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.



7 thoughts on “Golden

  1. naomi Smith January 4, 2017 / 4:15 pm



  2. naomi Smith January 4, 2017 / 4:17 pm

    Guess that didn’t go through. I simply said this essay is a great way to remember your Gramma Nick. She was, is, one of a kind. – Aunt N.



  3. Gray January 5, 2017 / 10:34 am

    Reading, I felt touched by peace. Your acknowledgment of the anger aspect helps me go on. The allure of golden plastic at Christmas time does not allude the Librarian of Beauty –it is great to recognize the kinship with Owen this way.


    • wystansimons January 18, 2017 / 4:34 pm

      Yes Gray it’s sure that you and Grama N could have spent many an hour in the Library of Beauty together! She had a library herself, though not nearly so well displayed nd organized. As for kinship with Owen – once you both get on your spiritual bodies, you will have lots to share. For now, his Library of Beauty looks a bit more like Grama’s old one…lol


  4. Mary Grubb January 6, 2017 / 12:52 am

    I could use some more looking with Owen’s and Grama Nick’s eyes. Thanks for the tip!


    • wystansimons January 18, 2017 / 4:29 pm

      Thanks Mary for reading! What a funny thing to realize that Grama and Owen shared that point of view!


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