Before I was even aware of my deep love for words and the tapestry we weave with them, I must have known that someday I would meticulously mold the letters that would spell out the words waiting to set me free.
If only I could stay awake long enough to find a way to pick the lock where I imprisoned them long ago.
Being a mother of young children I have trouble keeping my heavy eyelids open to wade knee deep in chapter after chapter of carefully chosen and perfectly placed words. I remember the hanging on each word—savoring books for hours when I was a kid. Nights of devouring a book in one sitting, unable to control my hunger for more until I finally closed the back cover in a blissfully warm word coma. Those words that change and morph inside you when your eyes absorb them, incorporating them permanently into the fabric of your young and buoyant soul.
Sometimes that older, less buoyant soul starts to sink a little. Now my nightly mantra sounds more like: tonight I’m not going to fall asleep putting the kids to bed. But I have to keep it real and to what I know I can stay awake for given my child-induced narcolepsy.
Nowadays I read and write in bits and pieces in the middle of the night on my iPhone. The truth is, I really haven’t done a lot of reading or writing since I was in high school—that is until Jennifer Pastiloff lit a fire under my ass about what seems like every single thing I have ever avoided in my entire life.
So I guess you could say, I have been easing back into my literary self in small doses, trying it on for size.
Bits and pieces and small groupings of words,
phrases, quotes—poems, essays;
somethings scribbled on scraps of paper.
I love reading snippets of thoughts and dreams and musings of those wise and unorthodox souls who dared record their observations somewhere, someday for someone to discover and say “I’ve never looked at it that way before.”
I’m looking for the answer to some secret, a secret that each of us brings our own perspective, our own beauty, our own truths waiting to be revealed to us in the most mundane, pragmatic, and sometimes most profane of ways.
Some days she comes silently, hiding amidst the lonely unmatched socks, forcing me look in every pocket and zipper, into every buttoned-up, inside-out bundled-up mess.
Today I found her in the washing machine.
What started out as an attempt to win my chance at a coveted spot at a Jennifer Pastiloff yoga retreat, turned into a total and complete shift in my paradigm.
It wasn’t the obviously beautiful things that were responsible for this tectonic shift: during the course of my commitment to find beautiful things a lot of decidedly not so beautiful things happened.
After losing three weeks worth of writing and photos in a tragic hard drive crash, I tried my best to see the blessing in the pain. I told myself that I could get them back, but I knew they were gone.
It’s so weird that my computer, my writing companion, alive and breathing with my words running through it’s code one day, was pronounced dead the next. All those pieces of me now locked away inside of it forever.
But it was the process of searching for inspiration to rewrite what was lost when I found this gem, this diamond in the rough:
“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted—a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
~ Rabbi Harold Kushner
Most days I admittedly don’t see the holiness in my washing machine.
I was still sitting shiva over my beloved companion, mourning the cool glow of it’s illuminated fruit when we lost all water pressure.
When we lost our power for a day and a half, and our water for two and a half days because our pipes burst, and I no longer had the privilege of a clean pair of socks, I began to understand the value of this little nugget of rabbinical wisdom I had stumbled upon.
I paid reverence quickly each time I turned on a switch and no light came on. I realized how much I rely on the light when I want to see something clearly.
I quickly noticed when I tried to wash a load of the umpteen loads of laundry I needed to wash and the washer didn’t sing it’s usual pleasant little song when I hit the pretty silver button.
But here I find myself, standing in a pile of dirty laundry the size of Mount Everest looking for something.
Looking for it like the 20 I know I left in the back pocket of my favorite jeans.
That thing that I know is the thing I’ve been searching for ever since I remember knowing that I should be searching for things.
That essence of life that always felt just beyond my grasp because of this imperfection or that distraction. That something that could be maintained for fleeting moments when I was with my family, or in some majestic place, or if some shiny thing caught my eye.
That intangible something that would always get lost somewhere between the moment and whichever of my insecurities happened to have its foot on my throat at the time, keeping me from fully inhabiting this shell of a soul.
Looking back, I know now I wasn’t living in my body at all. It was too painful with so much hatred for everything I was. It was more comfortable right outside of my own peripheral vision. The picture light above my askew portrait with it’s dirty bulb blackened and yellow and burned. Colors runny and muddy, grey and all it’s variations but nothing black or white.
Dusty oil brushstrokes laid down on the canvas of my life, splashed and spattered; hanging crooked above a dirty plaid couch in a basement somewhere. After having played hide and seek for so long I forgot what I was looking for, it occurs to me that I won’t find it here in this dark and musty place.
But now, stepping into the sun, I find it, pulsating on the ground, waiting for me to pick it up and finally fully feel what it is to be alive.
I found it yesterday when my daughter was blowing bubbles. The wind caught a trail of her freshly blown bubbles and carried them in a spiral whoosh up the stairs. Gossamer purple and green spheres, caught in an invisible current, dancing like a DNA helix up into the air where a final gust popped her new fragile and shining baubles into nothingness.
She looked up at me with her huge blue pools of love, full of absolute wonder at what we had seen. And I was there for it.
It took my breath away.
I found it today when my son finished kindergarten, when he looked at me with such inquisitiveness about what he would learn in the first grade.
When I listened to him read so fluently and effortlessly and he looked at me with such a sense of accomplishment in his eyes, my heart felt like it was breaking open spilling my mama-ness everywhere.
I’m homeschooling him. He’s a challenge, but of course he would have to be because he’s the freaking most amazing kid I know. He’s reminds me of everything it means to be creative and beautifully odd and happy.
He has taught me patience where I had none. Not that I don’t still need a lot of work so he always brings his A game, whether it’s just his extra-kinetic boy-ness or asking me difficult questions. Explaining things so my children understand them gives me a new perspective on how I see the world, and ultimately how my child will see the world.
I never considered myself a teacher, although in some sense I have been teaching for a long time. And here I find myself teaching the most important student I will ever have—my own child.
The responsibility on my heart is sometimes heavy with self-doubt and the unknown and everything that comes between, but the edges catch those gusts of wind and floating up I know that somehow faith will carry us through our unmapped journey and he will grow into the beautiful boy he is and will be.
It takes my breath away, the responsibility we hold in our hands and sometimes treat not so delicately, not so sacredly.
To keep seeking, to keep going,
to keep looking for beauty when the world keeps telling me that what I see is somehow flawed or broken or sometimes too asleep to even notice.
Or when what we see is ugly.
And it is sometimes.
Or when life is difficult, or I’m in a funk, or I want to be in a funk. (I didn’t even have an awareness of wanting such a thing until this most beautiful things practice—What? Why would I want to be in a funk?)
But the beautiful things. What are my most beautiful things?
When I start to look,
it’s the catch in my breath.
It’s the pause at the previously overlooked everyday whatever, I’ve seen it a million times before.
It’s most definitely the most astonishingly beautiful thing on the planet.
This being alive, this being here, right now, with this awareness of myself and who I am and in this Eden we live in.
In this paradise that we sometimes regard as a slum;
amidst the most beautiful people ever I’ve had the honor to share with
and all the others—those amongst the stars and stardust of those long ago born and those not yet birthed—those souls that somehow linger on the threshold of the here
and the once was
or the someday will be.
And all those “Where are we goings?”, and “What are we doings?”.
It’s those goings and doings where we find our true beauty.
Fragments, and slivers and sub-sets of what I think I am and that which I become when I glue all the pieces back together; the puzzle of my own broken and fragile heart now complete.
Invisible forces are acting all around us without our conscious awareness.
The wind, the mind, the sun.
A huge burning ball of gas searing it’s signature into our skin from 93 million miles away leaving behind remnants of days on boats, and rivers, and pools of anything else a young girl might find herself floating in on those days when the tar in the cracks of the summer asphalt bubbles up like black jelly.
And the mind.
Oh the mind, run wild with weeds of unworthiness and the I’m a horrible person-ness and the I’m not enough-nesses.
I’ve so often put the weak in front of the nesses, I’ve convinced myself that my weaknesses are real and use them as an excuse for apathy, inaction;
for the “I’m too tireds” and “I’m too olds.”
Maybe it isn’t weakness at all.
Maybe what we call weakness is our inability to let ourselves be vulnerable.
So what I used to consider my greatest weakness—-maybe isn’t weakness at all.
My soft heart, my inability to override the impulse when I feel it well up inside me; hiding my wet eyes when I look around to see no one else has been so moved by some seemingly small gesture, or word,
Bringing me perspective each time I blink my eyes and wash away the film that is clouding my vision. Giving me pieces of that which perhaps we must keep seeking and searching for if we want to keep embracing this human life as it unfolds.
To live it with all the breath in our lungs, over and over until we leave this dimension,
this nothing was ever the sameness;
this nothing will ever be like this again-ness.
Perspective that comes from zooming out on my map, going up into the canopy as my husband always says, elevated where the air is clear;
where I can see the whole picture of this bittersweet life.
And when I do, I see that even all the negative, horrible bad, mean, fucked-up-ness of this world, pales in comparison to it’s searingly painful beauty.
Somewhere between finding my five most beautiful things and this newfound volition for doing things that make my heart pound with fear, I found myself.
Waiting there in the corner, to be noticed; to be seen as beautiful among all the other things I found.
How could I have known that I would be one of my most beautiful things?
This girl, (or rather, would be woman were I to label myself as such and I guess technically am but much prefer the youthfulness implied with girl) who did nothing but hate myself for so long, now finding herself among the beauty. How did this happen?
By being pushed past my comfortable limits.
Out of my safe zone and onto the ledge where I dared look over the edge to see my fears—some of the deepest ones at the bottom calling out for me to jump.
And my dear Jen Pastiloff, if ever I dreamt of skydiving—I don’t—but if ever I did, somehow I think you might convince me to jump.
I decided to jump (in retrospect to leap, really) with these five most beautiful things, initially because I wanted to come to your yoga retreat (I still do). But it didn’t take long for it to become infinitely more than that.
Jumping meant I would make a video of myself describing my most beautiful things that day despite the fact that I avoid cameras at all costs (perhaps it’s one of the reasons I stay behind the camera).
Jumping meant I would do it in one take and send it despite having not watched it (I can’t bear to watch myself) and my starting to cry at an unexpected moment in the recording. What with the being self-conscious and all about being vulnerable even to the point of worrying after people started leaving the most meaningful and beautiful comments under my video, about what I said on the video. How I came across. What others must be judging about me.
The familiar reel of they’re not going to like me any more when they see what I’m really like; when I’m not behind a keyboard making everything look like hearts and flowers.
But what really happened took me aback. I realized that to this tribe of astonishingly beautiful people who were watching that video—
I was beautiful.
When I don’t see myself as anything but flawed for as long as I have memory, when another recognizes my true beauty inside of this temporary housing—sometimes it’s only through the eyes of someone else that I can clearly see my own reflection, finally free of the fun-house mirror image distorting my true self.
Jumping would mean that I would write my five most beautiful things without fail and thrust it out into cyberspace every day.
It meant that the days I was in a bad mood and wanted stay in my funk, I would find my most beautiful things anyway.
It meant that finding beautiful things didn’t allow me the comfort of my old sullen, withdrawn and depressed space in the corner.
It kicked me out on my pitiful ass and told me to find a new place to dwell.
Or the day I was in pain and struggling and in a fit of anger erased my most beautiful things list—after which I felt ashamed and embarrassed wondering how many times I’ve erased the most beautiful things in front of me letting the deceivingly delible ink of self-pity scribble over my artwork,
“The whole of the life—even the hard—is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.” ~ Ann Voskamp
So here’s to the infinitesimals.
To beaches and bubble wands and running water
And washers that sing when I press their shiny silver buttons.
To standing in my most grounded pose, no longer a poser but a deeply rooted tree, in the wake of the Pacific—among the sun-baked and frozen loops of brown kelp at my feet.
To looking out on the horizon that was dark when I began writing, now starting to glow behind massive mountainous shadows, and children laughing in their sleep.
To learning to read and unlearning the un-serving,
to the tiny moments I count with bated breath,
and those I longed for and lingered in,
cherished and cursed.
I’ve learned a new language of Love,
of beauty, of living,
of giving thanks for all things;
And a new sung prayer that whispers and echoes in my ear and it is this:
In all of these moments, let grace be my muse.
These are my most beautiful Things.
Dedicated to my grandmother Ellen Jeneane Cuno: September 3, 1933-June 13, 2007.
You are alive inside my words and our hearts and in your granddaughter’s name.
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Assistant Editor: Renee Picard/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Courtesy of the author