Saturday, March 15, 2014

keys

A few years ago my mother and I spent a hot summer afternoon in the cool shade of my grandfather's old barn, browsing through boxes and paint-chipped drawers of trinkets and long-forgotten things. Pieces of my grandfather's life as a farmer, carpenter, father, and grandfather passed through our hands as we organized his belongings and reminisced about his life. Among the treasures we uncovered was an assortment of old keys, each with its own unique shape. Some were long and skinny, with pointy tips. Others were short and fat, like children's diary keys. Still others were flat and thin, brittle with age. Each showed years and years of wear from use--rust stains, scratches, dents, and bends. I touched each key, feeling its shape, the cold metal cooling my fingertips. I noticed their colors and wondered about their stories. Who touched these keys and why? To what doors and locks do they belong? Were they cherished, hidden, kept on a ring with other jangling keys, or stowed away in a drawer? Where in the world did they originate and travel? And how did they end up in my grandfather's old barn?

I left my grandfather's farm that day with a new collection of old keys and a yearning to spend just one more afternoon with him.

In the bustle of everyday life the keys ended up tucked away in a drawer of my house, until a few weeks ago. One afternoon as I rummaged through my craft boxes and reorganized an expanding collection of paper supplies, jewelry-making materials, and other crafting tools, the pouch of keys fell to the floor with a jingle. I picked it up, pulled the zipper, and the keys lay there, sparkling in the light. Immediately I thought of my grandfather. I poured the keys out onto the coffee table and assessed them, reacquainting myself with their colors, shapes, and designs. The smell of my grandfather's barn rose with the memory of that long-ago afternoon. One key (work, dark metal, simple, and sturdy) caught my eye. I knew I had to make something with it, so I slipped two jump-rings onto the handle of the key and linked those to a strand of chain, creating a lovely necklace that I absolutely love to wear. It's simple and unique, but the best part about it is that when people ask me about it, I get to tell them about my grandfather.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mr. Elkins

library.reed.edu
I work regular shifts at the reference desk of our local library. Inevitably, at some point during those shifts, I end up spending the better part of an hour researching rather irrelevant, pointless facts for one of the library's most famous and frustrating (but charming) old men around the town in which I live. We'll call him Mr. Elkins.

He rolls up to the reference desk with his push cart, a furry hat hugging his balding head. I no longer have to look up from my keyboard to determine if it's really him approaching because I recognize his shuffle. It's familiar to me now. His disheveled shirts, unbuttoned halfway down his belly, frame curly black chest hairs and a few strands of gold jewelry. There's a gap in his smile where teeth used to be and his fingers are covered in an assortment of gold rings.

Sometimes he unloads the messy contents of his cart onto the reference desk, asking me to research each item and give him a print out of what I find. Sometimes he wants objective answers to very subjective questions. Sometimes he just stands at the reference desk, scattering the items on it with a clumsy turn or excited sweep of his magnifying glass. And sometimes he hurls follow up questions at me for minutes at a time, oblivious to the other patrons waiting for my attention.

My coworkers and I regularly roll our eyes at the mention of this man's name. After all, he's a daily visitor at the library, a dutiful reference desk attendee. On bad days we complain about how socially awkward, impatient, and frustrating he can be. "Doesn't he understand that we have other work that has to get done?!" I sigh and roll my eyes with them, but I almost always walk away from those conversations feeling a bit guilty.

Because really, 1) it's my job to answer questions from the public, no matter what they are (with a few exceptions). Whether all twenty come from one man or twenty men doesn't really matter.

And because 2) Mr. Elkins is a human beinga child of Godjust like me. During those shifts, when I choose to see this man, not as a pest or an inconvenience, but as a child of God, and when I choose to engage and connect with him as a fellow human being, suddenly I feel very blessed. Suddenly, these are the most important conversations of my day.

Mr. Elkins has taught me about patience, kindness, and humilityabout what it really means to love and serve others.

When he turns to leave at the end of the night with his push cart and the pages of information he pays with in pennies, he always says, "Thank you, Sarah." And I know he means it. But, even on the nights when my frustration gets the better of me, I know that I am the one who should be thankful.

So thank you, Mr. Elkins. Thank you for teaching me so much. Thank you for your charming quirks and your toothless smile and your insatiable curiosity.

And you're welcome too. You are always, always welcome.

Monday, December 16, 2013

waking up

Ever woken up one day and realized that you've been muddling through life, completely unconscious to the fact that you just weren't feeling yourself? And it’s only when you finally wake up that you realize you've been muddling through at all?

That happened to me today. I woke up. I felt myself—and that made me realize that I haven’t been feeling myself for about a year or so, maybe longer. I’m not sure why I began to muddle or when I started dragging, or even how it happened. But it did, and suddenly I am awake and aware of it.

This morning I did the dishes, washed some laundry, and went to work—my normal Monday morning. But something happened somewhere in the middle of my day. The heaviness that has been hitching a ride somewhere inside me (and making me feel all tinged with gray and slumped and sad) jumped ship. I’m not sure where or when or why exactly, but it seems to be gone. And I feel good. I feel normal again.

So I am grateful—for feeling myself again and for all of the blessings in my life (like my husband, my parents, my sister, a full-time job, the opportunity to go back to school, new friends, old friends, and countless other wonderful things) for which I have not been grateful enough this past year or so. I look toward Christmas with hope that I might always be conscious of these blessings, and that, in the difficult moments when the tinge of gray attempts to creep in again, they will sustain me.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

chess mates

www.artofmanliness.com
On the rare occasion that I work the library reference desk on Tuesday mornings, I have the lovely pleasure of witnessing something rather wonderful—chess matches—between grandfatherly old friends who meet once a week to challenge their minds and deepen their friendships. They greet one another, their voices gravelly with age, inquiring about family, health, and how they’ve been, then unroll the checkered, felt board and assemble their black and white plastic armies. Silence settles at the table where they sit as the match begins. For hours, these old men shift slowly in upholstered chairs, clasping their hands together on the table, their knuckles knobby and worn. Occasionally I hear whispered comments over the battlefield, small congratulations concerning small victories won. They mutter to themselves, hold their foreheads in the palms of their hands, strategizing. Well into the match I begin to hear quiet declarations.

“Check.”

I know the end is near then. Opponents on the defensive sit back in their chairs and nibble on finger nails, the gold of a wedding band glinting in the light. The aggressor leans forward, eager for victory, an excited smile making wrinkles in his cheeks. Inevitably, someone wins and someone loses, but every match ends with a handshake and gentlemanly congratulations, chuckles and sincere grins. The warmth of their bond fills the library.

And I wonder. Will the little boys of today, when their hair grays and thins, when the time comes when they talk of grandchildren and retirement, meet in the library to play chess? Will they build this kind of gentle camaraderie? Will they stare intently at the checkered board and plastic pieces of an ancient game? Will they sit in the silence and share the experience with other men like them?

Or am I witnessing a special generation of men?

I think yes, but I hope they will not be the last.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

We're all pieces of the puzzle...

I found this poem about a year ago...



God Loves Us All

It does not matter who you are
It does not matter if you stray far
God is always there for you
In spite of what you may do
His love is stronger than anyone can know
You just have to know to go
to God.

This poem was written by Elizabeth Breen at the age of 9. She was diagnosed with Autism as an infant and has never spoken. She is now 14 and continues to write poetry.

April is Autism Awareness month. To learn more about Autism click here.