The day of closed eyes and sleep breathing is past. The day of ennui and stagnation is over. For when the world snaps fresh and the earth melts and the smells of dark soil and green things erupts, when the very air changes colors from cool white and gray to warm yellow light which sparks the effervescence of blue sky and glowing green, when the breathing of it opens waiting alveoli in the lungs, then comes vigor, then comes vibrancy, then comes ebullience. It is time for new good things to be planted, to be written, to flourish.
I haven’t written in so long. For some instinct has kept me from revealing the thoughts in my head. Usually so open and carefree, I have crept in and out of caution like a quilt on a couch. I sometimes don’t recognize my new ways, for I am changed, truly changed. I am a horse in a stall. I am waiting for the starting shot and the crash of the gate. My eyes dart from side to side though availing no affirmation. There are needles in my haystack. Sifting and nosing I must begin. I am startled and propelled forward because it’s time.
A story comes first. It’s a true story, though not my own.
One lovely spring day she was cleaning the house. The windows were all lifted open. The door stops all placed. And clean air and sunshine and birdsong filled the rooms. All family help conscripted, she went steadily from room to room, supervising work and advising; herself skimming off the clutter that rose to the top as she stirred every closet and drawer. Rugs hauled out and shaken. Curtains taken down and washed. Fresh bed sheets flapped on the line in the backyard. Little weeds were pulled from between brick pavers on the knobby patio.
In the downstairs hall closet, with space that wound back into storage shelves, she pulled out boxes and bins and bags for sorting. The space would be reorganized, tidy; it would function. Soon the hallway filled with all the belongings of the closet; from deep inside came boxes of keepsake dishes, bins of baby clothes, and bags of heirloom quilts. From nearer the front, dusty shoes, old purses, winter coats, forgotten library books, a borrowed cake pan, the dry cleaning. So of course things would look worse for the hallway before they looked better. The project begun but not finished, she stopped to make lunch. Fed her family, answered the phone, went upstairs to change into something cooler, and cleared off the nightstand while she was there. Through the open window she heard the sound of the garbage truck approaching and shouting down to her son, did you take out the garbage like I told you? The bags in the hallway? The truck is almost here.
No, he hadn’t. But he would hurry and do so now. He made it just in time and the garbage can was lifted and dumped into the truck.
Back to her project she went but there in her way were the bags of garbage she had asked him to take out. Puzzled she looked for an explanation. For she had heard the screen door. Heard the lid of the can slam shut. He had taken something out. Not the garbage. Not the garbage but the bag of antique quilts.
She ran outside but the truck was long gone. The reality of it, the waste of it, the horror of it slammed into her. They were gone.
Her heart broke. She felt the place where the feeling happens and the words make sense. A flush of feeling flooded her lungs and chest and throat and face. What could be done? Nothing could be done.
Her heart broke for the hopelessness of it. And her heart broke for the waste of it. For the beauty of them so tossed aside. For the warmth and character of them disregarded. For all they had meant, for all they could mean, simply gone.
For some dear hand had chosen each patch and swirl of color. Some saved from baby clothes, favorite kitchen curtains, and father’s shirts. Pieced together with friends long passed. Pieced and stitched together in an intricate pattern. Mistakes redone. Corners made straight. The quilt top finished, the batting and lining cut to size and added, the edges tucked under and hemmed, then the real work of quilting begun. Tiny stitches forming the secret design. The eye must see the next step as well as the last. The whole piece held aloft as the needle climbed down and back up. Round and round and round in swirls.
And washed and hung and pressed and laid over beds. Children tucked in with their little fingers tracing over the bumpy designs. Laid over mothers as they lay admiring the pattern of colors with the gliding palms of their hands, remembering the piece’s first lives. Cuddled over couches and folded into closets and cherished and loved and useful for lifetimes. Now gone. Wasted. Disregarded.
And what if the bag, when picked up, had opened a little? Enough to see what was inside and realize the mistake. And what if someone had seen them in the truck, gasped at the beauty, and rescued them just in time? What if the bag had held and even upon the descent into the landfill they were all still intact? What if they were found and taken home and washed and loved once more? What would you give for that part of the story to be true? To keep your heart from breaking too?
But it didn’t happen. All that was precious was just lost. And no trace of it heard from again. And hearts were broken and still are for the waste and loss. She cried for days over those quilts. Hiding her tears from the son who was so innocently mistaken. And in her sorrow she heard a lesson drip down into her mind from above. A lesson in words and feeling and pricking of the heart threads. Does your heart break as well for those little souls so disregarded as your quilts? Does your heart break as well for those not as seen as your quilts? Does your heart break as well for those not rescued as your quilts?
For little lives are sometimes mistaken for trash and carried out for pick up. For heavy lives are sometimes picked up and thrown away. For weary and lonely are sometimes dropped and tossing bounce down where they cannot climb back up again. Are your eyes scanning for who you love and regard? Are your arms waiting to pull them from the trash heap? Are you scanning among the things unwanted to want and care and love?
For mattering is the thing. Mattering to someone. That’s the thing we must have. That’s the thing we must be. We must matter so much that garbage trucks are followed and landfills searched. We must matter so much that flyers are made and hung and rewards posted. We must be so precious that our absence is despaired and unaccepted. Our story must have a happy ending. We must matter.
This is the story that keeps playing over and over in my mind. Somewhere, somehow, it lines up with the needs of my unconscious. It explains something that I feel, though it is held so close to my face that I cannot really read it. I’m sure it is about the same thing that it’s always about, for all of us. Mattering. To be seen. To be heard. To be understood. To be cherished. To be not lost, and if lost, then determinedly found. Purposely and profoundly found. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.
Am I those quilts moldering in and among, chance after chance passed by with colors and beauty waving to the open sky. Did I pry the bag open and let my embroidered hem trail the ground? Did I shout as I descended? All my stories, all my love in the burn pile like the velveteen rabbit? Did I quiet my pounding heart as I realized my predicament?
Outside the metaphor though are eyes that can really see, and a mouth that can really sing, and ears that can hear footsteps on the ridge above me. Arms that can test a place to pull up and footholds that can bear the weight of me as I make my way. For myself I can choose new places to fold into, to drape across, to decorate, to beautify, to be useful and make others loved and warm and comforted. I can be a comfort and I can be comforted. I can make and move and chose, and I can be made and moved and chosen. I can matter and others can matter to me.
Mattering. That is the thing we must all have.
Pictured above is Jan Brandt’s “Five Acres Quilt”. It hangs currently in the gallery for all to stare at in wistful and sentimental daydreaming. I’ll be there on Sunday doing just that if you’d like to join me for the opening of “Conversation”. Collaborative art by Jan Brandt and Krystal Lay Lyon will be on display at the Jan Brandt Gallery from 1-4 on Sunday, May 27. Event link.
Read more about Jan and her beautiful art: