “I am a writer.” 

And now, years later, I’m sitting on that same stone bench in front of the fountain where the cherubs are playing with their pet swan. The water doesn’t bubble today. Instead, it is silent and peaceful—reflecting the serenity inside of me.

Do fountains laugh? If so, today the cherubs above the still pool are laughing—not at me, but with me. And we are all laughing together because I have finally learned that whether I lose journals or find them, whether I create for others or for myself, all that matters is that I am a writer and that I write. My passion for playing with words can never be shaken or lost or taken or gone. 

And in that playing—in the finding and learning—there is always laughter.