… but in a good way, an inclusive way, not a “members only” way. This first occurred to me when engineer hubby and I were given a list of books our reading-above-grade-level son “should” read, and I looked at the list — great books! all of them! Charlotte’s Web (nice essay about this classic in Sunday’s NYT Book Review), the Narnia series, Roald Dahl galore — and I thought, *every* kid should read these books, or have these books read to them. EVERYONE benefits from stories.
I also believe everyone benefits from a touch of beauty every day — a single tulip in a mason jar is enough, or if tulips are scarce, snip a pretty yellow dandelion — and even before the beauty, everyone benefits from nutritious food and a safe place to sleep and enough clothing and work that satisfies them … and, and, and.
Yet we are so veryveryvery busy making sure we have all the proverbial books on our proverbial “should” list we often neglect to invest the up-front time in the habits and practices that will sustain the beauty, the neighborhoods where we’d want to sleep, the skill to darn the holes in our favorite socks, etcetera.
This struck me as I walked up the steps to my son’s public middle school — currently in an older building in the next town over since the high school’s gym roof collapse necessitated a shuffling of the student body. Beside the steps up to the main building, a clutch of irises are blooming their indigo heads off. Not one or two tall straggling pedigreed snooty patooty flowers but good old fashioned your-gramma-had-’em-in-her-backyard irises, enough of them that it’s obvious to even this amateur gardener that they’ve been there for years. Decades, most likely.
Carved stone letters of this school are set into the steps. Obviously cut by hand and painstakingly placed, I know not how, into the cement.
When was the last time you saw a new building go up with a handsome, solid sign? Or with timeless plantings rather than fast-growing shrubs? I don’t know that I ever have. The faux stone accent walls in one of our town’s Recent Big Developments, mostly vacant since its completion at the start of the recession, are crumbling already, bits falling off. It’s four years old.
I understand the desire to get it done faster and sooner. If I didn’t spend twenty minutes looking up synonyms and origins for verbs like “sit”, I mutter while scurrying through the grocery store, I wouldn’t be late for every bleepin’ thing! I would have time to put on makeup so I could look good while I was pondering etymology -a word I still have to double check to make sure it’s not the one that means “study of bugs.”
Those are both probably true statements, but like the decades-old irises, the stories that have insisted on blooming year after year through various drafts, revisions and edits, provide sustained and sustaining beauty. It’s not so easily evident as a flower, and of course writers have to share their work for the beauty to be evident but when a colleague reveals that your story has brought tears to her eyes, or an acquaintance gifts you with a free coffee for the “interesting ideas” in your essays — those are evidence of the blossoms, sure as a literal flower.
As importantly, when the words a writer has labored over opens another person to a willingness to share their vulnerabilities, we deepen ourselves and our communities. How else do we move beyond our surfaces but through shared acknowledgement and recognition of our shared secret struggles? These openings can become the touchstones upon which our lives rest. The gifts of attention and honor we give each other by learning how to say what we mean in our hearts, and to listen to others heart-hopes — our willingness to share and receive secret struggles — these are the flowers of effort. And they can blossom for decades if we only bother to put them carefully in the earth and tend them.
What else do we have, but each other?