Rediscovered Treasure

This weekend, winter decided to move in. On Saturday, the temperature dropped several degrees, and the snow began to fall just before noon. And Saturday was the day I chose to sort through my Christmas ornaments to decide what I would keep and what I would give away. After all, some of the ornaments in my collection have been kicking around since I was just out of college. And even earlier.

Nowadays, I tend not to burden my tree with an overabundance of ornaments like I did when the kids were younger. Mostly because I like it simple—lights and a few sparkly ornaments to reflect the light back into the room. But there is also the fact that my teenagers are excited about decorating the tree, but not so excited about taking it down after Christmas.

So I sat on the couch and opened the large, green plastic tote, removed the first cardboard box, and began to unwrap small tissue paper balls to rediscover what was inside. Plastic animals dressed in Santa hats with wreaths, hand-painted cinnamon sticks and wooden disks picked up at a long forgotten craft fair, needlepoint plastic canvas squares… these were the items that found themselves in the ever-growing “give away” pile.

As I sorted, I came upon a yellowed box that said, “Mom’s dwarfs” in the handwriting of … I’m not really sure … one of my aunts, maybe? And in pencil, in a similar handwriting, it said, “For Suzanne from Nana.” More recently written were a number of notes in Dad’s handwriting: instructions about being careful, about the fact that there were extra parts wrapped up by themselves, about the things that Dad would typically warn me about as he removed these very fragile items from their carefully crafted tissue paper cocoons.

And now, I pulled one out of the box and placed it in my lap. I unrolled the tissue, getting closer and closer to the treasure it held. The weight of the ornament was less than one might expect, making it easy to fumble or accidentally drop it. But it was cradled securely in my lap. Finally, I was rewarded for my care when I spied the first glint of pointy shoes, a leg, and then a jolly face, its paint cracked and peeling from years of use.

My breath caught in my throat as I could feel Dad’s large hand carefully placing the “dwarf” ornament in my own then small hand. Each year, without fail, before he let go, he would ask, “Got it?” double-checking that this delicate figure was secure and would not fall to the floor where it might meet its demise.

The fact that these old ornaments had seen better days did not make them any less precious. The memories they evoked were worth the extra care needed. Of course, now that I have carefully unwrapped these very fragile ornaments on my own, I believe they are less fragile than all the past fuss would indicate. No matter. I still took great care as I hung them on the branches of my tree.

My one question that will never be answered: why, with elves all around at this time of year, did these ornaments end up being labeled “dwarves” rather than “elves” that might be more fitting for the Christmas season? I suppose I’ll never know. I will be left to devise my own theory.

 

 

Things I learn…

There are so many reasons I love working with college students. They have an energy and enthusiasm for life that is contagious. They have a wonderful perspective on the world that is both insightful and refreshing. They are at an age where they are poised on the edge of independence, but they still look to adults for guidance. And they are not afraid to settle in and get comfortable.

Yesterday, as I walked through one of the main student areas in our building, I noticed the shoes of one of my student workers tossed haphazardly on the floor under the chair on which she was perched. No doubt as she settled in for her tutoring shift, she kicked them off in an effort to make herself at home. And in truth, this—the college—is her home. And the fact that she had kicked off her shoes peeked my curiosity about this student, and I wanted to sit down with her, have a conversation, and learn about her life.

As I passed by these shoes on the floor, it didn’t even occur to me to suggest that she put them on to maintain a more “professional” appearance. In fact, I wanted to applaud her for her level of comfort, for being herself, and for taking this step to ground herself in the present and connect more closely with place. I found myself wanting to remove my own shoes and join her at the table. But I didn’t… because I had work to do.

I love working with college students because they have so many lessons to teach me. Pull up a chair, take off your shoes, and stay awhile. I’d love to tell you about all I’ve learned from the students I work with.

Periphery

I was driving home from a dance class this evening. It was rainy and dark and more than a little bit foggy. I was listening to a story on NPR about baking and bread and devising new recipes. The story had my attention because I hadn’t had enough dinner before I ran out the door, and I was hungry.

In the distance, a barely visible shadow streaked across the road in front of me, jolting my attention from the radio and from the task of driving. I strained my vision through the fog to discern what it was I was seeing. Was it a cat? It seemed a tad too large. Was it a fisher? It didn’t move in that awkward, uneven manner of a fisher. Or was it someone’s escaped dog? The figure was gray—barely a shade lighter than the gray of the foggy night—and I wondered if, in fact, I had really seen an animal dart across the road despite the clear sparkle of its eye.

But then my mind wandered to all of the things that are constantly playing at the edges of my consciousness. Just like the animal that had crossed my path, these things could slip by unnoticed unless they are given attention. A butterfly flits through the meadow on a summer breeze. A deer stands in the brush, munching on leaves and grass. A streetlight blinks and turns off.

But there are other things that hang out in the periphery, as well…. Ideas that aren’t yet fully formed, that are just beginning to take shape. Words that might have been spoken before the opportunity slipped away. Prayers that need to be said rather than kept inside.

Life has very few distinct edges. It blurs and frays and blends. The physical blends into the cognitive which blends into the spiritual in ways that are reminiscent of this evening’s fog. Our lives blend into the lives of others. If we relocate our attention, we might just shift our focus, our decisions, and quite possibly our reality. Imagine the possibilities.

{Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash}

Snippets of Life

Memories of my life are filed away like index cards carefully placed in drawers, an ancient and ever-expanding card catalog of snippets of life. I can open the drawers, flip through the memories, and see the things that have brought me to this place—this point in time.

Different drawers contain different sets of memories. The good memories fill several drawers, and I can flip through them quickly, as if spinning a Rolodex, or slowly like I am engrossed in detailed research. When I look in one drawer, I can see my children toddling down the hall. There are first words, first steps, first days of school. I pause for a moment on an afternoon spent running around the front lawn, desperately trying to catch leaves tossed and blown on the wind. The giggles are as vivid in memory’s ear as they were that day.

If I work really hard, I can go back to memories of my own childhood: picnics on an old wooden bridge, dressing up for church on Sundays, holidays, and the occasion or two when I walked home from school in the middle of the day for lunch. There are memories of lessons learned, family time, and brief vacations thrown in here and there for good measure.

Silliness weaves through most of the drawers, knit into the fabric of my very being. Here and there, a memory will bring up the humor that my children often take for granted. It is an essential part of our family life.

There are memories I draw upon for inspiration. Times I was the definite underdog, but I persevered and met with success. Times I was on the receiving end of Mercy and Grace. Times when love and laughter were on my side as I worked through a challenge.

The not-so-positive memories are in a drawer of their own, lest I accidentally stumble upon them while I am surfing my pleasant memories. I don’t open that drawer much—I don’t need to. It is stiff and broken and hard to work. It doesn’t quite close all the way, and sometimes, the memories slip out, catching me when I am low, and nagging at the edges of my brain. These memories, they chastise me for… well, for everything. Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not thin enough. Not happy enough. Not. Enough.

And I work diligently to recover and move on as quickly as I can to another drawer. Because the catalog has never been a bad thing. It helps me to stay organized and grounded. And it helps me to move in a positive direction. The good memories outweigh the not-so-good memories. File away the “mistakes made” as lessons learned, and they suddenly become a necessary step in the process. Because every step and every misstep, every turn and every detour, every moment lived through every age is a tiny building block in the process of creating my life. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, every card in my catalog… these are all lessons learned.

Journeys

It’s been a tough week of walking the line. Some days, it seems gremlins have attached themselves to my brain, and they are sneaking around the edges, working their way into my thoughts when I least expect it. There has been much going on around me—accidents, illness, suffering, loss—all way too close. So many of these situations demonstrate how quickly our paths can veer off course and life can change. But these are also the things that tend to bring my blessings into focus. Being an eternal optimist, I always look for the blessings.

This year, our Thanksgiving table was filled with many family members. But throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the one who was absent… Dad. There was much laughter around me, and I spent the day tip-toeing the precarious line between laughter and tears. Wanting to flee to a quiet spot to cry, but being drawn by the warmth of the laughter. I chose to show up and be present.

Life is a one-way trip, and we’re all going the same way. The clock always moves in one direction. We continue to move forward because… well, it’s the only worthwhile choice. There is no going back for a do-over. If you make a mistake, learn from it and keep moving. If there are gremlins in your brain, holding you back, figure out a way to get rid of them or sneak by them. Just. Keep. Moving.

Life is a journey. Pack what you think you might need, show up (with as much confidence as you can muster), and be present. If you need directions, I can help. Forward. Go forward.

And along the way, be the eternal optimist. Always look for the blessings.

Community

On Monday, I had a conversation with my college freshmen about community and responsibility. This conversation came after we had viewed a documentary on extreme poverty—living on a dollar a day—and attended a presentation by one of the young men who was involved with the project. Despite the poverty in the community, the families were very close as they worked together to help each other and make a better life for themselves. Our class discussion revolved around the responsibility each person has and how our responsibility extends from family to neighbors to the larger global community.

On Tuesday morning, I was driving to work. I had just pulled onto the entrance ramp for the highway when everyone around me suddenly began to slow and then they stopped. I looked to the highway on my left just in time to see a car flip over and land on its roof in the median. I pulled over and put my car in park. I sat for a minute catching my breath and working to calm my nerves as I watched several people get out of their cars and run to the flipped car to check on the driver. Before long, all traffic had stopped in both directions.

[I will say, I stayed in my car. Unfortunately, while I remain calm under pressure and can deal with emergencies, I do not deal well with injury/blood/death/etc. These things cause me to grow faint and shaky, pass out and become completely useless to anyone who might need help. Knowing our limits—it’s an important part of self-awareness.]

Four or five people gathered around the car and helped the driver out and to her feet. They walked her gingerly away from the car, and went back to check that the car was empty of other passengers. At this point, I decided the situation was under control, and I slowly made my way around several stopped cars and drove to work.

There are times when I think we are on our own in this country. The sense of community and our responsibility to others gets lost in the craziness of everyday life. And yet, this incident was an example of the many ways we come together to help others in need. We are all here together, and when we most need help, others generally show up, We have a responsibility to our community—both locally and globally—and if we take the time to look around, we will see ways in which we might just make a difference.

Blink

Over the years, we have hit milestones with the regularity of the thump of a flat tire. Thump… thump… thump…. At first, it’s kind of reassuring to know that your child is hitting all the important milestones. But recently, it seems the car is speeding up and the milestones thump by faster and faster—at an alarming rate of speed, really. And this week, my daughter completed—and submitted—her first college application. Breathe.

These monumental occasions always give me pause and compel me to take a quick (or leisurely) inventory of the years that have come and gone. This most recent milestone hints at the small amount of time I have before she is off and testing her wings.

The early years of single parenthood are still vividly etched in my memory. I spent the days looking in the rearview mirror, counting heads in the backseat of the car. As the one parent of three very small children—all under five—I was always afraid that in my sleep-deprived state, I would leave one behind. Maybe one slipped by me somehow, and was still hiding in a store in the mall. Perhaps someone went to use the potty and was in the bathroom finishing up, or worse, didn’t get in the car and was standing in the driveway in a puddle of tears wondering why I left without him/her. In those early years, that fear never fully dissipated.

I blinked and we were in a new house in a new neighborhood with new friends and a new school. Little hands reached for mine with regularity. A hand to hold; a hand to help; a hand to lead the way. Those were days of constant attention and discovery and learning. There were toys and games and books and building and dancing and crafts. LOTS of crafts.

And then I blinked.

And the day came when they were all in school, mornings first and then full days. The school bus rumbled up the hill in the morning and swallowed them up. I would watch as the bus drove off up the road and out of sight before I ran home to switch to “adult” mode and be on my way to work. In the early days, I was home from work for 3:15, always needing to beat the bus to meet the kids so they were supervised and transported to the activity of the day. Always rushing so I wouldn’t be late.

Until I blinked.

The kids were able to ride the bus to their activities. My work hours increased, and an after school sitter took on some of my role. Extra keys were made and cell phones purchased and the kids further shaped their identities as they took their first tentative steps toward independence.

I blinked again, and now they are nearly through high school. They will be out on their own soon, with jobs and lives that take them all in different directions. That doesn’t mean my job is done. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

Just don’t blink.