Friday, November 27, 2009
Last summer, while visiting convents, two Sisters asked me, "What do YOU want?" Sure I want what God wants for me. But what IS that?
I've spent the last few months searching deeply, and still, I don't have the answer to that question. Yet I find that asking the question itself forces me to confront who I really am, and this weekend, I also realize how THANKFUL I am to God for His Providence. I don't know what it all means, but His hand has been there all along, molding me into the person I am now so that eventually I can be the woman He has called me into existence to be.
This weekend, I watched "August Rush" with my family, and was struck anew by the themes in the movie: about life, about chances, about the threads that bring everything together into an incredible symphony. This afternoon I watched the movie "Sylvester" about a Texas cowgirl who, through the support of family and friends finds her way to an Eventing trial with a mustang she trained and recognized for his talent.
I find that these movies are, in a way, a part of my story, too. Both, in some way, make me look into myself and remind me from whence I came...and the great gifts I have received.
Po' Roots and Welfare Offices
We grew up poor. Dad's parents emigrated to the United States, me here, and he was born here. They weren't "privileged", but worked very hard for their average American existence. Mom was from a large Catholic farm family who knew their share of tragedy and poverty.
We grew up in a little neighborhood where Mom and Dad eked out our home life through hard work, wanting to give us what they were never able achieve. In the end, it wasn't about the money they'd wanted to save, but rather the work ethic they instilled in us, the desire to do something better but not be satisfied with remaining in the dirt.
Mom and Dad divorced when we were kids, the bank foreclosed on the house, Mom applied for welfare, and I'll never forget those dingy government offices with the terror-inducing "AIDS epidemic" signs, sterile orange plastic chairs set on a brown tube attached to the wall, and the condescending attitude of overweight, middle-aged white-trash social workers who clearly thought Mom and I and every other person in the lobby was the scum of the earth for daring to be poor and yet continue to exist for the paperwork we caused them.
We never had much, so we didn't get to do the things our friends got to do. Our clothing consisted of "hammy-downs" (which, oddly, never smelled of ham) and whatever we got at Christmas or on birthdays. We became accustomed to nice people with big smiles dropping off bags of food for us for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter every year. Mom just told us that it was a gift from our parish, because Churches give Christmas gifts, too, and we should be thankful and write thank-you letters for what we were sent.
We were taught never to complain about our food or what we had, because EVERYTHING was a blessing; everything was a gift.
Blessings of Horses....
Like every little girl, I was a dreamer, and because we grew up in the age before massive dependence upon new technology, my "daydreams" found their "reality" in make-believe games, whether in private as I wandered around our yard, or in collaboration with friends as we wandered the forested hills and trails that linked our homes together. Our winters were taken up with sledding, our summers with wading pools and hiking and random games. No one had air conditioning, even in the Illinois humidity, but no one cared. How could anyone miss what one had never had?
But I always loved horses, and mostly from afar. We had a neighbor with a Shetland Pony, and I visited her often, and once I learned and received permission, I would leap upon her back as she grazed. She didn't seem to mind as I demanded nothing of her but her company.
Ah, I'll always have a place in my heart for bay-colored horses.
Blessings of Music...
I also loved music. I would "dance" to The Sound of Music and the Greatest Hits of Peter, Paul, and Mary on our record player. As Mom went about chores, I danced in circles, singing, playing, and reveling in the various combinations of notes and movements.
We begged and begged for a piano, but Dad fell in love with a two-octave organ and bought it without Mom's approval. We started to practice, ran out of keyboard, hated the fake notes of this machine, and eventually it just became another object that existed for the purpose of gathering dust.
It wasn't that we hated music; it was that my brother and I hadn't found our instruments.
After we moved to Minnesota, I convinced Mom that I REALLY wanted to play the flute. Nothing else would suffice. As it turned out, an aunt bought a used flute for me, and Mom paid her back, $10.00 per month. It took YEARS for her to pay off that Gemeinhardt flute, and I STILL have it.
It nearly brought me to college with a music scholarship, in fact.
Last night as my brother, his girlfriend, Mom, and I watched August Rush and discussed music, I realized that only Mom had not studied it. My brother nearly majored in it, having studied classic guitar and music theory. His girlfriend played viola but loved the cello. We knew music.
Maybe our conversation last night was a blessing to Mom, for she had, in fact, provided her children with something never available to her. In spite of our poverty, we were all in possession of something that, throughout most of the world, belongs ONLY to the rich. Not to po' welfare kids from some neighborhood in Illinois.
Blessings of Horses - Part II
Back when I was 13, Dad, always wanting to indulge my love of horses, paid for riding lessons for me. He gave a choice, and let me pick the school. I decided upon English lessons because I felt I would learn things that would not be taught in the Western style, and with my big dreams, I wanted the best.
It didn't matter to me that here in the Midwest, Western style dominates and is most useful. I wanted to be an Olympian, and if that was to be, it meant I had to start out the right way.
In fact, that gift from my Dad, even though he couldn't afford it and it lasted only a year (every other week) has been a gift that continues to this day. It has benefitted me even in Western riding, and even though I never learned to jump, I was able to apply the principles and often leapt a fallen log while on a trail ride, discovering that when it is done right, it really DOES feel like flying.
I also learned that if your balance is off and you land on the hard, high edge of the back of a western saddle it's REALLY PAINFUL but less painful than being impaled on the broken tree that created the forest jump in the first place.
But What Do I Really Want?
In meditating upon that question, I am drawn back to these memories spanning from childhood to adulthood. The question makes me look at what I must truly value.
Certainly, as a child, I dreamed of owning a big mansion like in the show "Dallas" and I wanted a car like Kit from "Knight Rider" and I wanted to wield a lazer sword like Princess Leah, fly like Supergirl, lasso like Wonder Woman, be rich and own horses and go downhill skiing. Oh, and I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be an actress because that way I could be everything and always be learning new things for new adventurous roles.
Ah, how we are tempered by reality. Yet, I have to admit, I never really believed in the dreams I had for myself. I NEVER believed they would become reality. Truth: I NEVER wanted those things.
In all honesty, in looking at what I loved most deeply then and recall most fondly now: it is the same thing. I am the same person now as I was when I was a child.
I loved horses, not so that I could ride them to fame, but for the purity of their beauty and the freedom in the experience of riding them, growing in skill, in communication, and, well, let's face it: FUN! A few years ago while galloping along a Minnesota River trail, I was living a childhood dream, and it's a memory I hope to hold dear until the day I die.
Music is another deep, deep love. I don't play anymore, but used to be good. Maybe that dream of playing for the New York Philharmonic COULD have been a reality, had I continued. I'm saddened that I've lost my art, but I have discovered that music never leaves us and once we love it, we can never stop. My fingers itch to caress the keys again, the breath in my lungs longs to be expressed through trills, scales, and vibratos, and united with the harmonies of a thousand different instruments.
Every so often, I "write" symphonies as I fall asleep...and yet I never learned the skill.
It is only dormant...not crushed.
I am Thankful
I'm thankful for growing up in poverty, for it taught me to use my imagination and value the gifts I was given.
I am thankful for all that I have, for I realize I possess even now more than Mom and Dad, together, materially possessed...ever.
I recognize that the things I value most do not belong to the material world. They belong to simplicity, to basic gifts of God that were extended to me, required money to pay for, but once they were given to me...I possess them for life.
No one can un-teach me how to ride a horse or to enjoy their very existence. No one can make me forget the joy of playing complicated music after hours and hours of practice.
But....WHAT do I really WANT?
I guess, after all this musing, what I'm trying to say is that I am maybe coming closer to the heart of the question posed to me this summer. Or at least the heart of the answer.
I don't want fame and fortune. I am grateful to be a homeowner for the sake of having a roof over my head, but I don't value it as a possession. I am grateful for my possessions, but they don't bring meaning into my life.
Rather, I most frequently recall the "insubstantial" moments in my life, and with incredible gratitude. Things that cannot be purchased, cannot be repeated, and yet, in a way I can't articulate, define me in some fundamental way.
I don't yet know what I want, but I am thankful for what I have been given, what I've experienced in life.
Yes, I am thankful, I am grateful. For all of it.
Thank you, God.