Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm trying to choose a topic for the evening: existential angst caused by imagining eternity OR human behavioral quirks as demonstrated in my cleaning the clutter from the sewing machine.

Read this in the Daily Dish's ongoing discussion "Infinity hurts your brain":

I have been following this thread with interest and have noticed the subject has evoked a general sense of terror in many of the readers who have commented. I should point out that one of the classic hallmarks of intelligence is existential depression of the kind provoked by "infinity."  In fact, in young, gifted, children (and children with OCD or Tourette's syndrome, who are often highly intelligent) existential depression is often triggered by their first encounter with the concept of infinity. 

"Classic hallmark of intelligence," eh? And I thought I was just a weird seven-year-old. I scared myself silly, lying in the dark, unable to sleep, contemplating infinite participation, infinite standing in the heavenly choirs. I liked to sing, yes, but forever?

I finally talked to my dad, who broke the imagination logjam in the dark of the bedroom with the idea that heaven was where God was and God was good and infinite and loved me, and anything God had in store for me for eternity would be something I would like, even though I could not now understand what it might be. 

God understood the not wanting to sing for all eternity. I understood the limitations of my mind when thinking about something as close to God as infinity.

Bless you, Daddy, for showing me ideas of God that went beyond anthropomorphism, that turned God into something more than super-person. (I'm sure he did not want to be condemned to an eternity of playing the organ.)

Flash forward a bunch of decades with that precocious seven-year-old, who has grown up and has just returned from driving her youngest child to college (a child who also likes to contemplate infinity). Last night I decided it was time to clean up the half side of my bedroom that is the sewing machine side. It took until 9:20 for me to work up the sense that I could actually find places for the accumulated stuff. But armed with an empty plastic underbed box found in the attic, I took the plunge. 

I did not take a "before" picture, but trust me, it was horrifying. It hasn't been neat EVER, not ever, not since I moved into this room last fall.

Still, it was a mess filled with hope. The socks, good wool, some handknit, whose heels I plan to darn:

And thrifty generosity: three pairs of pants--khaki, grey and black--I plan to shorten for Eliza (two of them used to be mine, but don't fit anymore; the third pair--such a deal I go at Lands End this summer).

 Creator spirit, help me to find projects for all this quilting fabric, and help me to complete them in my lifetime:

I have a goodly heritage--abundant buttons and button boxes inherited from my mother and grandmother:

And I have sinned. I have, uh, quite a tape measure collection.  

(It's not that I steal tape measures exactly. It's just that if a tape measure is around, I pick it up, run it through my fingers, roll it up and slip it into my pocket as I talk to you. I'm interesting enough that you never know it's gone. I'm absent-minded enough that I don't know it's gone either.)

There is also evidence that I don't keep my promises and that I am a coward. 

I promised to fix the buttonholes on this sweater I made long ago for my mother. Promised to do that at least a year ago. But since it involves making a machine buttonhole in a precious handknit and then cutting it, I can't bring myself to do it. A glass of wine would give me courage, but it wouldn't do much for the quality of the buttonholes.

God, give me the serenity to accept the things that ought not to be altered.

Plenty of theological metaphors available from this diverse and tangled drawer of thread. After a few feeble attempts at winding these spools up again, I took the scissors and trimmed every odd thread that was hanging out of the drawer. Pruning is good for vines. Why not for thread drawers?

"Train up a child in the way s/he should go," says the Book of Proverbs. I and my good friend Susan were trained once. Now, instead of den meetings, we get together for a weekly beer.

I nearly quit at this point, when many things had been pulled out and none had been returned. Signs of the coming kingdom?

And this pile is still there, awaiting another burst of energy (don't ask--but there's some really old clothes in there--I need to separate the sheep and the goats):

Then there's the chicken, representing the stupid collection, which is a blog post in itself: 

This is what it looked like when I was done:

I went to bed satisfied. I no longer lie awake at night contemplating eternity. When I can't sleep, I think about my retirement accounts, which are finite things and more frightening than infinity. Stuff--we need a certain amount of it to live. Stuff that requires managing. But my stuff tells me about myself, the finite me and the infinite soul inside.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nest, leaving the nest

I'm driving my youngest child, Kurt, to college tomorrow, with his stuff. A few hours before we leave, the wife of a friend and colleague will give birth to their second child, a girl, by planned cesarean.

To call this day "beginnings and endings" would lay this almost-empty-nester open to charges of being over-dramatic. But the two events occurring more or less together leave me feeling that eighteen, almost nineteen years can sure seem like a short time.

And since that eighteen-year-old is still out with friends for the last night until Thanksgiving break, I have some time to think. I may doze off, but I won't sleep soundly till he's safe at home for one last night.

I'm not a person who dotes on babies. They don't turn me to mush. No, I hold back, because the pleasure and power of holding a newborn, or a three-month-old, or even a wiggly one-year-old, is not a mushy, sentimental thing. Mother love is something else entirely. I'm struggling to find words that are not cliches. Perhaps that's because there's nothing new to say, or because I'm really not up for poking and prodding myself until I bleed.

People have been having babies for a long time. As I sit here thinking about it, I pull my arms in toward my breasts, my shoulder. More than anything, raising babies is about this physical closeness.

I remember holding this child who goes off to college tomorrow in my lap, supported by couch cushions, and smiling with so much of myself I was amazed. He made me so happy just by being. Still does, though I doubt he knows it. How could he, until he holds his own child in his arms?

(Note to Eliza and Kris: the same goes for you two, now, though I loved you more fiercely than contentedly when you were babies.)

When I think about leaving this last of my children at college, there's kind of a hole in front of me. I could bemoan  the fact that there will be no one left at home to cook interesting food for. I could recall the late-night piano playing with the repeated chord sequences that drove me nuts. I can even look forward to just going to bed when I'm tired, rather than debating the parenting ethics and practicality of waiting up. But the hole isn't about any of those things. It's the contradiction of loving someone who is me and not-me, who came from me but goes his own way. And carries my heart with him.

There's pink yarn in my knitting bag for the car tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the pictures on Facebook. Great adventures begin tomorrow, for all.