Golden

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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.

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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.

 

 

Bad King John

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King John was not a good man –  

He had his little ways.  

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days…                                  A.A.Milne,  Now We Are Six

Owen has been sending me messages. He might not have a lot of language accessible, but he has his little ways. Which is probably why I found myself reciting this poem in meaningful tones. I am hunting for the toothpaste and find it, chopped. Photos of his siblings lie in a pile of cut pieces.

A few days ago Owen wouldn’t come down for dinner when called. I had to go upstairs, into his room, where he was bending over  his collection of plastics in the big rolling drawer under his bed, chopping away.  After a peaceful dinner together, when he seemed finished eating, I cleared the food away, and sunk down exhausted to watch a movie. I invited him to join me. But Owen didn’t go for The Fisher King with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. While I was absorbing the bizarre plot, he stood outside the kitchen reaching across the counter eating more and more of the green beans and green peppers than any reasonable person should even want to contain. So there went tomorrow’s lunch.

“Seems a little excessive, Owen,” I said as I harumphed up from my movie. “Been on my feet this whole time,” I sulked to him, scooping what was left of supper into plastic boxes for lunch. “How many green beans can one person hold?” I asked rhetorically. There’s stress-eating, and there’s eating from loneliness, and then there’s eating to tick your mother off. To show that you can, perhaps. To assert independence

King John was not a good man,  

  He lived his life aloof;  

Alone he thought his message out      

  While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it up

  Against the chimney stack–

Since Owen didn’t want to watch a movie with me, I figured it was bedtime. But once upstairs Owen didn’t want to get undressed. He didn’t want to come into his bedroom either, but stood out in the hall in an abstract attitude.

“You ignore me, I ignore you.” It couldn’t be plainer if he had written it out.

Amazing that you could spend hours, days, years even, caring for someone’s body needs and remain oblivious of his social, psychological, emotional, or spiritual needs. Shocking to recognize it – and annoying! – but yeah, it’s true. Knowing Owen as well a I do, I can still easily miss cues. I can find myself tuning him out mentally while I am busily caring for his physical needs. When I realize that a set of behaviors are a message, it’s a relief – but some part of my mind still feels manipulated, still asks “Why didn’t you just say so?”

King John was not a good man –

  He wrote his message out,

And gat him to his room again

  Descending by the spout.

Communication is just good. Any old kind. That’s the thing. And I am so glad that Owen persists stubbornly on, trying to tell me stuff when I am too tuned out to notice or listen or see what life looks like from his perspective. Dinner at home with just dad and mom is pretty dull compared to what he grew up with; dinner with only mom who is tired and plunks down in front of a boring movie is even worse. It’s really lonely to be tuned out or ignored – much worse than actually being alone, in your bedroom.

I was reminded this weekend how much Owen likes to have his tribe around him when half of the family came over for a Redskins game Sunday afternoon. Owen had been SO BUSY looking everywhere for hiding Christmas packages I think, hunting through the packets in my closet and my studio, pulling out a package of candles, throwing half of them into the trash…aaarrggghhh. I took him and the dogs for a walk to give his dad some peaceful visiting time, and when we came home there was a fire in fireplace, and family gathered around the television, roaring appropriately, and Owen became very calm.

I want some crackers,  

  And I want some candy.   

I think a box of chocolates

  Would come in handy.  

I don’t mind oranges,

  I do like nuts    

And I SHOULD like a pocket knife – that really cuts.  

  And, oh!  Father Christmas if you love me at all—

King John had his own dreams for Christmas (link below to read more about him), and Owen seems to share many of them. But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn (if he were able to tell me) that for Owen, the biggest thing on his wish list is to be surrounded by his family — with lots of oranges, nuts and chocolates thrown in for good measure.file_001

 

 

 

 

Not familiar?  To read all of A. A. Milne’s whimsical poem about Bad King John and Father Christmas, click on this link. Continue reading