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.