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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Marbles of Glass

She stumbled out her bedroom door, blearily blinking the heavy sleep out of her eyes. It was difficult to wake up that morning, though it had been like that for most mornings the past week. Her mother and brother sat at the kitchen nook, eating their breakfast and chattering away. They had likely been up for an hour already and were ready to face the day. She, on the other hand, was not.

After she fumbled for a glass of water, she headed back to her room to find something appropriate to wear for church. Her mother's voice called her back. "Did you want to take a look at the Bibles on the table? They're ready to give to Elsie if you are okay with that." Elsie, a 90+ year-old lady was very active in ministry and her project of the month was collecting Bibles to send to people in prison. She'd put a little notice in the bulletin so people could gather up their unused, gathering dust, Bibles lying around the house, bring them to church, and give them to her so she could pass them on to the organization that coordinated it all.

She stepped back into the kitchen and headed for the lace covered table in the family room where a stack of 4 Bibles lay. She picked up the first one, then the second, and the third. "You can't give this away, it's my Bible from Egypt!" she exclaimed. "And this one used to be Mr. Stevens'." Her mother jokingly replied, "You can make a photo copy of the inside cover," as her brother said, "But you're trying to get rid of things." She gathered up the Bibles as she managed to say, "Yes, but not these," and hurried to her room before the tears came. She wasn't fast enough; the emotion had caught her before she could put up her requisite guard, and the words choked in her throat.

She turned to face them and said, "Yes, I am trying to get rid of things, but not things that are important to me." Her mother reassured that it was okay to keep things, that they were not trying to guilt her into giving away her stuff, as she replied, "but you were! by telling me I could make a photocopy or was trying to get rid of stuff." Her brother later apologized, saying he didn't mean to make her upset. She tried to explain why she felt the way she did, but wasn't sure even she understood.

That evening she stood in the room carefully turning the pages in the Bibles. She remembered now that the one she'd used in Egypt was a Bible she'd given to her mother because it was a New King James and had formatted highlighting inside that annoyed her. In reality she'd given the Bible up long ago but in that moment she'd forgotten. It symbolized a happy time, a time when she'd gently carry her Bible with her to church, feeling proud that she owned her very own Bible and could look things up when she needed to.

She reached for the children's Bible, another one she didn't even read, but her name was signed in large pink cursive letters on the front page. It had beautiful pictures inside and she vaguely remembered looking at it when she was younger. She wasn't even sure when she received it, or why it was so important to keep it, but she wasn't ready to let go.

Finally she picked up the last Bible. This was a New Living Translation, one that was severely frowned upon by the conservative organization she worked for. She slowly turned the page and stared at the words written inside in red pen. Dave Stevens. There was an addendum in black, "and his daughter, Maria Lombart." She thought about how there were many blended families where the daughter did not carry her father's last name. The irony of the inscription, however, was that she was not his daughter. Not by blood, at least. She was in his heart, though. His heart that had stopped beating so many years ago.

She reverently stacked the Bibles on top of her dresser and pondered whether or not she would give them away to someone who needed them. Perhaps she might be able to give up the highlighted one and the children's one. She wouldn't be able to relinquish the New Living Translation, however. There were far too many memories attached to those words, words that he had never seen but he had always known. She found the Bible among other books for sale in the library and had snatched it up before anyone else could claim it. Now it was hers, one of the few links she had to someone who had cared so much and loved so deeply.

Perhaps that was why she couldn't give up the bobbing green turtle with the missing leg, the little figurine of the girl and boy sitting on a log and he was missing an ear, the tall green candle that had lost its scent and most of its wick, or the ragged t-shirt with Egyptian hieroglyphics. Each precious piece had a lifetime of memories wrapped around it, almost palpable, almost visible, yet not quite. She held tightly to them for fear that if she let go, she would lose herself as well.

She slept well that night. She dreamed of cream covered cakes, guitars and family singing, riding a train through the countryside, late night football games, learning to ski, and running through the African rain. And softly, quietly, each memory wrapped itself around her and held her close.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To Fill the Fall Air

My room is filled with books. I've spent my life writing. And yet, when I find myself facing a simple requirement of a 300-word post, my mind freezes. I'm terrified I won't be able to create in academic terminology what they are looking for. If you ask me to describe, to feel, to experience, to express in words the blink of a moment, that I can do.

I hurried into the building, blowdryer in one hand, phone & keys in the other. I'd parked in the disabled parking space temporarily, even though I knew I shouldn't, but it was private property so I figured 3 minutes wouldn't make a difference. I found her room on the ground floor, knocked loud enough so she could hear, then handed her the appliance through the cracked door.

Deciding to take the back door out since it was closer to where I'd parked, I found myself stopping my rapid pace to descend the steps slowly. It was dark and I didn't want to twist an ankle or stumble. The door had thrown me out into the fall air, though, and I inhaled as deeply as I could. I was searching for something. A scent of yesterday, perhaps. Smoke from burned cookies in a microwave, a man's cologne, Soft Scrub from when the ants invaded my old studio apartment, the heater's coils. There was nothing.

Only the feel of hard packed dirt beneath my sandals as I fought gravity to make it up the little hill to the right. I knew that dark hill; I had rushed up it many a night from my front porch to reach the safety of the streetlights. I instinctively ducked to miss the low-hanging branches of the tall shrub, though those branches were now well-trimmed. My sandals slipped, but I had moved rapidly enough to make it to the top before I slid.

As the keys turned and I opened my car door, mourning the scents of forgotten memories, I brightened at the thought that came to comfort. It was fall. I would create new memories. This was how life went.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Sip of Life

She stood on the corner, a familiar sight, holding a cardboard sign. I couldn't read the words scrawled in thick black pen, my car was too far back in the line of many waiting impatiently for the obnoxious light to turn green. I didn't need to know, though, what it said. I already knew.

It was a rushed afternoon, that day. I'd left my GPS at home, couldn't find the charger in my muddle of belongings, so I'd looked up the general vicinity of it all and taken off. I had to do two pickups before 5 pm, then shuttle the materials back to their destination by 6. I was hoping the hour commute wouldn't be extended too much with the jam of weekend traffic.

As I swerved into a parking spot directly in front of the last business, picked up the two heavy boxes, and retraced my tire tracks back to their return route, I thought about how hungry I was. I wanted a snack, something sweet, and I remembered a great little cupcake store just three blocks down. If I popped in I could pick up something for the drive home. . .

It was then that I saw her. She was dressed in shorts and a blue shirt, sweater tied around her waist. It was too hot for September, yet she stood unfaltering in the sun's heavy rays, holding up her sign and facing traffic. I breathed an inward sigh of relief that when the light changed I would be able to speed right by her, rather than waiting, parked a foot away while she stared at me, waiting for humanity to register.

I thought about my cupcake. I thought about the hundreds of cars, thousands perhaps, that had passed by this woman today. She stood there, unashamed, brave, strong, a piece of cardboard conveying her only thoughts. We closeted ourselves in metal containers, hid behind dark glasses, and kept our faces turned so we wouldn't see. We sped past to Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wendy's to spend more on a cup of coffee than we were willing to squeeze out a 3-inch-rolled-down-window. We would repeat the process daily, whether we saw a cardboard sign or not.

Celine Dion sings a heart-wrenching song, Love is all We Need, and one line in there haunts me.  "Why don't people seem to care at all, as long as it's not about them?" That woman who was standing there needed help. Sure I don't know whether she was looking for money for drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, or whether she was hoping for a few dollars so she could have a simple meal. Yet in that moment that each of us was faced with the opportunity to surround her with love and compassion, we pretended we couldn't see her need. It was easier that way.

I don't know how I can change the way I react to the needy, whether deserving or not. As a single woman I often find myself fearful to help, afraid that if I do I will become the next statistic on the ten o'clock news. Yet it seems we should be taking some form of responsibility and turning that into concrete actions. Why is our cup of coffee more important than a life?