Untidiness and Beauty

Well it’s been a week of angst and dread and anticipation so let me entertain you with a little story about how things went down on Cheeky Street.

It was last Sunday and I was in search of my authentic strand of pearls (because, like most women, I have numerous fake ones). I am not known for my tidiness or organization so off to my rat-packing closet I went with a mild sense of dread in pursuit of said strand. There is one box in the back of my closet that I have tossed sentimental things in over the years. I’ll throw something in and forget about it because going down the emotional rabbit hole of examining the contents in the box is often too much.

We have lived in our current home 10 years now so it’s been at least that long since I have taken a peak in the box in the back of my untidy closet. That’s how long it’s been since I have worn pearls. One has to ponder what kind of life, as a woman, one has been living that is completely devoid of my favorite jewel, but this is a subject for a different story.

It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. So astonishment must be something similar – in my view, it is struggle plus perspective.

I was not emotionally prepared for the 3 things I found in this box instead of my strand of pearls:

  1. A beautiful snapshot of my parents visiting me and my sister in our apartment for Thanksgiving over 30 years ago. They were struggling and, not coincidentally, they were the age I am now. In the thick of a midlife reckoning . Children raised, empty nest, left to stare at the walls or make deliberate choices about the rest of the journey, together or apart. It stunned me. A wound broke open I thought had long healed. There they were, the 2 people that raised me sitting on the cheap sofa my sister and I shared in our little apartment as young women. Mom and Dad, my biggest heroes. The perspective I have after 30 years of living my own struggles shone a bright light on the beauty of what they did for each other and our family. They stayed the course and supported each other until the end, as the vow “until death us do part” said. Holding that photo in my now wrinkled hands with the ability to put myself squarely in the middle of their struggle with some inkling of how it felt for them made me proud to be their seventh child. And proud to be made of the same persevering cloth they are.

2. A love letter from my husband written during a painful turning point in our marriage. How it is I determined that this letter, among several, should make its way into this particular box full of memories, I wish I knew. Juxtaposed with the photo of my parents at midlife, the letter marking a difficult crossroads with my husband pointed toward a theme: struggle and love are one. We lose our way occasionally and what is the one thing that helps guide us? Love. I started to think that maybe these memories were tucked away in a box in the back of my closet because I wasn’t ready to deal with the pain or release the anger and resentment. Thankfully, the past 5 years of my life have been largely about confronting resentment and finding ways to assemble some tools in my life for managing it. I am glad I have stayed in the struggle for my marriage and our family, just as my parents did. My husband and I have often joked we could write a book about the huge financial and career challenges life has thrown at us and from which we emerged stronger and happier. Maybe we will.

3. Finally and perhaps most preciously, several envelopes of my children’s baby teeth. I told my son last Sunday what I had found and he was completely grossed out. “Why would you save something so gross, Mom?” he wanted to know. I thought to myself, “because you were mine.” And that’s another paradox of love, isn’t it, particularly the love for a child. I kept these momentos of childhood to remember the passage of time and hold close to my heart the struggle and beauty of caring for something outside myself, in my case 2 somethings, my daughter and son.

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed,” Antoine Exupery

I never found the damn pearls. I did find empirical evidence of a life well lived, however. If there were ever a question that my parents or husband loved me, all I had to do was look inside the untidy box at the back of my disorganized closet. Sometimes life reminds us there are more important things than possessions. I am completely grateful and surrender to those times.

My son brought this beautiful croton leaf inside yesterday afternoon as he was helping my husband rake. He knew I would cherish its beauty, something he has always known about his Mom. As the seasons change and he prepares to leave the nest for good, my heart aches once again with dread of the pain of seeing his empty room and missing the sound of his shotgun laugh. Maybe this leaf will go in the untidy box and one day many years from now I will rediscover it and remember yesterday with pride, love and a heart filled with gratitude for a life well lived.

5 thoughts on “Untidiness and Beauty

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