Thursday, January 29, 2015

Someone made that chair

  A while back we visited a shop called “Empty the Nest.” It’s a small store front stuffed with all manner of junk and treasure. It specializes in helping people “empty their nests” (or their parents' nests) of things they simply don’t know what to do with. You can find a vintage apron. A dresser Grandma owned. Fishing tackle. A box of buttons. A zip lock bag full of drill bits. I usually try to stay away from such places, but that’s where I found a “gasp.” Carelessly cast across a dirty shelf and hiding beneath a broken violin, a gleam of persimmon caught my eye. I lifted the box and there lay – a hand-woven, hand-dyed wool rug. It is small, only about two by two and a half feet, old, but exquisite. The colors are still vivid. No wear or flaws. Some artisan made a perfect rug a long time ago. I exhaled and looked over my shoulder, suddenly filled with an anxious need to own it. Would someone grab it from my hand shouting, “MINE!”? I wondered if I could mount a defense for spending money on it? It was my birthday – it was. Could it be a gift to self from self? Whoever priced it must have sensed that it had some value. I had to pay $25.00 for it. So there it was: an Indian-type rug, perfect for the “baked clay” wall color in the bedroom of our new home. I only wish I knew more about its origin.

That rug was what Maira Kalman would call a “favorite thing” something that makes you gasp with delight. Those are the things, she writes, that are worth keeping. Because of her illustrated book – My Favorite Things and her work (she calls her work “curating a life”) for a museum, I have a fuzzy little gauge, a sweet reminder that it’s okay to keep a few things you really like even as you simplify life. You might even admit you love them. This past year has been one of letting things go before we made our big move last May. Things were given away. Sold on Craig’s list. Taken to Salvation Army. Dumped or recycled. Some things were a little hard to give up – like the fragile “Flow Blue” antique china I inherited from Denis’ great-grandparents. A big old buffet with wood inlay from the 1940s. Those two particular things were easier to give up because a family member was delighted to have them. It was a relief to fling other things out of the house. Old paintings and faded photographs that made me grimace, not gasp – Gone! A large patchwork quilt kept for years out of guilt – Gone! Years ago it was a gift from Denis’ step-grandmother. Wouldn’t that normally be a welcome gift? You would think. But this was one ugly quilt with large patches of polyester prints from old dresses backed by a muddy gold fabric, she warned me I had better appreciate that quilt because it had taken her a long time to make it! So I kept it year after year, even after she died. It didn’t even reinvent itself to become an interesting retro piece of Americana. It remained repellent. I gave it away to someone who dumbfounded me by liking it.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, “I understand that not EVERYthing needs to make me gasp. I don’t want to have a hard time breathing when I climb into bed at night. I mean. There needs to be calm scenes. Functionality. Quiet colors. Soft beds. Crisp sheets. None of that has to make me gasp. We understand. But it is a useful measure I’m going to be checking in with now and then.”

As it turns out, because of a broken ankle, I’ve had more occasion to enjoy it as it hangs on the wall of our bedroom. Certain patterns and colors make me happy. In a Japanese philosophy  called Naikan, people are reminded “to be grateful for everything. If you are sitting in a chair, you need to realize that someone made that chair, and someone sold it, and someone delivered it – and you are the beneficiary of all that. Just because they didn’t do it especially for you doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed to be using it and enjoying it. …[thus] life becomes a series of small miracles, and you may start to notice everything that goes right in a typical life and not the few things that go wrong.”  - The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.


Douglas Koch said...

A creative author may weave and stitch simple words and leave us all a GASP.

Sandra Oster said...

This past 6 years has been a time to let many things go, and yet I still have too much! Thank you for helping me to learn that in receiving, giving, getting and letting go, all are part of the journey of this life.