printed in Polishing Stone, Winter 2006
I volunteered to move Betsy across town. It’s what friends do. There were a few of us who willingly spent a Saturday morning packing all her possessions in boxes, and labeling them with black magic marker in simplistic terms such as, “kitchen,” “bedroom,” “living room.” After all, moving is filled with simple procedures such as categorizing things, emptying cabinets and filling boxes. There’s nothing complicated about it.
Sometimes, we’d swaddle objects that didn’t seem worthy of such attention in bubble wrap and when we’d ask if we could just throw it out, Betsy would favor us with a detailed story about its origin and meaning. There would be no simplistic markings on these boxes. And moving started to get complicated as I began to understand that value is not assigned by the human eye, but by the human heart — the only standard of measurement that Betsy ever uses. Few of these things we packed would attract buyers on E-Bay, but they are priceless to Betsy and compelled her to follow her brothers or father to the truck, fussing about their cavalier attitudes.
The grand oak desk didn’t get much more attention than the flatware. This desk where the Longaberger baskets overflow with bills, receipts, and L.L.Bean catalogs, dwarfs the alcove dinette where it sits, and will dwarf the dining room where it’s destined; it belongs in a two-story library. It deserves Tiffany lamps on each side and a white Labrador retriever lying patiently on the Persian rug behind it. Everyone understands the worth of such beautiful furnishings, but Betsy didn’t flinch as the guys pushed and shoved and angled it out the back door.
It was the old Tin Soldier with the dented chest and broken arm that required extra tissue paper and a warning about its fragility. It was the chipped wine glasses she inherited from her Grandmother that we double-wrapped in dishtowels and newspaper. It was the little jade plant in the terra cotta pot that had lived with her for five years, and the rocks collected on an outing with girlfriends along the shores of Lake Erie, that inspired the stories and the memories and the employment of vast quantities of bubble wrap and newspaper.
I’ve helped others move and learned about organizing and color-coding boxes, but moving Betsy taught me about something far more valuable. I learned that she keeps every birthday card that any of her friends has ever given her and that when she re-reads them, they can lift her out of the dumps. I learned that the red briefcase she carries into a black-briefcase world means more than the laptop computer that it protects. I learned that the Pistoulet dinnerware is special because each plate is inspired by stories of finding love and discovering one’s self. I learned that she keeps empty bottles in her cupboards. It certainly isn’t the bottle collection, but the fact that they stand for her disentanglement from a marriage to a man who never understood their value — or Betsy’s — that makes the trip to the store for extra bubble wrap worth the time and gasoline.
The world would not understand Betsy’s criteria for assigning value. Until I moved Betsy, I wasn’t fully aware of the depth and texture of her rating system. We chide her for being a packrat, when we should be celebrating her for it. It’s her packrat nature that allows us to remain part of her life, though we give her scores of reasons to unload us: new jobs and unintended slights that chip away at the fabric of relationships; curves in the path that twist the tinsel of friendship like the wine charms with which she can’t bear to part.
Betsy sees the merit in us even if we are dented and scratched; even if we are drained and misshapen. She will carry us with her from place to place, age to age, like empty bottles and Tin Soldiers. She remembers us the way we were in those moments when our character outshone our contrariness; and believes in dreams of who we can become. It’s because we are reflected in Betsy’s eyes, and safely stowed in her heart, that we are able to sense our own potential.
Moving Betsy was so much more than the simple business of packing boxes and changing houses. It was an inspiration to treasure the things of true value in my own life; a reminder of what is real and worthy of care. She thanked me as I left, thinking that I had done her a great favor, but I hadn’t. I only moved Betsy across town. She moved me so much farther.
These Moments appeared in The Polishing Stone winter 2007
There are these moments in a parent’s life when the stars seem to shine a little brighter, the planets line up and all is right with the world.
There are these moments when the tantrums, 3 AM emergency room visits, phone calls from the principal’s office and broken curfews vanish in blessed amnesiac dust.
There are these moments when we remember that first time we held her; when all the dreams and possibilities for her life were waiting right around the corner and we knew without doubt that the world would be forever changed because of her entrance into it.
There are these moments when we can see our vision, God’s vision and our child’s opinion of herself serendipitously align in a sudden, blinding flash. It is a moment when, if we are lucky enough to be watching, we are overwhelmed by abundance.
There are these moments we live for, work toward and dream about; these moments when we are only spectators.
Recently I had a moment like that. It was at my daughter’s wedding reception; a totally unrehearsed, unimportant moment when she and her new husband had been dismissed to the buffet line. In that moment, my daughter Heather had the poise of a dancer. Her head was held high and her shoulders were squared; she floated across the room like a sailboat, lightly holding her husband’s hand, smiling at wedding guests nearest them, and it is this picture of her that comes back to me before sleep. In her posture was confidence and kindness; in her expression was peace and calm.
I can not remember a time when I was not proud of her, but neither can I remember a time when I was more proud of her.
In that moment, I saw that she was wholly sure of herself and could therefore be wholly present with her friends and family. She radiated tranquility, generosity of spirit, and grace. She made each of us feel special and expected nothing in return. Most of us carelessly refer to ‘inner beauty’, but on this chilly Santa Barbara night, I experienced the truth of it as Heather’s inner beauty, unhindered by uncomfortable superficiality, warmed the whole room.
I don’t remember her becoming this beautiful, graceful woman. Did I miss it? Was I not paying attention? At least, I was wise enough to stay out of her way; to watch and learn from my child. For most of my life, I have pursued perfection, trying desperately to route out all my flaws, and live up to everyone else’s expectations. In that unrehearsed, unimportant moment, I saw at last that you can’t chase after perfection; it only comes to us in those unrehearsed, unimportant moments when we forget ourselves. In that unrehearsed, unimportant moment, she was perfect.
In that unrehearsed, unimportant moment, when my daughter wasn’t aware of my eyes on her every move, she reflected the face of God and created a climate of quiet acceptance that filled us all with peace, and that proved the rightness of our expectation that the world would be made better by her entrance into it.
There are these moments in the lives of parents when we feel honored to be in the presence of our own children.
There are these moments when we are bowled over by them; by their success, or their intelligence, or their virtues.
There are these moments when we are inspired and awed by them.
There are these moments when we think that this child must be God’s favorite creation, because surely, there is no one more worthy.
There are these moments when angels sing, the heavens open and all is right with the world.