Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Shelf, Filling

This is one of the Matron's earliest posts, before she completely morphed into her third person self:


My mother and stepfather in-law are 75 and 82. They go to a funeral every week. Memorials and wakes are their primary social junket. After the service, they eat ham or egg-salad sandwiches and sip coffee. These gatherings exist in a unique temporal dimension: conversation shifts seamlessly between past and present, potent and trivial. They gossip. They decry the cost of gas and talk about whose grandchild appears headed down the worst road. They fall back fifty years to wedding nights, births, and communions. Disappointment and betrayals get yet another look. Really, I can't imagine (fill in the blank) is gone. Who makes the better rhubarb crisp? Then they pick up their plates and go home.

Today I put our sweet dog, Thurston's, ashes in their new box and set them on the long smooth shelf next to my father's. I watch both boxes and think about my shelf, filling up.


The Matron's stepfather-in-law is in a hospital, facing his own death from today's diagnosis of bile duct cancer -- a day, a week, a few months. He is yellow like a dandelion.

Stepfather-in-Law: "You know, doc, what I want?"

Matron: "I love how you always call me doc. What?"

SFIL: "To sit on my glass porch and watch the rain. Just one more time. Wow. All that time sure went fast, doc."

The Matron and Rainy just had a similar conversation. Now, you may also remember that the Matron had a recent funk-- all projectile Fruedian and cursing the publishing gods for skipping over her when they handed out those prizes, etc., etc. etc. Wanting more out of life, feeling competitive, all that.

Driving home from the hospital, half of her was with her mother/father-in-law, fretting about the distinct fears and complexities they will each be facing. But! The other half of the Matronly mind was, of course, centered on HER and how she's handling whatever life span she herself has been given.

She was trying to find some key, some common thread in the lives of those she admires and, sadly, sometimes envies and covets: the surgeon friend, the successful writer, the mother of five who homeschools the greatest kids and is happy, to boot. The vocation doesn't matter, it's how successfully (and with what passion) the endeavor unfolds.

As she looked at her own self with ferocious honesty -- the kind of honesty that death brings -- she understood that the people she admired were using their gifts at 100% capacity. They were nearly always the best they could be, in all ways, all the time. Nearly.

And the Matron? You guessed it. Ferocious honesty requires: she isn't really using her gifts. Not by a long shot. Not yet.

Thankfully, there is no end to her optimism (one gift she makes full use of), which makes life -- that precious and terminal condition -- exciting.

Are you using your gifts? Do you even know what they are? This isn't necessarily a comment prod, but something she hopes you take away as encouragement and hope, for yourself and your own lifespan.


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

This is just the kind of stuff that's been on my mind. What am I paying attention to? What do I want to do and am I really using the gifts I am eager to sometimes dismiss.

Good food for thought Matron.

As per usual.

thefirecat said...

Ouch. That was a slap upside me head that I most sorely needed.

Thank the Matron for me, when she returns to her fully third-person self later this evening.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

100%? Maybe not, but pretty close. My ambitions are fairly modest and I feel that I work toward them most every day.

There have been times when I would have a completely different answer.

Nora said...

Sorry to hear about your stepdad. And no, I'm not really using my gifts. I'm putzing around doing research.

Heather said...

Right now? Not using gifts. Mostly just producing milk. But I hope to use gifts soon.

Lynda said...

Something is going on - seems like everyone is discussing the same sorts of things lately - this may just be the BIG wake-up call for a host of us. Thanks for ringing the chime - I'm hearing you and am going to be a better participant in life.

Jocelyn said...

I wonder if the gifts you're looking at/for in yourself are really your best gifts. That is to say, I find myself in awe with the way you satisfy so many--you excel, and I mean this admiringly, at giving of yourself to a wide cross-section of people in a dazzling array of venues. This seems a gift fulfilled to me.

'Course, I know what you mean. But still. You're amazing already. It's okay to see that in yourself.

Angie said...

Boy, Matron - you are getting some pretty clear signals from the universe here, aren't you?

Am I using my gifts? I guess so. I'm certainly doing what I want to do more often than what I HAVE to do and making it work for me. But I too often feel like I'm not living up to my potential.

Let me just say to you, you have many gifts and writing is definitely ONE of them. Your time will come, I'm sure of that!

Great post.

JCK said...

I feel that I am discovering my gifts, but having a problem with the balance ...not stuffing myself with the euphoria of discovery.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the sadness in your life.
But to your question- Yes! I think I am coming darn close. I may not be famous, or curing cancer, but I am living a good life, contributing positively to the world (or my corner), modeling productive- but not overwhelming supermom behavior- for my daughter. I am supporting those I love who need propping up or emotional connections. I work hard/fight for my daughter's needs/deficits to be recognized/addressed by her school. We try to eat locally grown food much of the time and do a small, manageable bit of organic gardening to help contribute to a better planet. I regularly think about my relationship to the universe, God and others, but not obsessively so that it paralyzes me from acting or accomplishing tasks in my daily life. I don't have goals that are big stretches (go back to composting kitchen garbage, reduce still more our carbon footprint) but I still try to think how to work towards them (if God just hadn't created spiders then hanging the laundry to dry would be a lot more doable, I am just sayin').
I live a "small" life, but it is the right one for me.

Irene said...

I am encumbered by mental illness which prevents me very often of using my gifts and talents to my best abilities, but I use them to my advantage when I can, to live a life that may be not full of fireworks, but at least with some stability and quiet reflection and a laugh here and there.

Anonymous said...

So sorry the good dog died.
I think I'm about 80% headed in the right and honest direction in life. I'm thinking more about it, now.

Becky Brown said...

Something is in the air - this is on my mind as of late as well. Thank you for a lovely and thought-provoking post. My thoughts are with your stepdad.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...


We are on the same wavelength right now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ <----Length of shared waves.

Blessings to you and ((HUGS)).

SUEB0B said...

No, absolutely not. I am not even enjoying the gifts I have. I feel stuck on spin cycle.

Anonymous said...

This is really hard for me to think about since we just came back from a journey across the country for a memorial service for my sister-in-law who died unexpectantly, tragically, in a car accident. She lived a full life, but had so much life left it seems to us, and left so many loose ends dangling that we all are struggling to figure out how to tie them up. One thing is clear, hug your loved ones and tell them you love them, every day, because the ones left behind hang on to that so preciously.