America, art, authors, beauty, Life in General

Tapestry of Lives

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Wrapped in on of my Treasures

 

There’s a thrift store I frequent in the little town of Felton CA. In this one stoplight town, in a barn-sized store, at a square counter, works a woman. At first glance she is unremarkable. She is pleasant looking, but not beautiful. She is older, but not old. She is smart, but not genius. Unremarkable.

Except by me, who is about to remark on how very remarkable she is.

Everyday she stands at her post helping people, checking them out with their purchases, showing them the discarded treasures in the glass countered case, directing them to the location of a desired or hoped for item. It’s all second hand stuff, and most of the people who come here do so because they can’t afford to go anywhere else. Some of us could, but prefer reusing and recycling the endless hoards of things that flow through our lives, or we prefer hunting for treasures to the instant but empty gratification of ordering on line. We like the personality of things that have been gently used and loved by others. There’s something special about reading a book and finding a notation in the margin calling attention to a particularly poignant phrase or startling fact. I especially love when people look up a word they don’t know and scribble the definition to one side. Vocabulary speaks volumes. I guess that what it’s for.

I remember my great grandmother, Edith, crocheting and knitting and quilting even at 100, binding together thread and fabric to make beautiful, useful objects that comfort and embrace her family to this day. I have two of her beautiful crocheted blankets and they are family treasures.

But some people stitch things together in a different way. They use words instead of a crochet hook. They let their actions and their empathy create their art. The woman at the thrift store spends the majority of her work time chatting with people. She speaks to each and every customer, even if it’s only briefly. Some, mostly those who seem alone, she goes out of her way to notice, especially the elderly. Calling to them by name if she knows them or asking questions and drawing them out if she doesn’t. “Did you get the water heater fixed?” or “How are you today? Are you staying cool in this heat? You be careful out there.”

The questions matter, of course. But far more important is that she listens to the answers. She ‘oohs’ over phone pictures of dogs and grandkids, she delights in people’s little joys and offers small, but sincere, sympathies, she encourages, hopes, and includes.

So today, when I was leaving I noticed a trinket in the case that was pretty, and I asked about it. She said, “It’s nothing very special, I’ll let you have it for two dollars.”

I said, “Thank you,” and then, feeling that was inadequate, I added, “and thank you for being so kind to everyone who comes in, it really makes a difference to us all.”

She pulled off her glasses, looked me in the eye and said, “I think that’s why I was put on this planet, to be kind to people from a humble place. To…let them know that they are…” she lost the thread, and I picked it up, knit one, pearl two.

“It is something to be ‘seen.’” I told her. “It means a lot.”

She nodded, feeling our smiles link together into lace, the simple words used as stiches that bind random lonely moments into shared experiences. I think she was grateful for the words, but I couldn’t really see clearly as my eyes were tearing up. Such awareness moves me, and I left grateful.

Because, you see, without people like her, those who see everyone as part of the pattern, we would all be tattered scraps fraying in the wind. All of the threads that knit together to make a community, or a family, or a friendship, would lay discarded, tangled, and useless.

But when we care, when we see others, our empathy grows. We begin to bind together, to strengthen from single human strand to twine, and on to sturdier and stronger rope, until we have a bond so strong that we can build with it, sometimes we can make an intricate work of art, and sometimes we can make a tow rope to pull a truck out a ditch, but either way, it takes more than one thin strand.

You are not alone. Why pretend there is strength in that?

Every refusal of someone else’s worth weakens your fabric, leaves you unfulfilled, another project undone, another possibility lost.

I may not have the patience or the skill to make an actual quilt, but I see my life and my exchanges with friends and strangers as a virtual quilt. Every time I stop and speak with someone whose appearance frightened me and find they are kind, I add a panel. Every interaction I notice between others embroiders another flower onto the blanket that lies lightly over my shoulders.

And when I die, I will be wrapped in that gorgeous shroud of moments, knitted together into a tapestry that was my life.

It will not unwind, it will not fade, and it will shimmer even as my memories die away with me. Only I will see this actual blanket, only I will be wrapped in it, but many of the panels or woven scenes will be shared, they will be part of others’ stories as well.

Thank you for seeing me.

Thank you for sharing your silk, your wool, the very fabric that is you.

I see you.

 

Shari, August 27th 2017

Life in General

Speaking Second

With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!
With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!

A few days ago, I spoke at a fundraising luncheon for the La Canada Flintridge Orthopedic Guild. About three hundred or so people attended. It was lovely. Before my little ramblings, they played a short video that introduced our guests of honor. The video told the story of two young girls, both of them albinos, who lived in Tanzania. In some places in Africa, albinos are considered to have magical properties and they are hunted for their body parts.

Though the Guild raises money for a hospital here, they have branched out to help special kids worldwide. As they explained this in the video, they showed how these innocent young girls had lost their parents, and the younger had had her leg chopped off with a machete, and then left to bleed to death. Her older sister helped her, and she survived, but not with adequate medical care or a prothesis, (artificial limb) that worked for her.

So this incredible group flew them both over and provided the care and rehabilitation that they needed. Months of planning and giving and work went into this enterprise, I was awed by the commitment of this group. They have done so much and helped so many people.

Enter me, to their upscale ladies’ charity luncheon. After the short video, which left me in weeping, they brought the girls up. They are sixteen and fifteen, but so very much more childlike than the precocious mall-shopping teenagers most of us are familiar with. Very shyly, standing straight and proud on her new prothesis, the younger girl gave her thanks for all that had been done for her, and her older sister asked to sing a song she had written about their experience.

I don’t remember all the words, but the first verse was about realizing her mother was dead, and the refrain went, “And I cry and I cry, and I shout and I shout, I’m so tired of all the killing.” It was amazing, she sang it with no accompaniment and it was heartrendingly beautiful and moving. And then it was my turn to get up and speak.

The Chairman introduced me  as I was still drying my eyes and trying to clear my throat. I took the mike, walked to the front of this group of charitable people, and said, “I’m supposed to follow that?”

I mean, come on! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage for actors, ‘never work with children or dogs’ because they steal the stage? How about two children who have overcome unbelievable odds just to survive? Who were still so kind and gentle and loving that I wanted to hug them and not stop. I had planned to talk about the courage of some of the families I work with in my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, but the stage was stolen by compassion, by innocence, by courage, and nothing I could have said about bravery and hardship would have meant more. That’s as it should be.

So I changed it up. I talked a bit about my book, about the character of Ellen and how in “Becoming Ellen” she realizes that it’s not enough to just come out of her shell and participate, she realizes that she must contribute to the whole to be whole, something all these people understood. I talked about how my mother, who was there, had raised me to be helpful and kind, and how I had passed those values on to my daughters who still accompany me to many of my charity’s events, including helping to decorate the wards for holidays and the annual PJ party, when they get to meet the kids. From this experience, they grew up knowing that people are people, no matter how they look or how ill they may be.

Then I moved on to discuss the changing landscape of my life now that my girls are growing up. I told them how my husband and I were discussing how integral the girls’ lives and education had been in our everyday lives. Now with one at college and the other one driving, I find myself with more time on my own. I told this crowd of beautifully dressed and graciously behaved men and women that one day, Joseph had looked at me and said, “What are we going to do when they’re gone baby?”

And I’d said, “We’re gonna’ make love in the kitchen.” I mean, I’ll miss the buggers on a day to day basis, sure, but there’s something to be said for getting some freedom back. I might even be able to write several hours uninterrupted...in a row! And I’ll have more time to help others, to do more for the community, to interact one on one with so many miraculous people in the world. They really are out there, and sometimes, they come to visit when you least expect it. Of all the roles we all play in our lives, there is always one that is the most basic and true.

No matter how many parts we take on, how many different jobs we find ourselves doing in our lives, it’s important not to forget the real one, to be you. For me that means lots of laughter, work, and hours of doing nothing other than searching for beauty. Sometimes I find it in the sky, sometimes in water, and very often, in the smile of a child who has suffered beyond belief, but who is not only happy, but grateful.

What more is there to say?

Love to you all.

Shari, November 1, 2015

family, Life in General, parenting

A Premium Perspective.

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Last night I spent the evening helping out with my charity, the Desi Geestman Foundation, as we hosted a party at City of Hope hospital for the pediatric patients and their families. It was a wonderful evening, I saw so many of the families we’ve worked with before, met lots of new people, and stood by in wonder at the joy I saw around me. Every patient and each of their siblings, receives pajamas, slippers, toys, books, a visit with Santa, a yummy dinner, fun and games.

Aside from the families, one of the things I enjoy most is seeing the transformation in attitudes of the people who have come to volunteer. By far the largest percentage of these is a group called, “Assisteens.” This is a very active civic group of, yep you guessed it, teenagers! In a world filled with kids who sometimes have little opportunity to care about much of anything other than material things, it is beyond wonderful to see these thoughtful, outgoing young men and women serving dinners, decorating, playing with the kids, handing out gifts, and generally participating in something bigger and more important than going to the mall, or excelling at a video game.

And as I watch all of them giving, and my own daughter fearlessly charming a sick child with her special brand of humor and fun, my cynicism melts away. Yes, I think, the world is full of hope and good.

These teens won’t all turn out to be movie stars or millionaires, but they will be something better, something stronger than that. They will be people who can look back at their lives and smile. I believe that’s because they will know the value of being a part of something larger than yourself. It’s called community, the word hidden in there is commune, definition—Sharing of thoughts and feelings with others, especially on a spiritual level. Not religious, mind you, but spiritual. My girls have no association with a church or religion, but they are among the most moral and giving people I know.

The trick here, of course, is to turn the attention away from the petty problems and tiny focus of our own lives and be of service to someone else. I can’t even explain it, but I know that it feels so right, that this is something we are meant to do, something that is missing in too much of our modern life. This world where everyone is trying to get ahead and make a million and be envied by others is a lonely one. I’m not saying I’m not guilty of those things too, mind you, hey, I’ve got a house payment, but my attitude has changed over the years. And so have I.

Bottom line, I’m happier now. I divide my time and my efforts much more fluidly than I once did, and guess what? The flow is far more gentle, I find myself moving freely through the mid-stream of life instead of snagging on the branches at the edge of the river.  When I think about what I have, and how I live, I realize that it is enough. I don’t need more jewelry, or a fancier car, or a bigger house. It’s lovely to have those things, of course, if they are important to you, but ultimately, I believe that you will find they don’t make you any fuller or more important than you truly are inside.

Because everyone is already potentially magnificent. Every one of those teenagers left there last night with a new point of view, and a bigger, more shining soul.

Look at that, I already got my first Christmas gift, probably the best one I’ll receive.

Wishing you all the peace and joy of a Community Holiday Season.

Shari, December 8, 2012