Stories and relics

The swirling chaos of the day has resolved itself into this quiet moment–my husband and I are sitting at the dining room table, clicking away.  Against the soft staccatto of dueling laptops, I’m trying to resurrect what matters from this day.

I hardly saw the boys today.  I worked at two different jobs in two different counties, and went to the grocery store for the first time in a couple of weeks.  I got home, we all ate together, and Tim headed out to an evening lecture.

Bathtime, jammies, toothbrushes, stories–a near-tantrum here and there, with the phone ringing off the hook.  And then writing.  I have carved out one sacred hour each day for writing.  From 8-9, I write.  Unless I’m home alone with my little insomniacs.  Tonight I was sorely tempted to shrug off the writing after my husband got home.  “I’m tired.  It’s been a long day.  I can make it up tomorrow.  It’s okay to skip a day.”  For me, excuses are like potato chips.  I can’t have just one.  If I excuse myself from writing today, it’ll be easier to slack off tomorrow.  So, even though my brain was numb, I wrote.  Because today was a day for stories.

Being a professional organizer might seem like anathema to the creative spirit.  Insert box A into closet slot B.  Insert activity C into time slot D.  I’ve struggled with the apparent ridiculousness of my compulsive need for order when juxtaposed with my consuming desire for creativity.  But I’ve learned that being a professional organizer is about stories.

In our culture, we surround ourselves with things.  Whether they’re things we love or hate, they have stories, and when we tell those stories, when we speak our lives into being, “stuff” becomes “relic.”  Like the relics of saints–bits of rag and bone, tatters and shards–the things we carry through this world take on greater meaning, aspire to holiness.

When I put on my “professional organizer” hat and sift through all the artifacts of a life, I am struck over and over by the relationship between things and stories, and by the deep visceral human impulse toward storytelling.  Today, I helped unpack for an older couple moving to a retirement community.  I’d never met them before today, and will probably never see them again.  But within half an hour, the wife was standing at my elbow, talking.  At first, she was apologizing in an oblique way for all her stuff, but then the stories came, climbing out of cardboard boxes and refusing to sit politely in kitchen cabinets.

She had four children.  Two are dead.  One is in the hospital, and there’s little or nothing the doctors can do for her.

No mother should outlive her children.  Cold china is no substitute for the warmth of human contact.  Before I left, this woman I do not know was holding my hand.  Not giving it a friendly little squeeze, but hanging on and not letting go.  And I will carry her in my heart.  I won’t remember her relics–what her aunt’s china pattern looks like, or that she owns twenty-seven pitchers.  But I will remember her.  I will remember her story.  She needed to tell it, and I needed to listen.

So I sat down at my computer and pounded out a scene.  It wasn’t profound or beautifully written.  It didn’t have anything to do with china or old women.  But in the act of sitting down to tell it, I joined that sweet old woman whose china I won’t remember.  We needed to tell our stories.

When morning comes, I will wake up groggily, as usual, from too little sleep.  I will wake up to the demands of two small boys.  I will be tempted to brush aside the story clamoring to be told.  And when I hold my children and feel their little hands in mine, I will remember the touch of a stranger and all the reasons that I write.

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4 thoughts on “Stories and relics

  1. That's what it's all about–the stories we tell and the stories of others that we listen to. My favorite stories are the ones that resonate in my mind in so many ways, like yours. As one who never asked for the dance, I am glad you did.

  2. Thank you so much, Catlover! Asking for the dance is way outside my comfort zone, but for me that's where the best stories happen. And the listening is as sacred as the telling.

  3. “For me, excuses are like potato chips”…Amen sister. I’m proud of you for doing this for yourself. The pain of creating art only becomes bearable once you overwhelmed by the agony of not creating art.

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