When There’s a David in the World

Awe. That’s the feeling. And it is awe in a way that makes you realize you’ve actually seldom felt it. We say we do. “Oh! I was in awe!” Or “Oh man! That was awesome!” But, awe, in reality, is a rare and spectacular thing, and as it pertains to art, I would say I’d never really felt it until I saw the David.

It’s an experience that unfolds over a time. When you round the corner you spot him immediately, at the end of a long corridor, lined with a collection of other sculptures by Michelangelo called “The Prisoners.” It makes for a brilliant presentation, too, because the juxtaposition of those men seemingly trapped for eternity in the marble, make the David appear as though he has broken free—defeated the rock that rendered him prisoner and now he ironically holds bits of rock of his own in his hand as he stands proud and imposing. You notice this from some yards back, at the opposite end of the hall, and as you walk toward him the details become clearer to you. The tendons in his hands, the muscles in his arms, his ribs, the cuticle of his thumb nail, the slight shifted weight of him, as though he’d readjusted his stance moments before you walked in.

He is a human who once lived and is now stone, you might think, surely he truly breathes. And yet, no. He does not and never did. So this is a masterpiece, then. This … this makes sense.

And then there is his face. Michelangelo broke with tradition, here, and sculpted a David before battle, rather than victorious, and managed to capture everything he might have felt with little more than a chisel and file. Fear and bravery coexist in those marble eyes. Also strategy, determination, resignation and faith. One hand loosely holds the stones; over one shoulder sleepily rests the fatal slingshot. And there you have it. Young David, the Goliath slayer, flawlessly captured in marble so white he nearly glows in an ephemeral way, standing for hundreds of years to remind us that we too can slay giants if we settle into those feelings carved into his eternal face.

Beside the statue is a plaque, which borrows a quote from a Georgio Vasari “Nor has there ever been seen a pose so fluent, or a gracefulness equal to this, nor feet, hands and head so well related to each other with quality, skill and design.” and he eventually goes on to say people don’t even need to bother with looking further at other statues because this is basically as good as it gets, and the rest will be utter garbage.


And that, in a shock of revelation, becomes the paradox. Because in fact — maybe this David is our giant.

There is the obvious thing. His stature. Even without the pedestal that boosts him into the heavens, he is 17 feet tall–three times the size of the average man.  But then there is the subtle thing. Largely considered to be the best there’s ever been or could ever be, David is arrestingly perfect. And when I read Visari’s comment, I went back for a second look. Yes, to take it in again, but also because that comment begged a daunting question, and I was hoping David, himself, might answer it for me. How, exactly, is an artist supposed to sculpt then? How does someone get up in the morning, grab their chisels and their tools and chip and file away at a statue, when a David is in the world? It’s the same question I ask myself as a writer. How do I write in a world where Shakespeare has lived? How does a painter paint, when da Vincis and Van Goghs, and Rembrandts hang boastfully on the walls of magnificent museums, urging pilgrims to travel thousands of miles to simply catch a glimpse of them? How do people go on building businesses and buildings and empires and dreams? It can be both inspiring and discouraging to encounter the otherworldly sort of high level achievement.

When the paragon already exists, where you do you find the point to try? Or even want to?

Fortunately, David did have the answer. And it was in those eyes. Because you have to. It’s about life, and to not do it feels like a phase of death. And you do it with all the fear and bravery, determination, resignation and faith of a young man staring at a Philistine giant.

Michelangelo is famously quoted as saying “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” And there you have it, from the master behind the piece that might make you doubt why you should ever even go on. It’s not the pressure of perfection, or to be remembered 500 years from now for having left something unachievable behind. The point is to release, uncover or set free that vision we see on the blank canvas, the empty page or the chunk of marble hauled out of a quarry. To give oxygen to ideas, and a little elbow greased attention to dreams. We are called to set free what we see trapped in blank spaces, and hope it will serve to inspire others to do the same hundreds of years in the future, or maybe even just tomorrow when you show your best friend. So that the world, and humanity, will never run out of that sort of beauty.  So as long as there are people, there is also effort and energy and something to strive for, and more awe left behind to be found and beheld by some random traveller, a half century from now, wandering about looking for a little inspiration to do something slightly unachievable.

Poison

I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks. I know that’s obvious, and so I’m not stating it to be informative. I think it’s more of a confession for my own sake. Like one part of me is looking at the other with a disapproving expression, wagging her finger, saying “You have not blogged, young lady.” And the part of me that is looking back is scuffing the ground with her shoe painted over in shame, going “Although I am ashamed, I do like the sound of young lady.”


The fact is, we’ve gone on a few trips and have a few more planned, and to be honest, when I travel it unleashes a very large very angry bull into the delicate and insanely unstable china shop that is my writing life. So when I come home from a trip, I sit here for days lamenting over why I can’t seem to get my engine revved up again, and then that turns into something I obsess over and then I watch a movie to take my mind off the obsession, then I feel guilty for watching a movie and the guilt turns into shame and the shame turns into anxiety and the anxiety turns into a fear that I’ll never write again! It’s a really exhausting meltdown to have at any time. It’s downright debilitating to have it every few weeks. 


When we got home Monday, I got up and took the kids to school, then came home and tried to write and of course there it was … the great big Empty. No writing. No journaling. No exercising. No nothing.
For better or worse, I know this creepy forest and so I recognize it right away when I see it. “Oh yes, there’s that chilling breeze, and that haunting tree branch and cue the bats and distant sound of hooting owls and strange unidentifiable grunts in the night.” But just because I know it, doesn’t mean I’m not freaked out by it. 


As I was sitting in my living room, in the throws of this awful cycle I know all too well, drinking my coffee and reading the news on my phone, I somehow mindlessly swiped through so many unrelated random articles, I ended up reading far more than is ever necessary about poison, of all things … and all of sudden the next thing I knew, I was exercising in my bedroom.


That’s really weird, so let me unpack that for you. 


In ancient China, the women didn’t so much love this idea that married men would saunter about and cheat on their wives and then saunter back home as if nothing had happened. And so stories and rumors began to circulate about women seducing would-be cheating scoundrels, secretly poisoning them, and then sending them on their way to meet their doom — if they were lucky enough to make it home before dying, their wife may be good hearted enough to give them an antidote, or you know … maybe not. Maybe it had “expired” on the same day he was cheating on his wife. Know what I mean? 


The poison was a “DIY,” “made from scratch with love” sort of concoction the seductresses whipped up themselves and they made it in such a way, it makes me think they had to have been cheated on themselves and therefore had some pretty jaded axes to grind, and therefore became the vigilante heroes of the womanizing underworld. Ridding society of scoundrels one at a time.


They would start by placing three to five venomous creatures in a jar. Say, a scorpion, a spider and a centipede … sometimes snakes and frogs or toads too. In China, these things were referred to as “chong” and were thought to be evil spirits with the power to possess humans. One of each would be sealed into the same jar and left there for days. Keep in mind, this is not your run of the mill, McDonald’s brand poison, quickie-mart poison. It’s a low and slow Capital Grill type poison, so you best not be in a hurry to use it. You have to wait for these creatures to fight. All of those nasty creepy crawlies sit in that confined space and battle to the death, devouring the dead as they go. After a few days, only one remains. All the other baddies have been killed and eaten and one stands alone with a sizable food baby, a victorious sense of conquest, and — according to legend — completely chock full of a combo, gamma radiated, Avengers grade, super-venom that works as slowly and cunning as the women and creatures who made it. They called it “Gu” which I assume is pronounced “goo” and seems woefully underwhelming and not scary enough at all, but then I don’t speak Chinese and have no idea what I’m talking about. The point is it’s made now and then it is extracted by that person who made it because a gentleman is in her parlor and she has some poisoning to do.


Once the poison has been administered, there is more waiting. (Remember … this is not your Big Mac. This is your dry aged steak.)  It could take as long as 10 days to work. So the idea is that you give it to the person you obviously hate or the lying cheating lowlife of a man who was sniffing around your skirt, then they go about their business, and ten days later they die … destroyed by the poison from the inside out. No weird suspicious rashes or excessively foaming mouths, or any sort of mess to clean up. They’ve simply died of Gu posioning. And the world is less one lying’ cheatin’ two timin’ philanderer. 


Now it’s almost Halloween and all that, so maybe a freakish poison story is apropos, but that’s not why I’ve chosen to tell it. No, the fact is, the way that poison was made and how it worked, got me thinking. And probably since I was on day four of week two of feeling very much unable to write, that poison got me thinking about my writing. And I realized that sometimes, I make a poison very similar to that, myself. I open my jar and lock venomous creatures together in there for days. Only instead of snakes and centipedes and scorpions and spiders … my trapped “chong” is made up of thoughts. Mainly thoughts about my career as a writer. And they sound something like “I have nothing to say.” “Who do I think I am?” “Everything has already been said before and probably said better.” “Why bother?” And always, after a few days of that, the one left standing and made more powerful and poisonous than all the rest, is “Why bother?” and then I sit still, and I remain there for days while that poisonous venom gnaws me into bits from the inside out.


So what is the antidote?


Well, in the case of venom, it’s usually anti-venom … or antivenin. And interestingly enough you need more of the relevant venom to make it. You inject it into a non-venomous domestic animal, the animal will produce antibodies which are then extracted and injected into the affected victim or patient.


What does that have to do with any of this? Well, simply that into order to overcome something, you often have to face it a second time. You have to identify it, and then rework it, and then use what you’ve learned to overcome it. Nothing … not a problem, not a poison, not an existential meltdown or writers block can be outrun. If left to their own devices, they will outlast and outdo you. 


Anyway, all of that sort of hit me at once. So, I decided to take the antidote. If my thoughts are the poison, then my thoughts have fight the poison too. But I need thoughts that I’ve conjured in the healthy parts of me. And so I started with what I knew was good for me. Exercise and journaling. And guess what? From there, I got ideas. And ideas lead to more ideas and those ideas blossomed too. I called my friend Teri, who always has a positive word and I drank some nice hot tea and spent some time quietly letting the warmth of the tea and friendship and health spread into the colder stiff places and before I knew I felt like maybe I could write again.


It doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing here, exactly. They say you should find a “niche” but any of the ones I’ve tried to apply, have felt foreign so far, so whatever “type” of blog this is or will be still eludes me. But I’ve come back to it, at any rate and it didn’t take too terribly long to do so.  I’ll chalk that up to experience and also my handy antivenin, and I’ll be sure to keep it close by.

Live Big

I think we should strive to be interesting. Big and silly and deep and wide open. So that when people ask us about our lives we can say “which chapter?” And when they say “How about chapter 24?” We fall back into memory and tell our chapter 24. And on and on this goes through all the chapters and all the years of our lives. And if the listener gets bored with listening that’s one thing. But if you get bored telling it, you’re living it wrong.

Tea for One

It is raining.

Of course it’s raining. It’s England. But it is not our typical sort of misty rain–or “drizzlers” as they’re better known, here. Instead it’s a rain that really comes down, in many whole droplets and you imagine a soggy man walking into a pub somewhere and commenting on it. “It’s slappy and yukkin it down.” They say in Yorkshire.

And while rain does not typically play a role in choices I make for spending days (because it’s England. It’s always raining.) today it did pull up a chair to the table and tossed in its own two cents.

You see, my Man Cold has subsided a bit, and is settling into what I refer to as a Mom Cold, now — which is the type of cold that still makes you feel horrible but you work on and through it anyway. I still don’t feel fabulous but I needed to write, and that’s a difficult thing to do when I’m stuck indoors staring at all the things I stare at always. I do much better when I’m out looking around at the world.

I’ll just grab my wellies and rain coat, I thought, and I’ll walk to the pub and order a pot of tea and watch the soggy people duck in from the weather and listen to them talk about it yukking it down while they down a pint of ale and get back to whatever soggy business they were up to in the first place. But this is the sort of the rain, that whether you’ve waterproofed is of no matter because 20 minutes in it will ultimately soak you to the bone and I didn’t love the idea of sitting in the pub, shivering with my bones rattling because they’d been soaked through.

That’s bound to make me feel worse, I thought. And just when I’m starting to feel better, too. I’d hate to back up into another Man Cold when I’m clearly doing so well. And so I had a better idea. I would open the bay windows so I could hear the lovely rain yukking down in many whole drops and I would light mahogany scented candles and write from my living room while the cool, damp air gradually slid inside and became part of my atmosphere.

I made tea. A lovely loose tea of pear and ginger sent to me from Florida, by my friend Teri, and one which I save for the days I need a significant brew. I steeped it in a teapot on which reads my favorite quote from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

“How long is forever?” asked Alice.

“Sometimes only one second.” said the White Rabbit.

And using that teapot, I purchased in York, prompted me to think about the forevers in my life that were born in one seconds here and there along the way, and then it made me think of York and how I’d like to get back there soon and enjoy a proper Yorkshire rarebit and also a nice dark ale at that haunted pub where I like to look for the ghost that sits by the fire. I haven’t seen her yet, you see.

I poured the tea into a teacup I’ve had for going on seven years. It says “Sometimes on the way to the dream, you get lost and find a new one.” And then I stopped to think of dreams I was chasing throughout my life, when I might have gotten lost just in the knick of time, and how maybe those were some of those “one second forevers” too and how lovely it is to sit here in my English living room with my tea and my one second dream detours and I thought even though I have a cold, I have a cold in England and that makes me happy.

I was eating a perfect disc of shortbread, as big as a proper saucer. The kind of shortbread that breaks into easily manageable, triangular wedges and I let the bites sit on my tongue and melt into puddles of buttery sugar and I was grateful to live a in a part of the world that does shortbread so well.

The teacup and the little teapot each sat on small wooden coasters, with the shape of the state of Florida etched into the tops of them, and I thought for a moment about Florida, and allowed myself to miss home for a while.

It was getting chilly, with the windows having been open, and the cool damp air had replaced and become the atmosphere in the living room, and so I made a nest of wool blankets I got in Scotland and snuggled into it with my dog resting on my feet, the warm weight of him keeping me toasty while I looked out the window at the relatively quiet sidewalks and noted the occasional passersby.

A small gaggle of children, all huddled together in a wiggly knot, shuffled by in red rain coats, herded together and onward by firm teachers also in red raincoats, the whole lot of them bound together by straps of high visibility, safety yellow. The priest walked by, his English tweed jacket pulled over his priestly collar, and his flat cap pulled down over glasses so thinly framed you almost missed they were there. My next door neighbor, in black waterproof everything, yet still sopping wet, scurried about with a look of concern, while he craned his neck to investigate something up high and it made me wonder if their house might be experiencing a leak or a problem with their chimney. And finally, a mum in polkadots, with no hat or even a hood, hurried past my window, pushing her baby in a pram. Her hair was sticking to her neck and forehead and I when I saw her I was happy to have made my choice to stay in and stay dry today.

And then I sat a bit longer and listened to the rain patter and smack, and watched the leaves twitch as the raindrops passed through them. I smelled the scented candles I’d lit, and tasted the tartness of the pear and the spiciness of the ginger in the tea from my friend and I enjoyed the warmth of my dog on my feet and it dawned on me that all five of my senses were fully enjoying themselves at the moment, and what a gift that is in this busy world where we scurry and hurry and only notice things by accidents and happening to. And I was suddenly grateful for my little cold and its insistence on slowing me down and I’ll have to keep this in mind for later on. Remember this day when life starts to move fast and furious and it feels hard to keep up even though I’m feeling better. That sometimes the best way to feel fully alive is to open the living room windows, and have a tea party for one.

I Have a “Man Cold”

You know that scene from Home Alone, where Kevin is stuffing his face with a giant ice cream sundae and watching inappropriate television?

That is sort of how I’m doing the “sick day.” Only it’s more like eating nothing and online shopping.

I don’t have time to be sick and yet, here I am. Being sick anyway, and so I had an idea.

My kids are old enough that even though I still had to take them to school, and come home and walk the dogs and feed the dogs and swap the laundry and make myself some soup … they are gone for the next 7 hours and the house is all mine to all myself. So … I decided I’m gonna have myself a bonafide “man cold.” The kind where I lie in bed and moan about how awful I feel and do nothing at all but everything I want and feel like doing.

At four o’clock, though, the coach turns back into a pumpkin, my big comfy pjs turn back into “going out of the house clothes” and my “man cold” turns back into a “mom cold.”

Until then “Hey Germs! I’m eating nothing and shopping online! You’d better get out of here and stop me!”

**disclaimer: I have no idea if anything makes any sense. I am delirious due to fitful sleep and cold meds.**

The “This is My Dream” Face

It’s been a lovely weekend in Harrogate, England! The UCI World Cycling Championship is being held here, and has brought throngs of people and loads of excitement to our normally quiet and serene little spa town. All the shop windows are decorated and there is a great white ferris wheel spinning families up and back down again and food trucks serving pork sandwiches and our very own special brand of Slingsby’s Gin (always get the rhubarb) and Fever Tree tonic (always get the elderflower) and there is a storybookishness about it that calls to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Night at the Fair” or maybe a scene from a movie that might borrow from somewhere in middle America, circa 1955. In a word … quaint.

On Friday, the day before the official races began, I walked into town with my notebook and a fountain pen, ordered a plate of arancini and a bottle of sparkling water, then I worked a bit on a novel and eavesdropped a bit on strangers’ conversations, and enjoyed the rare September sunshine with a profound sense of appreciation for it. Sunshine soaked English September afternoons are among those really great things that don’t last long enough–like butterflies, good naps or rainbows or the flavor in Juicy Fruit gum. And that was what that afternoon felt like. Rare and special and bespoke.

I’m not much of a cycling enthusiast, myself. It all seems quite scary if I’m being honest–the way they ride in such tightly woven crowds and move so quickly on thin wheels in aerodynamic streaks of color. I cringe at the thought of one single person hitting a bump or patch of gravel and then all of them ending in a tangle of spokes and legs and lots of upside down pieces with wheels spinning freely in the air. It seems quite the opportunity for lots of brokenness: human and mechanical alike. But fan fair and spectacles are attractive to me regardless of whether the reason for them appeal to my specific interests. I suppose it’s because, as a writer, humans, in general, are of interest to me and so I’ve always been comfortable in the spectator seat.

And on Friday, from my outdoor seat at the table, at my favorite pub, The Fat Badger, with my little balls of rice and my cold glass of sparkling water glittering in the magic of rare sunlight, I spectated as spectators do at spectacles and I saw her. A sweet lady riding her very professional looking bicycle, in her very professional looking helmet wearing very professional looking and serious bicycle clothes, and a smile.

I have never ridden a bike like that or worn a helmet quite like that or clothes like that, with pads that protect my bum like that or shoes that lock into peddles like that … but I have worn a smile like that and was wearing one that day, in fact, and perhaps that is why I recognized it. Like when you see someone else wearing a dress you have and yet you know you can only get that particular dress at a particular boutique on a particular street in Paris.

She was riding slowly, and in the center of the street–which is easy to do at the moment because all the town streets have been blocked for the week–and she was taking her time taking it in, scanning the buildings up and down and the pretty shop windows inside and out and all the many balloon formations and flags and welcoming signs and displays made out of vintage bicycles, and she was wearing the “this is my dream” smile.

It is very important to stop here and make a few clarifications. Because firstly, it was not the “that is my dream” or “my dream is” or “I have a dream” or “if I win this it will be a dream come true” smile. Each of those are smiles of their own. And they’re all usually underpinned by something unsure because they are the dreams of things that haven’t come true just yet. It’s the smile I have when I dream of having a best selling novel one day. And I think maybe that’s why I noticed her. She was very clearly satisfied already with how far she’d come. Riding her bicycle all alone on a street blocked off for a race she had yet to ride, scanning the buildings and the balloons and the great pops of color splashed all about this lovely Victorian spa town in Northern England in honor of an event for which she’d qualified, had already checked the dream box for her and I could tell.

Because it’s the smile I have when I’m sitting at an outdoor table in my favorite pub in Harrogate England, soaking up the special gift of September afternoon sunshine working on my novel that hasn’t been published.

And suddenly I wondered if that was something people could understand. That sometimes the dream comes true before or in spite of the prize. Sometimes the dream is just the act of doing, participating and being a part of something. Sometimes the dream is just your solo afternoon in town, looking around at all the exciting things and putting the memories in your pocket.

I hope so. I hope people don’t miss that part. It’s easy to, sometimes. To focus on what hasn’t happened yet. Or what could happen. Or what might not happen at all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety of all that lies in store or not … but it doesn’t have to be that way.

This past Friday afternoon, two women from two different parts of the world found themselves on the same street, living two entirely different dreams come true, and smiling the same “this is my dream” smile, despite the fact they were still in the act of trying and working for more.

I think that exists for everyone if we’re willing to explore what it means for us. I think more often than we realize, we come face to face with our dreams and great big ambitions, and because we don’t recognize them for what they are, we move so quickly passed those moments we fail to savor or appreciate or even remember them.

Maybe there’s a lesson there for us all, in that. To slow down. To be more aware of who we are and where and what we’re doing and what it means for us. Our souls. Not where we’re trying to be in the ultimate sense, but where we are on the journey. After all, the ultimate will last for a few seconds, anyway, but to find your smile on the journey to or from there will grant you the gift of “this is my dream” for however long you choose to stay the course.

I try to dial into that frequently and will try to dial into it even more. To be even more united and enamored with the romance and act of making my dream come true and less tormented by the idea that it hasn’t come true just yet simply because it hasn’t come to fruition and I haven’t held the final product in my hands. In fact, I think it’s a key factor to a life well and happily lived. After all, if you can’t find your greatest happiness in the act of making a dream true, then what was it about the dream that made it yours in the first place?

The Best Days

My husband and I have a deeply sincere love of travel, and we’ve been blessed to be able to pursue that love again and again over the years.

And, naturally, along the way we’ve collected memories of the world renowned variety. Seeing the Mona Lisa in Paris, drinking mass after mass of beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, seeing the tulips in full bloom in Holland. It makes for a beautiful collection of memories and stories to tell along the way. But travel, while exhilarating and exciting, can also leave you feeling exhausted and even stressed out at times. And that’s why, no matter how new and how large the place is, and how little time we seem to have to see it, we always leave space for something unplanned and those are the best days.

This photo is taken in a town in Germany called Ansbach. It’s a pretty little town. High pitched red rooftops, timber buildings, cobblestone streets, a lovely river … church bells ring out throughout the day. But it is of no particular world wide interest, I’d argue. Not much is there you’d otherwise travel 4,000 miles to visit.

But on a day to simply chill out, my husband and I ended up there. And directly in the center of town, there was an outdoor market taking place. People selling homemade bread and pastry. Cheesemongers selling cheese. Butchers selling meats. Vendors selling olives and sundried tomatoes and an entire assortment of marinated wonderments from the Mediterranean side of things.

We fumbled clumsily through our German and ordered bits and bites of treats from each of the various vendors, including a bottle of homemade wine we bought for two euro and looked for a place to sit down and enjoy an impromptu picnic. We stumbled upon a gorgeous park in the center of town — a big patch of green grass encircled by trails of roses and colorful summer blooms — and we made our way to park bench and nibbled at our last minute lunch for the better part of two hours, while we watched locals come to the garden for their own daily strolls. Everyone from moms pushing prams, stealing a little adult conversation, to men in business suits walking alone, trying to escape adult conversation, I’d imagine.

At moments we were quiet and just watched and observed while we ate plump raspberries and ripped off fluffy chunks of fresh bread. And at moments we couldn’t stop talking about what it would be like to live in Europe one day.

As it turns out, living in Europe is a lot like vacationing in Europe. It’s still market fresh picnics in parks in the middle of little towns, and people walking to find or escape conversation. It’s life at its finest. Slow, simple, a bit indulgent at times and always intentional.

So if you’re planning a trip abroad to this beautiful place, make your list of things you must see, but be sure to block out some time for not seeing anything at all. Just some time to get lost someplace special. These are without a doubt, always my most special days. And they will live in full HD color in my mind forever.

My Very Own Back to School Day

I started taking a writing class last night. We will meet every Tuesday until December and I have to admit, there is so much about the class itself Id like to write about it. The way it surprised me and the way nearly every person in it could be dead ringers for British celebrities and how we take breaks for tea and biscuits and also how every person in that class is a better writer than I am which makes me feel both very intimidated and excited.

But I will let that experience marinate for another day or two before I attempt to write about it and instead invite you to read a poem printed out and given to us by the instructor. It’s by Margaret Atwood, whose Handmaid’s Tale has been back in the spotlight for some time now. 

I cannot accurately convey how I felt reading this. On the one hand it sort of inflated me like a balloon. And in the other it reduced me to bone and bits. 

The entirety of it is a masterpiece, of course, but there were moments I had me to quietly take deeps breaths to keep from bursting into tears in my seat and crying into my teacup. That would have made quite the impression!

I’m happy to report I was able to maintain my composure.

And here is the poem.

The Broken Things

It tumbled out of the cabinet quick as a wink and fell apart with the same dainty and delicate noise you’d expect from a sound effect in an animated film. Pretty glass in pieces, and then silence. We all sat still with wide eyes and breath held in our breadbaskets for a moment, and then, ever so slowly all eyes were on me. They were looking for a reaction, but I surprised myself by not having a reaction lined up for something like that. Instead I just sat and stared and listened to their voices. “I’m sorry, mama.” she said. And it wasn’t the off handed sorry you dole out when you’re in someone’s way, or the sorry she’s sometimes forced to offer up when she’s unleashed her own personal teenage brand of fire on her brothers. She meant that sorry, I could hear it. She knew that broken thing mattered.


The other voices at the table started to find their words too. “That was her grandma’s.” “Oh no.” “Look, I think it can be glued.” But I was already transfixed on that crackling filmstrip in my mind, playing back memories, where that butter dish served as a lovely ornamental prop in so many scenes from my life.


Her hands on that butter dish as she lay it on the Christmas table and the Thanksgiving table and the ordinary table on that one random Sunday when she said “Well, everybody’s here. So it’s as special as Thanksgiving today.”

When she was washing up. “You have to wash and rinse in hot water, Missy. As hot as you can stand it. Your dishes will dry faster and they won’t have spots.” And I’d marvel. How does she know things like that, I’d wonder, but I never asked. Just nodded my little head and I’ve washed dishes in as-hot-as-I-can-stand-hot water ever since, simply because she said so. I’ve never fact checked her reasons.


The older I got, the deeper the conversations got. “I guess we’re all just trying to be happy,” I’d said.  “Oh I know.” she said. Her hands plunging into that water and out again. Two fish becoming redder and more puckered by the minute.” I’m beginning to wonder what people mean by that word. It’s everywhere, isn’t it? And yet it seems to be nowhere because everybody’s always looking for it. When I was a young girl we were real poor. Living on rations and what little bit my mom and dad could scrape together. It was during the Depression and nobody had anything to speak of. Not in our little country community, anyway. But on some Saturday nights the Brindles, who lived in town would have a dinner party. They’d entertain all the town dignitaries and occasionally an out of towner or two and they’d let my sister and me come and wash the dishes for a whole 25 cents each.  I’d slide my hands into that hot water and it felt so good, I’d have to will myself not climb into that sink and sit down. We didn’t have running water of any kind at home, much less hot water. I’d wash dishes that had strangers’ scraps of potato or half eaten vegetables stuck to them, just loving how shiny those plates could get with the right amount of elbow grease and a good polishing with a clean cotton towel.  When we’d finish, Mrs. Brindle would walk in, and I’d listen to the sound her shoes made – a sort of clickety-clack sound all along the wood floors and I’d try to imagine my own mother wearing shoes like that, even though I figured she could never afford to.  Mrs. Brindle would bend down, get right on our level and look right into our eyes.  Just like we was good enough for her, ya know?  And she’d hand us each a shiny quarter. Our mom told us we could use it at the store for a piece of penny candy and a coke, but the rest had to go toward the next month’s groceries, and I never once complained. I never once looked at that like it was my money to begin with–or even anything I’d worked too hard to earn, on account of loving that little job so much.  

And so at the end of a day like that . . . my hands soft and pink from doing those dishes, or the next day with a piece of stick candy in my mouth, I was happy.  The real kind of happy.  The kind that lasts and spills over into the night when you’re layin’ in bed remembering the feeling.  The kind that makes you look forward to the next day. I didn’t need and airplane or a credit card or a new dress. I got everything I needed from a classy lady who looked me in the eye and smiled over a job well done.  If everyone in the world would just slow down a little bit, maybe just stare at one square inch and try to find something about it that might make them feel something good … they’d realize that the extras they chase here and there and everywhere aren’t making them happy at all. They’re just teasing them.  Frustrating them. Keeping them on the chase.  Chasing things is important, I guess, but so is being content. Put me in the window seat of an old car on a Sunday and take me for a drive, or let me stand here and wash up the kitchen and I’m happy. And you’re here with me and makes me all the happier! Glory!” And then she’d go to humming her hymns in her church choir alto and smile and wash and be happy.


And I was happy too. Next to her. Washing her pretty dishes—that butter dish—in hot water.


“It was an accident.” I said “Don’t worry about it, babe.” 

“We can try to glue it.” she said “It looks like it just broke into a couple of pieces.”

“Just set in on the shelf and I’ll look at later. Let’s eat and talk about your day.”


The fact is, I’m not sure I’d have ever thought about that day at the sink with my grandmother, if that butter dish hadn’t broken the way it did. We only get so many memory recalls in life, and we never know what will summon them from their sleep in our hearts. 


For a brief moment, I was with my grandmother again. We were shoulder to shoulder and I could smell her Avon perfume and the aerosol spray in her hair. I could see the carefully filed ovals of her pail frosted pink fingernails contrasted against the deep pink of her warm hands plunging in and out of that soapy dishwater, teaching me the deeply meaningful lessons of life people so easily forget when they’re out on the hunt for happiness. That broken Franciscan Apple butter dish was just the cost of admission.

I can put butter on a plain plate every day for the rest on my life and it will have been worth it.

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