Friday, January 28, 2011

The Bottom of the Pile

  The sock basket originated as a place to keep clean socks that emerged from the laundry without a mate. The idea being that the basket would be self cleaning, with complete faith those wayward mates would eventually find their way back. It fit nicely in the bottom of my grandfather’s chifferobe.  After years of consistent donations, the overflowing sock basket became the base for a much larger sock box, which became almost invisible underneath the mound of socks piled upon it. Once is awhile, I did sort through the top of the pile to look for mates before I added the newest batch. It has been a good place to find socks to wear while doing lawn work, painting or to take to camp. I slept well at night, knowing if I’d ever had an urge to make sock puppets with 70 or 80 of the neighbor kids, I would have been covered. When it came to stray socks, better safe than sorry was my motto. 

  Over the past few months we have been remodeling the upstairs bathrooms, which precipitated the process of cleaning out linen closets and bathroom drawers. My pack rat tendencies exposed for all to see, at least all the contractors who traipsed through my upstairs, inspired me to continue the “cleaning out” process, one sock pile at a time. Actually, when I pulled four packages of diapers out of my bathroom linen closet, much to my contractors chagrin, I was shamed into admitting that with my youngest in high school I probably didn’t need them anymore.

  Yesterday, I had several pages of homework tackle for Spanish, so the urge to clean out the sock box became overwhelming. Once overturned, the pile of socks on the floor was impressive. Most people would have chucked the whole thing, but not having overcome my propensity to save things “just in case I might need them someday”, I looked at every sock. Some people look at photos when they feel sentimental. I found my retreat into nostalgia while wading through these lonely cast-aways.

 Depicted in a collage of mis-matched foot wear, the story of my parenting years lay in a huge mound on the floor. After 18 years of parochial schooling, the predominant sock color was white. For the girls, the anklets that evolved into cuff-less and finally footies so small they didn’t appear to be able to cover even half of a foot. There were toe socks, knee socks, festive holiday socks and athletic socks. Allie’s cross country years in high school left behind the mates of some rather pricey running socks. For the boys - crew socks, scout socks, baseball, soccer and winter hiking socks told the story of their years of grade school and high school sports and scouting. My husband and I had our own contributions: the mystery of the stray sock does not discriminate. Single remnants of days gone by, their usefulness forgotten amidst the debris, now had my full attention.

  In all I found about 30 usable matched pairs, not bad for an hours work. There were fifteen or so pairs that were too small, but in good shape, so they went in the donation pile. I threw out a stuffed kitchen trash bag full, and still had a respectably full sock box to rummage through – just in case. In the bottom I tucked the single baby socks which evoked vivid memories: the tiny Osh Gosh sock with little bears that matched a baby outfit of Peter’s. I can remember him so clearly in that outfit, picking him up from the changing table, carrying him around the house. It always felt so natural to have a child in my arms. I’ve grown accustomed to the emptiness, but it is difficult to describe that vague sense of longing. Not to start again, or to have another child, but to have those moments back. The moments when you could make everything right, when just seeing someone else’s face, hearing their voice, was enough to complete you.

 As my children move into adulthood, I can relate on many levels to the stray sock. I still have value and the potential for wear, but my function has changed. They feel more secure knowing I am there, but prefer to leave me in the bottom of the closet sometimes. They still need me, they just don’t need me in the same way anymore. I know that’s as it should be, so I find my comfort level somewhere in the pile of things discarded in youth, and I wait. They will need me in other ways, on more adult terms, and I will be there.

 On our own journey, God waits for us. We travel through the path of faith, at times fully equipped and at times, missing a sock. Who knows where it gets off to. We just get away from our prayer time, our faith life feels stale and we limp away on one foot, not even aware we are half dressed. Often, we head out to the store to purchase a replacement, a new job, new hairstyle, something to make us feel back on track - while God waits, descending farther from sight in the bottom of the sock box with our memories and life experience blocking Him from view.  Then one day, the urge strikes and we dive into the pile, to look for something we’ve misplaced. We sift through the pile, and there He is –waiting.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stepping into Line

Hola! Today I searched diligently for a pair of black pantyhose decent enough to wear with a skirt. I don’t wear them often and the pair I’d purchased before Christmas ‘just in case I might need it’  was donated to the Kinskey Daughters Christmas Outfit Fund. A worthy cause, but it still left me without and a bit frazzled this morning. I attended a funeral and raced back across town to engage once again in the battle for covered parking at the local Jr. College, from a visitation line to the emotional roller coaster of college education in midlife. The bleak dichotomy of the morning farewell and the new beginning of the afternoon was softened by a beautiful, thick snowfall. It was the sort of snow that renders the landscape quiet. I hoped it would provide much needed respite to my friend Colleen’s battered family. Her brother, Michael dropped dead last Sunday at age 49 with no warning. If he’d had chest pains or other symptoms, my friend didn’t know. All she knew was that on Sunday night, she answered the phone to receive the news that her brother was dead. No last breath, no good byes, no time to search a bit longer for that childhood picture he’d asked for that she couldn’t find. Just gone.

I’ve received a few of those calls myself over the years, the ones that change the flow of time, and make the air around you feel substantial, but you aren’t sure if it is holding you up or pressing you down. I was relieved to have my friend Liz with me during the service. Colleen was our second mutual friend in a week to lose a sibling to an unexpected illness, so Liz and I could shoulder the weight of knowledge together. Maybe our collective prayers could somehow lighten the atmosphere that shrouded Colleen and her family, especially her mother. St Peter’s Parish, familiar prayers, and the knowledge we have grieved together and shared much joy together before and surely will again -- this will be enough reassurance to make the atmosphere habitable for the human heart. God’s mercy promises that. Life and all its demands don’t allow me much time to visit with my friends, as a new beginning beckons me.

This was the first day of the second semester and the ‘traditional students’ otherwise known as ‘students who are attending college at the appropriate time in life’ perpetuate the irritating habit of attending class for the first few weeks of each semester, creating an increased shortage of parking. The snowfall intensified the demand for a covered spot. One poor young woman, obliviously a rookie, thought she could back her way around the parking lot to beat me to a spot I had been hovering for over ten minutes: lesson learned --beware the old woman in the mini van.

Spanish Two was located in the same building as its predecessor, but not in the same hallway. Before checking the room number, I went to our corner; the group of chairs where eight or ten of us met every morning before our 8:00 am class last semester - no one was there. Ugh, change, change and more change. I felt that familiar sensation: dread, anticipation, and excitement all firing off at the same time. Outside the room Tyler and Justin were already there and I realized how much I had missed all of this – school, the challenge of learning something that I was really ill equipped for, new friends. As I slipped in the back row with Tyler and Holly, I shed about three decades of maturity and composure with my coat. Still dressed for a funeral and older than most of the other students parents, I realized I didn’t actually blend, but there weren’t any mirrors in the room so denial reigned unchallenged for the next 50 minutes.

Attempting to learn Spanish and complete four semesters at the college level feels like standing in line for a roller coaster. I have a life long fear of heights. I make myself ride roller coasters when the opportunity presents itself in the spirit of plowing through a bucket list. I don’t really enjoy them, but usually, unless my equilibrium is completely shot and I have a nauseating headache for the remainder of the day, I feel a joyful sense of accomplishment. Spanish class is my mid life crisis roller coaster, with benefits. There is something about this type of learning that is energizing. For the next five months I will experience the fear and thrill of waiting in line for the roller coaster everyday as I sit in the back row trying desperately to recite in my mind how I will respond if Professor Gonzales calls on me. And he will call on me.

I wrote down everything the Professor asked the students before me and wrote my responses so I would have them ready. Me llamo Ana. Donde de Overland Park. I could tell you the names of my children and how old they were. I knew how many classes I was taking and whether or not I worked. So of course he asked me if I was “A Senora or a Senorita? Easy right? You don’t need a semester of Spanish to answer that one, but my “Why did I get in this line face” suddenly appeared as I mentally had to write down the question in my mind to respond. As you might of imagined, I do provide comic relief in Spanish class.

Class ends and as I walk down the corridor I see the snow fall has increased. Memories of the funeral, prayers for my friends and their families, and my own personal losses and past grief fall gently around me like the snowfall. The world is quiet and my heart has time to somehow weave the joys and excitement of the new beginning that college endeavors offer with the comfort and grief of life experience that encompassed my morning. Try as we might to be prepared for such days -- we exercise, watch our diets, buckle our seatbelts and stock up on black pantyhose -- life still catches us feeling off guard and ill prepared at times. God is always one step ahead. He is gracious and through the mystery of faith we have not only courage enough, but anticipation for a positive outcome, to step back into the line each day and persevere toward the front. We never ride the roller coaster alone. To top it all off, tomorrow will be a Snow Day – God will not be outdone!