“I suck at this,” she wailed. ” I’ll never get it. I’m going to fail. Why even bother to try?”
Some people take to certain things like ducks to water. Others not so much.
All five fingers are not the same, Mum used to say…
I watched as she struggled to accomplish her task, heaping negativity on her hapless head. Her words settled like corrosive dead-weights in my spirit.
“Don’t say such things,” I uttered. “Words are powerful. They stick and become self-fulfilling.”
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it, Mum would say …
“That’s what you always say.” She sounded irritated. “So what? It’s just words.”
No. Not just words …
Proverbs 18:21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue …
I began to see a vivid picture in my mind. Two seedlings in glass containers, one full of acid and the other rainwater.
“If you were a plant,” I said, “And words were the medium you were growing in, if kind, positive words were rain water and negative, condemning words were acid – which one would you thrive in?”
She grew silent.
“If you wake up every morning and hear someone tell you how ugly, rotten and dumb you are, that you’ll never go far or succeed, can you imagine the toxicity you’ll imbibe? At some point you’ll come to believe what you hear. Your spirit receives what your ear hears until it becomes a part of who you are.
I plodded on. “On the other hand, if someone tells you daily that you are beautiful, smart, talented and capable of achieving anything you set your mind to … imagine the pure rainwater seeping in nourish your spirit.”
Point made. Her exasperation remained, but the dark words ceased.
For the moment.Oh, to always be able to see the gorgeous pink sunset behind and that dark, dark cloud…
Some weeks back, I stepped into the mall and understood — all over again — the power of words. I’d recently begun to experience occasional darts of doubt . Amazingly, that mellow evening, it seemed like my steps led me from store to store and brought pause at unexpected spots where wonderful words leapt out to cheer me on –
I couldn’t have contrived the inspiration, if I’d tried. My spirits rose and began to soar.
But that wasn’t all …
On my way home, there was an impelling to stop at a supermarket I don’t often visit. I paid for two bags of soil I didn’t urgently require and headed out. A man hurried up from behind and bent over my cart.
“Those look heavy,” he said pleasantly.
I smiled, “They are.”
“I need some for my garden,” the stranger added, “but that’s why I didn’t get any today!”
He straightened up and I became instantly aware of the words on the back of his T-shirt –
I gotta believe …
Caught my breath on a gasp.
Gotta get a picture!
Hurried into the parking lot and chased the gentleman down.
Me (to man): I know this sounds silly, but do you believe in signs?
Man (looking startled): I do.
Me: Would you mind if I took a picture of the words on the back of your T-shirt? I needed to see them. They were my sign today.
Man turned around and obligingly posed.
Man: So what are your plans for the summer?
Me: I don’t know. I have so many dreams and they were beginning to die. That’s why I needed those words. Thank you!
Man: I really need to get some of that soil, you know.
Me: So go get some. Maybe I am your sign for today!
My heart sang all the twilit way back home.
The final clincher came a week later, at the dentist’s office.
I became acutely aware – the moment I stepped in – of the single word tattooed on the neck of the girl manning the phones. She had her back to me –
Point taken — signed, sealed and delivered!
I’d have to be really dense not to get it by now …
“My dear Beatrice …” Mum read aloud from the letter in her hand.
Postman has just delivered the mail …
Sister and I dared not meet each other’s eye. Bit our lips to keep from giggling.
“I don’t think you will recall me. I was a friend of your cousins, Daisy and Rosie, and have met you in their company on a few occasions in our young days.”
Mum’s voice rose to a squeak. “I write to you now regarding my son …”
Sister and I held our breath. Our lips trembled with mirth.
“He is a good boy. Very sober and steady (no vices whatsoever). He graduated as a doctor …..”
Sister swallowed hard. Her shoulders shook. I covered my mouth with my hand.
“We have heard about the goodness of your daughters. People all say they are good and smart, clever girls …”
No vices whatsoever/ the goodness of your daughters … good grief … who even writes like that?
Mum eyes continued to scan the handwritten lines. “I would be so happy to hear from you regarding this matter if your elder girl is still unattached. My friend, Mrs. M. tells me she is 22 years of age. In fact, your sister, Ruby …”
I’m the ‘elder girl’ …
“You may remember the times we shared as children.” Mum began to look puzzled.
Her jaw finally dropped when she came to the end of the letter. “PS: We prefer a spacious house in Colombo with garden and attached baths.”
Dowry details! Eek …
We could almost read Mum’s thoughts –
“I don’t remember this lady,” Mum mumbled almost to herself, and ran to the phone to dial Aunty Ruby’s number.
“Hello, how are you dear? I just received a strange letter … sounds a little eccentric … who are these people?”
Sister and I held our sides and roared. We laughed ourselves into stitches.
It all began some months before, when a close school friend of Mum’s asked if she would contact a certain family (who had an eligible son) regarding a formal proposal of marriage for their youngest daughter.
Girl in question was pretty, a recent university graduate, now on the Marriage Market. Parents were anxious to have her fixed up and settled.
True story, honest (down to the phraseology)! Absolutely no embellishment …
Older sister of said Young Lady got entangled with Completely Unacceptable Young Man and eloped when well-to-do Daddy refused to give his consent. Daddy disowned her. A year later, when First Grandchild was born, Starving Couple were ushered back into the family fold.
Get the picture?God forbid that history should repeat itself, right? Okay, so stage is set …
Mum obliged and our home served as venue for introduction between Sweet Young Thing and Very Acceptable Beau.
Cousin Ranji was staying over that weekend. She, Sister and I eavesdropped from behind the drawing room drapes.
No TV in Sri Lanka then. This was far better, delicious entertainment, served up on a platter …
Young Pair sat at one end of the room to get acquainted. Mothers made small talk close by.
Recipes and stuff …
Two dads at farthest corner.
Mum and Dad sat in on the powwow – being it was their home and all. Awkward …
Things suddenly grew ugly. Raised daddy-voices.
Dirty dowry matters …
Young Man’s father haggled for more.
Sweet Young Thing’s father finally agreed to throw in a lorry along with the house and land.
Or something like that …
Cousin Ranji, Sis and I are horrified.
We’ve travelled back into antiquity …
Deadlock. Evening concludes in chilly huff.
But no one counted on Young Pair falling madly in love.
Completely unexpected turn of events …
Now unacceptable, Young Man contacted and romanced Sweet Young Thing on the sly.
Mum politely declined when asked to intervene.
Sweet Young Thing phones to weep on Mum’s shoulder …
Romeo and Juliet elope to overseas destination. Daddy disowns Little Girl, then throws arms wide open when she returns from honeymoon with baby on the way.
Yay! Forgive and forget …
Found out later that Rejected Romeo and one of the cousins were co-workers at the time of Nebulous Nuptial Goings On. They were quite good friends and I’d met him at one of her birthday parties.
Only in Sri Lanka …
Found an old scrapbook of letters and cards written by Sister, cousins and me when we were children. Carefully dated and captioned by Mum.
Sis and I wrote little notes and longer letters all the time.
Hilarious notes from Sister …
Mostly to Mum.
So when it came time to play a prank on a long-suffering mother, inspired by recent events, one would automatically resort to letter-writing.
“My dear Beatrice …”
Poor Mum. We teased her unmercifully and she was always such a good sport about it. Don’t think Sister or I ever ‘fessed up or divulged the source of the written proposal of marriage that once came my way.
And now I’ve two daughters of my own.
Full circle. What goes around surely comes around!
The memories flooded in when eyes wandered over the yellowed sheet of notepaper taped to the fraying page of Mum’s scrapbook.
With sister’s heavily disguised handwriting on it. She must have figured it out …
Thankful for Mum’s sentimentality that induced her save all this stuff.
Pure gold …
Like these home-made cards from her nieces –
A definite artistic bent in the family …
— and the self portrait I drew.
A fairly good likeness of my gawky pre-teen self …
Sister needs to work on her spelling in this one –
On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.
The guards had changed and gone their wayby the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I teased her about it for years to come.
Smile please …
Everyone was using pocket cameras.Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!
We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.
Colour pictures … yay, finally!
Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.
Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera.
She still had it when Sis and I were kids …
Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.
When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish.
Sleeker, less ‘primitive’, more sophisticated …
It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image.
She’d murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!
Felt like forever!
Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.
Sister and I heard … underwears!
We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.
She caught us unawares all right. The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.
Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts. They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.
At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …
When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum. An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.
All meticulously labelled …
With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad.
Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …
Entered a new realm. Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.
Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …
The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible. Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper, pictures worth thousands of words.
Leave two days later. Weather’s changed, sporadic showers. Piano clothed in plastic protection.
Never encountered Simone in person. Forgot to ask about the piano. Wish I had. Kept wondering …
My mind is an interesting place I’ve been told.
“It’s about perspective,” I reply,
– “being able to see where there’s nothing to see.”
When waters swirl sixty feet deep, who’d imagine the possibility of a stroll on the ocean floor?
A parable? Sort of.
Waters did recede, in spite of what we saw when we first arrived …
Which is the definition of faith. Sort of.
Hebrews 11: 11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see …
Which brings me back to when eye sees what doesn’t yet exist –
Like knowing when garbage is more than garbage …
For example –
(1) Old washbasin – just an unusual lily pond-in-waiting –
2) An ordinary bottle … a prospective tree ornament, of course!
(3) The old kitchen sink – a perfect container for growing swamp plants
(4) That tired saucepan – an eccentric hanging container for a flowering summer plant
(5) Ancient pots and pans make whimsical garden ornaments
Daughters issue dire edict when ensuite toilet is replaced: “No planting flowers in it, Mom. Not going in our garden.”
I give my word!
See a bath tub tossed out on sidewalk recently, imagination bubbles over. So tempted. Wish I could carry it home.
Which brings me all the way back to Simone’s piano.
A year and a half’s gone by. Often wondered about it. Have to know …
Find Simone Ritter on Facebook and shoot off private message. She sends picture of finished work with a note –
Simone writes: It was popular with the passers by during the summer months, even in the unfinished stages. Unfortunately a storm came through and ripped the plastic off the piano. The heavy rains made the wood swell and then it could not be played anymore …
Absolutely breathtaking …
It’s all about knowing how to look –
Living in the possibility of the moment –
And honing the inner vision –
So how do you see what you see?
And that’s Life According To Me, a deliriously expectant resident of La La Land!
Love living there …
Because, ultimately, it’s about the final, impossibly possible picture –
– three hundred and sixty five days untrodden, all gift-wrapped.
Reams of resolutions. High hopes in spite of/ because of …
Then comes …
Evening news. Burning building collapses.
Shades of 9/11 …
Pick up phone to text Neighbour–
Me: (tap, tappity-tap) Hope your family wasn’t near the building that came down in Tehran.
Neighbour (texts): Thank God, none of my family members was in that area. I knew this building very well since my father used to have an office there when I was little. My mother was working, so he would take me to his office after school. It’s all so sad.
Me: (Tap, tap): Thank God. Sad, yes.
Avalanche in Italy buries ski resort. More earthquakes. Tsunami warning. Shooting in Texas mall.
Never ends. So what’s changed?
Nothing, it seems, but …
Must keep looking upward, focus outward, embrace light.
– Must speak LIFE.
Proverbs 18: 21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue …
Daughters’ Christmas present hangs by writing desk. Speaks loud and clear to Heart. Heart leaps for joy –