New Year’s Acknowledgements


Many friends and relatives have been very kind in supporting of my writing endeavors. But unknown to all, it is really the woman at the cash register of my health food store who keeps me writing. When in a slump, or distracted from my writing by life’s madness, sooner or later I know I will have to face her, as I send my groceries down the conveyor belt to be rung up and bagged.

“I haven’t heard anything from you for a while,” Sherrie admonished once.

Oh the shame. Keeping to schedules has never been a strength of mine.

The next time we met over the heads of kale and vitamin bottles, I mumbled something about it being pretty hard to find anything anything positive to write about Owen lately, he’s been difficult.

“Oh but you always do,” Sherrie smiled, warm, unapologetic.  Sherrie is a big fan of Owen’s adventures.

I left fortified with better things than vitamin pills.

Surely every artist must have a Sherrie.  That first person whom they know in no other way but through their art, the stranger who says those bolstering words, “I just love the way you write!”

Caring for Owen is a profound experience. As the last of his siblings returned to college this week, and Edward left for the west coast for the week on business, leaving Owen and me eyeball to eyeball, I am more conscious of the sweetness that Owen brings to my life than usual. And by that I do not mean the juice he splattered all over the floors yesterday cramming oranges into his mouth as fast as he could before I got downstairs to catch him. No, I mean something a tad more lofty. It has to do with seeing, with focus. Have you noticed that spiritual teachers seem to show up, disguised as the difficult people and the painful experiences of life?  Then there seem to be other people, wonderful mentors who show up to help one digest it all, and prod us to do something useful with all we have learned.  Owen has had his turn at both, though he seems to prefer the first role.

But today I want to acknowledge the woman behind the cash register. Without that prodding, the writing I do might never reach the light of day.  Thank you, Sherrie, for holding my feet to the fire. And yes, I will get back to work.




What do you see?

When you see this photo do you think “Wow! Cool! Golden plastic!’ or do you think “Eww, raw meat bacteria!”

I realized, as Owen darted off with the gold wrapper in his hand, that I have known two people who feel excitement about trash. One of course is Owen. But perhaps Owen comes by it honestly – his great granny, Mary Scalbom Nicholson might very well have seen that golden meat wrapper the same way.

Grama Nick (as I called her) had a real eye for possibilities – and re-using refuse. She made dolls with hour glass figures using dish soap bottles. She stuffed some of her dollies with plastic bags. She sewed old panty hose or stockings onto the tops of her dollies heads (their bodies were made of recycled nylon slip) to create brown curly hair. Admittedly Owen is not so creative with his finds. But as he escaped with the meat package from the sink, I suddenly thought of Grama and smiled. And laughed. I could see her holding up that wrapper to study it, and hear her musing, “Oh look at this! Now it seems like you should be able to do something wonderful with this…”  

I witnessed her doing just that, with an old plastic box or a wrapper. She had a way of seeing things.

The Brazilian-American artist Vik Muniz is such a visionary. His approach to the world’s largest garbage dump in Rio de Janerio, for example, was transformative – for the trash pickers, for himself, and for the viewers too, I’d say. If you haven’t seen the documentary Wasteland, that describes his work there with garbage, with the workers themselves, I recommend getting it from Netflix.


I like to imagine Vik Muniz meeting Grama. I think they would have shared a lot of mutual respect.

Today I would like to take this idea of re-seeing things one step further. In a way this is the ongoing theme of this blog, re-seeing – the difficult – the tragic – the painful as something transformative instead. In the draft for my book Embracing Chaos I write about a family in my church community who had a baby girl with Downs syndrome. Apparently the young couple did not have a negative reaction to their baby’s disability – they  embraced it, felt it was meant to be. She is perfect, the father wrote in a special needs support newsletter, he wouldn’t even want to change her, if he could. This was hard for me. It irritated me. I felt he was weird, and an extremist, and young, and wrong. His point of view challenged the anger I felt at being the mom of a boy with an intellectual disability. I loved my boy – but not what came with him.

First you have to be angry when trash falls on your life.

But after a while – a long while – of breathing – and coping – and breathing – and coping – you may find yourself staring at the same old piece of trash (it recycles for a while just as trash, have you noticed? before any transforming happens at all) in the sink. And on this day it is possible that you may find yourself asking, “Hmm. Ok. What can I do with this?”

And when you are standing at the kitchen sink of life, and the bacteria laden meat wrapper, now washed out with warm soap suds, looks like something golden – when that happens, you are looking with Owen’s eyes. And Grama Nick’s.