Powerful or Powerless: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

Posted on July 29, 2013 by

“it’s that sense of powerlessness that destroyed my soul. i cannot be as good as i would like to be.nor as bad as i think i need to be.i think you have the same doubts that your goodness was not rewarded.”
Paulo Coelho

Powerless Structures Fig.101

Powerless Structures (Photo credit: failing_angel)

“Like all great stories, mine begins with classic Greek lore. With Persephone, the daughter of Zeus, wife of Hades, queen of the underworld, goddess of death, and my closest friend when I was twelve years old.”
– from The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver
As a Child:
“You may feel powerless as a child, but the world will one day be yours. And you’re responsible for it. So, seize the day and take charge of it.”
Harvey Fierstein
It wasn’t far from my 6th grade classroom to our cozy little house on the tree lined street. Classic Americana small town living; our family of six squished into the brown shingled house with the cork tree out front. We played on the street, kicking the can or legendary games of hide and seek nearly every summer night.
But this afternoon the street was eerily quiet as I pedaled my green Schwinn one speed down the lane and pulled into the driveway. Walking up the curved, hedge lined front path I was surprised at the lack of activity. Cautiously, I opened the front door and stepped inside. My footsteps echoed on the hardwood floors as I slowly stepped down the hall, gazing into each empty room.
“Mom?” I called to no one.
I walked past the bathroom, sterile in its emptiness, and towards the cozy room I shared with my younger sister. Empty. And my brother’s room looked sad, empty of trucks, Legos and Lincoln Logs. I continued down to my parent’s room, realizing what I would find wasn’t there, but hoping it was.
As I retraced my steps, I found myself whispering goodbye to each room. I wandered through the living room with the picture window facing the garden where our Christmas tree used to stand, the family room where Sesame Street, Julia Child and Sonny and Cher broadcast out of our black and white, and into the kitchen. Empty.
Returning to the front hall, I paused, looked back, and wiped the tear from my face. “Goodbye, house,” I mouthed as I shut the door, climbed on my bike, and rode away. Powerless, I never looked back.
As a Young Woman:

“Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.”

-Julia Child

It was Bastille Day in Paris, 1989. We were young, in love, and spending the summer with packs on our backs and Eurail passes in our pockets. Fresh from the Louvre, we ambitiously boarded the train back to our hostel. Feeling relieved to find a seat, I carefully clutched my recent purchase: two Monet reproduction posters, just waiting to be framed and hung on our bedroom wall.

“S’il vous plaît quitter le train. Il ya un autre venant en rapide derrière nous. S’il vous plaît quitter le train,” the announcer broadcast in rapid fire French. My brain processed as quickly as I could;all I could translate was ‘Please exit the train!” before dozens of Parisians began climbing over each other, terror on their faces. That, we understood.

I felt myself getting squished down in the melee, my Monets still tightly in my grasp. Panic had set in, and the announcer continued to blare his message of terror.

Suddenly, I felt someone grab my arm. In an instant I was swept off my feet, powerless to the crowd. I sailed over subway seats, moving to the exit with amazing speed. My other arm still clutching my Monets, I somehow landed on my feet and gazed up at my boyfriend with great relief.

“Run!” he shouted, and we dashed for the stairs leading up and out of the Metro, panic coursing through our bodies. As we reached the stairs, suddenly the tension eased and the crowd began to laugh.

“Pas besoin de s’inquiéter. Le prochain train arrivera sous peu. Nous vous remercions de votre coopération.”

This time, my college level French completely left me. Language fail had left me powerless, but as I watched the next train calmly pull up behind us I realized we were safe.

As a Mother:

“It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.”

– Helen Keller

It just seemed like the right thing to do, for some crazy reason. A leap of faith, maybe, that my children and I would be safe. Months of preparation led up to this point; immunizations, packing, fund raising and studying the Nicaraguan culture and finally, we were ready to leave.

As we gathered together in the airport, I was seized with anxiety. What was I doing? Taking my kids to a country I’d never been to, with people I didn’t know, to spend two weeks of hard work building a school in uncertain circumstances?

Sleep wasn’t an option on the red eye flight to Managua. As we gently descended my anxiety ebbed, then released. We were here. I could do this, even alone.

It was a few days later when we met him; a doe eyed, nine year old boy with closely shaved hair and no shoes. His name was Victor, and he wore the same red jersey and yellow shorts to the work site each day, darting out of the bushes as our Toyota truck clambered up the dirt road. He became our only real reason for going to the work site – his smile was that powerful. Cameron and he bonded, spending hours together scampering around the school site, finger knitting friendship bracelets and conversing easily in Spanish.

When the last day came, my tears flowed freely. Cameron hugged me as we drove away, assuring me it would be ok. And actually, in some way I knew he was right. It would be ok. We would be ok. This powerful experience would forever be etched in our heart, and his smile forever on my mind. We did this. I did this for my kids, and nothing could quite compare.


This post was inspired by the novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver. Mere months before Noa’s execution, her victim’s mother changed her mind Noa’s sentence and vows to help stay the execution. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. Grab your copy of The Execution of Noa P. Singleton and join From Left to Write on July 30 when we discuss the book.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Comments: 9

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    […] The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel by Elizabeth Silver combines a mother’s love, a murder mystery, and the death penalty into a gripping novel. Reading it reminded me of  the power of memories, and as children when we feel powerless over our future. […]

  • monica barnett

    July 30, 2013

    i loved your review! it’s a paradox that you took the time to unearth and analyze; and while i don’t fully agree, i completely understand your position. nicely written and expressed!!

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      July 30, 2013

      Thank you, Monica. This book really made me think about different times in life when I’ve felt powerless, and how now, as a mother, I have the huge responsibility of using my power correctly. Thanks for commenting!

  • Nancy

    July 30, 2013

    Nicely written vignettes. I’m not sure I understood the first one but it seemed like a dream to me. The second one, though, I can definitely relate! I always get a knot in the pit of my stomach in those situations, not knowing what is going on or what is going to happen.
    Nancy recently posted…Absolution.My Profile

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      July 30, 2013

      Nancy, thank you for your comment today. The first vignette is real but the memory comes to me in that misty, dreamlike way…a time when I felt powerless in my life because the adults were making decisions for me. Thanks for stopping by!

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