It’s on the corner of Center and High streets, a lovely brick building that once housed the town library. The morning sun slants in the windows, creating an airy space within; the afternoon sun glances off this side window, and mirrors the dazzling sun-on-waves found on the river just down the street. There is a grace to this old building, and the town is made more beautiful for it.
But give it more than a passing glance and the neglect cannot be overlooked. The bricks are no longer held fast by mortar; it’s only a matter of time, and not a lot of it, before whole sections are sheared off by the erosive effects of weather and age. No matter how well constructed this building was, regular care and maintenance are necessary to keep it solid and safe for use – regular care that was withheld for at least the past twenty years.
In this building, I see the beauty of craftsmanship, a structure built to serve this town for hundreds of years. In its disrepair, I see a town’s lack of respect for its own inherited history and beauty. There’s a stinginess to withholding basic repair to save a few dollars, and a lack of understanding that routine maintenance is necessary for all things.
I hope the town invests in this building, restoring it to serve as a resource for decades to come. But leaders unwilling or unable to recognize the necessity of routine maintenance aren’t likely to invest in an expensive restoration.
If leaders cannot see the necessity for investing in what is right before their eyes, what are the chances that they will invest in the intangible and sometimes invisible elements that foster communal life – services for the elderly and poor, resources for the very young, and the preservation of the local environment and all that live therein?
A couple years back, she was a birthday present from my son, Colin. I’d never seen an all-white nesting doll before. I thought Colin picked it because it would show up on the dark bookcase shelves – something the traditional multi-colored nesting dolls might not. I was wrong.
Not about the showing up part, but about her true nature. Sure, she held two other nesting dolls, each with different flower pattern on the front. I thought the change in pattern was just for fun. I was wrong.
My nesting doll isn’t just decorative, lovely as she is. She is a set of measuring cups. The tops are the thirds: 1/3 cup, 2/3 cup, and 1 cup; the bottoms are the quarters: 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, 3/4 cup. The patterns on the bottom make it easy to tell one size from the other – a clever way to keep measuring mistakes to a minimum. This nesting doll set is sturdy, washes easily, and takes up less space than the usual 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 1 cup sets.
She sits on an open shelf in my kitchen – simple and pretty when not in use. She measures dry goods when I’m cooking – simple and accurate when in use. Form and function residing together in a thoughtful, simple, gift. If that isn’t a bit of kitchen magic, what is?
What Do You See?
They began as six hollyhock plants, three a lovely pale yellow, three a deep scarlet. Being an heirloom variety, they reseeded themselves every year – yellow on one side of my front walkway, scarlet on the other.
Ten years after they were planted, something changed; the yellow gave way to something closer to a very pale pink, and the deep scarlet lightened. A few years after that, the flowers opened with two colors: peach and yellow on some, lavender and cream on others.
Over the years, the plants have moved up the walkway on both sides. I’m never sure where the newly reseeded ones will emerge, and I adjust the placement of my annuals – an opportunity to rethink my flower beds every year.
Weeding the beds the other day, I saw in these changes my life. In the nineteen years I’ve lived in this place, I’ve gone from a mother of small children to a mother of 20-somethings. My life pattern is different, growing out of changes that are beyond my control.
If someone had asked me nineteen years ago what life would be at this point, I doubt I’d have landed on what it is. But this life has grown out of the older one, changing with each season, flowering in new ways.
I can’t control it, and I can’t predict exactly what the coming nineteen years will bring. Isn’t that amazing?
What Do You See?
Photograph by Donna Eby
A sculpture in stone: a woman walking in a beautiful green space. Unless something happens to knock her over, she will be standing amid the green long after I’ve left this life. She’ll be worn away by the elements, but that will take a very long time – a gradual blurring of her features and her skirt folds. She may even outlast the tree above her. For decades to come, she will offer everyone who passes the chance to stop walking just long enough to meet the beauty this world offers.
I am not made of stone, and I have changed from a newborn baby to nearly retirement age in these past fifty-seven years. I won’t get the chance to experience everything I’d like before a stone marks my grave, and I won’t appreciate all the experiences I did have as much as I should. But I recognize the holy privilege of drawing breath for a brief span of time, and the wonder of walking in this green place.
What Do You See?
Origami is an art and a mystery to me. I enjoy watching a flat piece of paper turn into something quite different – a crane, a bird, a bat, or a Christmas tree. Or a rose and a boat, like the ones above.
You can’t tell by looking at them, but they share a common attribute: both require my participation after they are folded. The boat needs me to set it afloat – something I’ve done with dozens of boats in tubs, rivers, and ponds. When it gets waterlogged, I restore it by lifting it out of the water to dry. Origami boats, with a little help, have several voyages in them.
The rose is different because it’s not just a rose. A soft press of my fingers turns it into a cube; my gentle pull on the corners recreates the rose. It cannot be what it was created to be without help.
A beautiful human life seems to require the same: loving creation and another’s help for it to be what it was meant to be. Weighed down by the sea of reality, everyone needs a lift and a time for restoration. Stuck in one place, a gentle push or pull is necessary to shift into another one.
What a blessing, to be interdependent in this God-created world.
What a blessing, to have the honor of being the helping hand.
What Do You See?
Instead of flowers, Ben’s family asked for donations to a Buzzard’s Bay boating program that teaches young people to love and respect the water. The Benjamin C Suddard was the result – a restored safety boat with all the necessary power and gadgets.
It’s a fitting way to honor Ben, who loved his family, the Wareham community, the water and coastline. He loved his family business – oyster farming. He loved making beautiful, useful things like benches for the public library. He loved skiing and being in the mountains. Ben loved his life.
I took this picture, one of those gathered to see the boat enter the water for the first time. As it headed out into the setting sun’s path, only the outline could be seen; the details were lost in light. To me, it’s a visual metaphor: the contours of our lives continue on in the world we leave behind. Ben’s will help countless people because he gave of his time and talent to make the world a better, more beautiful place.
What do I see? A life well lived and a spirit embraced by the God who loved him.
What Do You See?
It’s the bottom of the lettuce, the part I cut away to free the leaves for my salad. A rough, flat nub and an inch of tough ends that usually ends up in my compost pile. But set it in the garden bed, and a miracle happens: new leaves begin to grow from the stump overnight. Three or four days later, it’s enough to snip and add to the top of my taco. Even more amazing, the new growth is beautiful to see.
Life from a throwaway, from something that has already fulfilled its primary purpose. Beauty arising from the ordinary. If such remarkable regeneration comes from discarded things, how can anything be impossible?
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11:1, NRSV
What Do You See?
They were nineteen years old when I threw them away. I bought them before Jared was born, when Dave and I lived in New Hope with our toddler son, Colin. You can’t see it, but the soles are split, the laces are frayed (this is the second set of them), and the stitching has given out on the heels. They are permanently bent, as if my feet were still in them, lifting up to take my next step. I took the picture to remind me of how much care and talent went into their creation, and of how they carried me in comfort over countless miles.
Images evoke feelings and memories. The same image can mean different things to different people – over time, they can also mean different things for the same person. For these summer days, I’ll share some images that speak to me – like the boots above. I’ll also post a second picture – one at the end of the post. Without words for a few days, then with a story.
If you are so inclined, tell me what you see. A second set of eyes can bring a new perspective…
Next Image: What Do You See?