all of the selves we Have ever been
Ever have one of those days?
You wake up and you’re already tired?
And then a stink bug lands on your face,
and you slap yourself in the eye as you leap out of bed, tearing a toenail in half from sudden hard contact with the bed frame. You go for a morning jog and your bra strap breaks. One of the girls gets loose and you take a left uppercut to the chin with every stride. Instead of the runner’s high that typically fuels your day you find yourself miserable, praying to make it home before there’s a full knock out.
Starving, you pour your cereal only to find that there is but a teaspoonful of milk left in the carton, and you rue the day you became the Restocker-in-Chief. Disgusted, you skip breakfast even though your stomach grumbles that you are making a big mistake.
Everything about this new day screams: Retreat! And yet you soldier on.
You step into the shower where the full-on hot is barely warm. You get yourself and the children out the door. Everyone has their bags, their folders, their lunches, and their signed permissions slips. Your note says: Get milk.
You endure the traffic and the road construction while fretting over that darn tire pressure light glaring at you. The first to arrive at work, you switch on the lights and make the coffee. You turn on the computer and are faced with a technical difficulty. The bot chat proves worthless. You get to a customer service rep who you know is reading from a script. Before you are completely hypnotized by the repetition, you try to come up with your own solution to the problem, something that won’t involve job loss or prison time.
The day wears on. You stay on the job, and the work gets done. You provide for your family, and you help a few strangers along the way. There will be no extra credit for all of the terrible things that you thought about but did not do. You did not leave your litter on the running path. You did not explode in a fit of road rage at your fellow rush hour travelers. You did not ridicule the customer service representative. You did not quit.
In life, it is the small things that break us, and we never know what sorrows or fears are in the bags of our fellow travelers, the things that leave them too short on strength to take on all of the small stuff. We underestimate and undervalue the everyday bravery it takes to endure so many small things.
Now some may say that is too negative. They may see the empty milk carton as half full, and perhaps it is they who left it on the shelf, but it is the person who is sure that the carton is empty and who stops at the store to replace it that is both a realist and an optimist. There will be milk tomorrow.
With advancing age, I have come to realize how much everyday bravery it has taken to get me to where I am today. Now, when I see people receiving awards, I think about their talent for sure. Maybe it is beautiful writing that results in a Pulitzer Prize. And then I think of the editor who perfected every sentence despite the whining of her stable of writers, and the lowly intern who read the first draft from a mile deep pile of submissions and recognized that he had found something special, or the secretary who answered a hundred calls from impatient submitters, or that maintenance man who came to work in a snowstorm and turned on the lights, or the typesetter who chose the font and made the book real. In the background of all of their lives, there were sick children, aging parents, past-due bills, major disappointments, a myriad of small obstacles. And no awards.
Self-help gurus advised us long ago not to sweat the small stuff. Easy for them to say. I am pretty sure that the world keeps turning and the winners keep winning because of the farsighted courage of all the quiet and sweaty people who faced down the small stuff.
There are some stains we treat and scrub.
We want them OUT.
But there are others that become part of the fabric of our lives. Unexpected souvenirs of people, times, and experiences we cherish. We want them to remain FOREVER.
I began the day searching for my light gray sweatpants, the ones with the white paint stains on the knees. My Saturday clothes. I had things to do.
The paint stains are a happy reminder of living in Missouri and helping a friend to prepare his new home for move-in day. It was a different Saturday as we stirred paint, filled trays, and loaded the rollers. We worked across the room from each other sharing stories and anticipating the new life my friend would have in the freshly painted rooms. A year later, I would bring a little of my friend with me when I returned to my home in Ohio. The stains on my sweats remind me of that pleasant paint-filled Saturday and a kind and faithful friend.
As I prepare my breakfast, I see the blue and white enameled butter dish with the worn finish. A hint of rust hides under the lid. The loop of a handle has a dark spot where I place my thumb. I imagine my grandmother holding this butter dish in her hands and lifting the lid. It is her thumb that wore the spot on the handle. For a moment, my Sita is present with me in my kitchen.
I sit in my rocking chair to sip some morning tea. My bottom slides over the well-worn seat helping to erase the wood’s finish. The arms are worn as well. Rocking the chair back and forth, I remember the purchase of this chair from an Amish furniture store. It is the chair in which I rocked both of my babies to sleep each night. Worn as it is, I don’t care to have it refinished. I don’t want to disturb my memories of that tired mother or of those sleeping babies.
On the wall adjacent to my rocking chair is a plate rack that contains four angel plates. Each white plate is decorated with the colorful image of an angel in a distinctive pose. One angel is ringing a bell, another holding a star. A third is playing a harp. The last angel is releasing a dove. The last plate was broken into several pieces during a move. I glued it together. On close inspection, the repair can be seen, but I don’t care. The plate stays. It is part of a set--a set of plates, and a set of friends. Some of my dearest friends, godparents to my children, gave me those plates on a Christmas day long ago. The plate rack was a find during an adventure with a new friend who has entered the ranks of dearest friends.
I go to the storage cupboard for a box and spot a battered suitcase. It is very large. I never use it, but my baby girl, Emily, took it on a trip to Europe. She was in college and the first of our family to travel abroad. The suitcase still has the tags from her trip. Emily turned thirty this year, but I retain a piece of her youth in a suitcase in my closet.
There are other scuffs, stains, cracks, and chips that fill my home—a child’s greasy hand prints, scuff marks from little feet. Blood stains from boo-boos. Chipped dishes from dropped spoons.
I cherish all of these reminders of a life lived and of people loved. Scuffed, stained, cracked, or chipped, I want them IN. FOREVER.
You might say I am small-minded.
Others seem enamored with rocket ships that fly to the moon, growing wireless networks, or classy automobiles. All of the Gs: g-force, 5G, G-class…That is all out of my realm. Unless they are referring to a new bra cup size, I’m not really interested.
My mind and my money are on small strokes of genius. That’s my g: things that make life better for all of us. Things that stand the test of time. Things I understand. Things I can afford.
Take the ice cream cone. Now that is pure genius. Hand-sized. You eat the dish and the evidence at the same time. Nothing to wash! Portable. Light weight. Stackable. Sells for pennies. What more can you ask for in a single product? What would summer be without ice cream cones? Might as well hold back the sun and live in a season of darkness.
And who thought to put toilet paper onto a roll? Is that person in the designers’ hall of fame or memorialized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The manufacturers can make the paper softer, stronger, more colorful, and even scented, but the beauty is in the roll. Intellectuals might debate the proper manner in which to hang toilet paper—should it be over or under? Who cares?! It’s on a roll!!!
Staying with the paper-hygiene family, how about the soft, dry tissues packed into a pop-up container? If you have ever had to carry a soggy cloth handkerchief glued together by snot, then you know the inventor of Kleenex deserves a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian.
Moving on. I still love a good, sharp pencil. My mind is like a Formula 1 race car when I have that old-fashioned, skinny tool in my hand. I’d like to pay homage to the person who thought to put a tiny eraser on top of a pencil. I hope that he or she went straight to the head of the class and got a full scholarship to MIT.
And, finally, what about the humble fork? While many traditions eat with their hands or scoop food into bits of bread or use chopsticks, I gotta say, I love a fork. It gets the job done whether I’m preparing food or eating, and it keeps my hands clean too. It is easy to wash, maintenance free, and lasts a lifetime unless you have children who manage to misplace their silverware or take it to school for science class or show-and-tell.
With the world in so much chaos, I prefer to focus on the small things. Things that stand the test of time. Things I understand. Things I can afford.
If you want to talk more about this, call me on my flip phone.