My older son headed back to college this morning; my younger has returned to his usual high school schedule. For the first time in over a month, the family routine has returned to its usual configuration. A look over the recent holiday vacation brings to mind: nothing in particular.
We ate the usual meals at their usual times, with conversation spanning a wide range of unimportant topics. There were trips to buy clothes and groceries, and walks around Wareham – solitary, in pairs, and with all four of us. Sorry, Carcassonne, and Risk were set up on the carpet, and jigsaw puzzles took shape on the coffee table. Chores got done and each of us got bored every so often. None of it was remarkable or memorable.
It takes some unstructured, nothing-in-particular time for me to regain the awareness of the mystery that is every person; focus on particular talents and accomplishments can bring a blindness to this sacred truth. For whatever reason, sometimes it’s hardest to see God in those who share my address and name. Looking over a game board, the dinner table, and jigsaw pieces, I caught more than just a passing glimpse.
I like to cook, and I spend a lot of time trying new recipes from Bon Appetit, King Arthur Flour, and my favorite cookbooks. I can work around food allergies and preferences, usually with no more than a minor adjustment here and there. But a weekend guest shined a light on something I hadn’t seen before: I don’t know how to create a good vegan meal, and I don’t have the ingredients necessary to do so. Almost everything I make requires dairy products, eggs, or some form of animal product. Cookies, muffins, rolls – none vegan. Outside of a couple of soups, my basic baguette recipe, granola and hummus, I could offer no more than a cup of coffee, a few nuts and a pbj. Vegetarian I can do: vegan, I can’t.
My vegan guest wasn’t around for any meals except a quick bite of breakfast before heading up to Boston – granola, toast, and coffee covered those. Still, I’m grateful for the awareness of my inability to offer vegans the same hospitality I can offer non-vegans. I’ll enjoy finding a few more recipes, or learning about how to adapt the ones I already know and love. I’m also grateful for the awareness of my dependence on animal products – those that don’t require loss of life and those that do. It brings with it the chance to live life with greater intention and thanks.
I ordered them from the seasonal sale catalogue, September 2000: LLBean leather ankle boots, stitched in Maine. They have kept my feet comfortable and dry for nineteen plus years. I’ve raked leaves, dug garden beds, trimmed shrubs, and chased children in them. For $45 and the cost of two sets of replacement laces, these boots have made my life richer for the miles they’ve carried me. I don’t know who put in the time, effort, and expertise to stitch leather onto sole, but I’ve said many a thanks to him or her. In a world of the disposable, it’s a rare blessing to find a classic designed for long term wear.
I took my last walk in these boots yesterday. The holes and cracks in the soles let in too much water, sand, and mud for use in bad weather or damp terrain. After almost two decades, the time had come to say good-bye. With a prayer of thanks for the life they gave me, I let them go.
For me, these boots hold two truths:
Good craftsmanship enhances life, well worth paying for.
Everything has its time, and that time is finite.
Like these boots, I hope my life’s work turns out to be an example of both.
[Handrail detail, Christ Church Parish, Plymouth, Massachusetts]
A fresh set of eyes and a beginner’s mind find a whole world of wonder and meaning in the very things that most people take no notice of. I’ve run my hand along the rail for years without really seeing its beautifully carved detail. It’s only because I’m working on a “find the image in the sanctuary” game as a way for children of all ages to learn more about their faith that I’ve managed to see what has been in plain sight all these years.
The beauty of the sanctuary as a whole can obscure the details – symbols, words, and colors that tell the story of Christian faith lived in a particular time and place but also taking part in the much larger world of faith. Too much focus on one or two details runs the risk of losing the larger picture. Big picture or small detail: God can draw my spirit into loving communion either way.
One of the blessings of 2020: beauty prayerfully made that deepens faith.
In a few hours, 2019 will bow out and hold open the door for 2020. I’ll be toasting in the New Year with friends – an almost every year gathering for the seventeen years I’ve lived in Wareham. When the festivities end and my husband and I are back home, I’ll take a few minutes to thank God for the year just past; then, I’ll begin 2020 by writing about blessings – the happy ones, sad ones, hard and easy ones. I hope you share a few of your own along the way – conversation is so much more fun than monologue…
Some look at birthdays and the turning of one calendar year into another as significant – bringing new realities and possibilities into being, taking stock of what was to begin the journey into what will be. Others see such days as much like any other – just randomly assigned holidays with no intrinsic value beyond what our imaginations or superstitions assign to them. In my almost fifty-five years on this planet, I’ve gone back and forth between the two. The older I get, the more I believe it doesn’t really matter which side I land on: what matters is the reasoning behind it and the actions that spring out of it.
Birthdays and New Year as significant: These days encourage reflection and can serve to spur me into action because I can’t hide in my daily unthinking routine. And there’s usually cake…
Birthdays and New Year as not intrinsically more significant than any other day: Every day is a new beginning, an opportunity to reflect on life and see in my daily activities the grace of God and the miracle of this life.
Whatever side I land on in 2019, I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for this fragile, imperfect, holy life I’ve been given; I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for the fragile, imperfect, holy lives of everyone I encounter. May I find enough love and wisdom to live this out in 2019.
Happy New Year! Amen.