Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Chipped Vase

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Wisdom can be found in the most unexpected places. Glancing through the Astrology column the other day, I read that one should never despise a gift—no matter how poor—since it might be the only thing that the giver had to give.

Most people would agree. But, I wondered, isn’t it human nature to be more delighted with the more elegant, the more elaborate, the ‘better’ gift? Though we are taught to value each present, what birthday child treasures a small gift as much as some special thing he has always wanted? And though we exclaim with delight over all that we are given, perhaps our inner response is not the same for every offering.

Then, still wondering, I remembered something that happened had long ago. In that memory I was a child watching my mother arrange flowers in a new vase.

Actually, it wasn’t a new vase at all. It was so shopworn that the flowers that were painted along the side had faded, and there was a big chip at the top. My mother had a very large supply of every kind of vase, so why this one?

She smiled  at my question. “It’s from Mrs. Kono,” she said.

Even more curious! Mrs. Kono was the rag picker lady who passed our house each day. Neighbors whispered that she was homeless, that she seldom bathed, that she was always drunk. Nobody had a good word to say about her, but Mrs. Kono owned a much loved dog, Shiro, and she and my mother had bonded over their pets. They had many long conversations, and often Mrs. Kono would go on her way with snacks for Shiro and a bouquet from my mother’s garden.

“She knows I love flowers,” my mother explained, “so she wanted me to have this vase. She found it and thought I would like the pretty thing.” But, I protested, it was old, cracked, and not pretty at all. Why give such a thing as a present?

My mother explained that Mrs. Kono was very poor. “But she thought of me. I think that was kind, don’t you?” Then she carried the chipped vase to the living room and set it in a place of honor.

I remembered the sunlight that slanted on the chipped vase and on my mother’s face as I recollected the truth of a lesson learned long ago. In our too often materialistic society, the gift can easily become more important than the giver. It is in honoring both that we realize the value of our own humanity.

Arranging flowers,

Sunlight golden on her face

And on the old vase.

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The Healing Camera

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Usually I prefer the same route on my morning walk, opting for  the comfort of a known path. But the recent tragedy in Boston has lain heavy on my heart, and I know too well that the world is not always comfortable. So in an attempt to let the natural world heal this darkness, this morning I am taking my camera with me.

For the past few days I have walked at a steady clip lost in my own dark thoughts.  Today, though, the camera commands attention. Stop, it says, look at that tree full of brand new leaves! Those leaves will not stay that soft green for long.  Stop this very minute and take a picture!

            So I stop and look. I have always loved the first leaves of spring… they have a color that’s almost translucent green, a fragile beauty that promises hope and new life. They make me think of Frost’s lovely poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I have seen these leaves so many times before, have read the poem often, and yet each seems to take on a deeper meaning today.

The new leaves of spring

Are like each golden moment…

Precious and fleeting.

            When I start to walk again, I do so under a rain of cherry blossom petals. Most of the flowers have gone, but the few that still remain have their own beauty. Ordinarily I would glance at them and walk by, but today I realize that these are brave survivors of rain and wind. Their time in the sun is over, yet they dance as they send their petals earthward.

Their life, so fleeting

Is like the first touch of spring

A promise of life.

Have I been walking blind all these years? It seems so. I take photographs of the way trees spread their branches, the rugged details of their trunks. A bluebird on a mailbox begs my attention, and the camera obligingly captures the moment. And there… a yellow and black butterfly is fanning itself on a patch of daffodils. It is half hidden, yellow against gold, and I might have missed it if my camera wasn’t with me.

But of course there is a camera that is always with me—only I don’t use it as much as I should.  My eyes are cameras, my mind is (or should be!) far sharper and more powerful than the Nikon in my hand. Be aware in the moment is something I have heard often, and at times of trouble the moment seems even more important. Though there is darkness, there is surely light—like the light that filters through branches brave with new leaves.

A soft breeze has set these leaves dancing and I stop to admire them once again. Not with my camera this time but with my whole concentration. For I know that this golden moment cannot stay… except in memory.

If sorrow returns

I will still hoard these treasures

That can heal my heart.

"Hello!"

“Hello!”

Seeing the Face Inside the Stone

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I’ve read that Michaelangeo ‘saw’ a completed sculpture inside each new block of marble. The figure was there, he said, he had only to chip away the stone and free it.

I believe it. The eye of a true artist can see what few can. Naturally it takes a combination of hard work, technique and artistry to produce art, but the eye is what makes us see the face inside our personal blocks of stone. Not that the eye always cooperates. When I face a piece of fabric which I hardly remember buying or face the blank computer screen which practically sneers at me, I have the greatest desire to chuck the dreadful thing out of the window.

I suspect that we all have been there. There are times when we question the clarity of our vision and wonder why we even bother. No doubt even the great Michaelangelo had such days.  But sometimes everything falls into place; a line in a newspaper or a slice of conversation catches the mind and a plot leaps into life and proceeds to practically write itself. And sometimes I will look at a piece of fabric and know exactly what  it will become. No pastoral scene here; this bit of cloth will become a far-away planetary system with binary suns and a frozen moon! I don’t know about you, but I live for those days when the eye is in full throttle.

But I’ve learned that the eye is not confined to art.  One evening Mike and I stopped in at a small restaurant after the theater. The play had been charming, but the elderly waitress who served us was anything but. Her expression would have soured milk. She snarled out a demand for our order, practically threw down napkins and silverware, and stalked off muttering to herself. I wondered whether we should leave and said as much. Mike said that since we were there, we might as well stay. “Perhaps,” he added, “she’s had a bad day.”

No wonder, with that attitude! I almost wished that she would forget about serving us—but a few moments later she came marching along with our drinks and dessert. As she slapped them down in front of us, Mike asked peaceably, “Hard day for you?”

She looked surprised and then everything changed. Her mouth softened, her shoulders—so stiff a moment ago— slumped. And standing there she told us of her child’s illness, her inability to pay for treatment, and the worry she had kept within herself all day. As the words tumbled out, her eyes filled with tears. “You’re the only ones who asked,” she whispered.

And I understood that I didn’t need to create great works of art or write the best novel of all time. To have the eye one only needs to see inside the stone that too often hides the human heart.

Imprisoned in stone

Lies the greatest masterpiece…

Now, work to free it!

Binary Suns

 

About Failure… And the Wisdom Of Flowers

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My daffodil hasn’t bloomed yet. I checked on the way to begin planting herbs in the garden, and it is still in bud— showing color but still furled tight. Its sisters have bloomed already and are doubtless wondering what’s going on with their sib, but my daffodil is okay with that. It’s simply waiting for the right moment to bloom.

Flowers have their own wisdom.  Issa, one of the old haiku masters, recognized this and wrote:

Live in simple faith

Just as this trusting cherry

blooms, fades, and falls.

                           -Issa

Flowers are also pretty brave.  Delicate, gentle souls that they are, they wait all year to grace the trees and bushes or the small, tender shoots that spring out of the ground. They come no matter whether the temperature has hit the freezing mark or unseasonably hot. They come whether the gardener is skilled or merely bumbling along—like me. They know what it is that they have to do, and they quietly go about doing it.

I thought about flowers today as I re-read a thoughtful post about rejection that was written by one of my SCBWI colleagues. This resonates because who amongst us has not been rejected? The snub on the kindergarten playground, the scorn of the popular kids during middle school, and—woeful, indeed—the pangs of unrequited love! Nor is that the end of it, for there is still the workplace to contend with. Those of us who write or paint or stitch our dreams onto paper or canvas or cloth feel the sting of rejection many times, as small reflections of ourselves venture out into the world only to be met with denial, or even worse, indifference

When I was young, my Uncle Harry would quote Kipling’s poem “If” to me whenever some enterprise of mine had failed. He would always emphasize the line, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,” and this would either cheer me up or make me so mad that I would go and try again. Getting mad does work, sometimes.

Actually, most of us lick our wounds and soldier on, but there are times when we just haven’t got the energy to field one more form rejection letter. It’s all very well to quote poems or statistics or to say that Pearl Buck’s magnificent work, The Good Earth, was rejected over twenty times, but sometimes our source of moxie does run dry. At times like these perhaps it’s no comfort to be told that many psychologists believe that failure builds strength and that strength builds confidence and that confidence eventually wins the prize.

For myself, when my resolve has dipped to an all time low, I go out into the garden and plant something. Then I sit back and look at the mound of earth into which I have dropped seeds and think—now, something wonderful is going to begin. These small seeds are tough! They will push roots down and seek nutriments and moisture, their leaves will reach up and out of the dark earth, they will strengthen, and soon there will be buds and flowers. No defeatist thoughts for these guys. Their goal is to get out there and flourish, and flourish will! And if they can do it, surely I too can find my way into the sun. And some day that daffodil is going to bloom!

This one tiny seed

Is full of  marvelous  dreams

And untold courage.

"Another Garden"

“Another Garden”