Katie’s been dying to start a collection. It doesn’t seem to matter much WHAT she collects, so long as she can say that she does indeed collect SOMETHING.
She’s given a go at seashells. We’ve brought them back from beaches far and wide, cleaned and bleached and dried them out – only to find them carelessly scattered throughout the house days later.
She tried Webkinz for a time, but the gild was off that lily as soon as the kids around her had clearly moved on to the next thing – then the next and the next.
“Mama, did you ever collect anything?” she asked recently.
I thought back to my childhood. “Well, I collected little boxes for a while,” I said. “I had all kinds of boxes – carved wood, glass, porcelain – I just loved fancy little boxes.”
She asked if I still had them. I told her that but for a special few, I couldn’t say what had become of them.
“Do you collect anything NOW, Mama?” she asked impatiently.
I reminded her of the crystal figurines that Luau had bought for me over the years. Every holiday he’d buy another. I had loved receiving them.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Do you still collect them?”
“Well, I did, honey,” I said, “but then the corner cabinet got all filled up. That was when I told Daddy that I was pretty sure I had enough.”
She wasn’t satisfied. Apparently, I was deficient as a human being unless I could come up with SOMETHING that I actively collect.
I thought hard but finally shrugged. “Unless you want to count shoes, baby, I think I’ve got a whole lot of nothin’ on this one.’
I sit at a business dinner with a man I’ve met just once before this evening.
We laugh, we talk, we get to know one another. Typically the talk of family in this setting barely skims the surface. The vitals suffice …Do you have kids? Oh great, boys or girls? How old are they? God, aren’t those just the best ages? … and the conversation marches on.
But it is obvious from the start that this conversation will be different.
We begin to talk about perspective. He tells me about a meeting with a client who had recently suffered a life changing loss. I nod. The client is a mutual friend and I know well how hard it’s been. He says, “It just puts it all in perspective, you know? The business matters, but it’s not life and death. It can’t be.”
In years past, I would have sat and smiled as he spoke, nodded in affirmation and moved on to the next topic. But not today. Today I am different.
I tell him that I understand completely. That I comprehend on a cellular level what really matters. I tell him why.
I tell him that nearly four years ago, my younger daughter was diagnosed with autism. That the process of becoming the mother that she needs has changed me in some ways, galvanized me in others. He says he likes the choice of the word, ‘galvanized.’ I have to smile.
I tell him that I’ve been through things very recently that have forced me to examine my priorities. That life has pushed me to decide and to declare what I value. And what I don’t. I tell him that the process sucks, but that I highly recommend it. We laugh.
Time passes quickly. Our conversation twists and turns, woven around – but not limited by – the common thread of the dinner’s original purpose.
I don’t know him well enough to read his expression, but I can see that his face has changed. He is suddenly quiet. It looks as though he’s searching for words. I sit back – wait for him to find them. It feels important.
“There’s something I’d like you to know,” he says. “It’s just .. well .. what you said before, it hit a chord with me and .. well …”
I get the feeling this is not a man who is often at a loss for words.
I’ve learned to wait, so I do.
He goes on to tell me that he grew up with a sister who had significant learning disabilities. He puts ‘learning disabilities’ in quotes. “They never really knew what to call it back then,” he says. He speaks of her with a palpable tenderness.
He talks about the work that his family has done with a local community organization for people with developmental disabilities. He explains that he has become aware of autism through that work. He says he’d love for us to come to a fundraising event they sponsor each summer. It’s obviously a source of great pride.
I look across the table through an entirely different lens than the one I started with. “I always say,” I tell him, “that the siblings can change the world.” I don’t know if he’s comfortable with the compliment, so I leave it at that.
I showed up to have dinner with a colleague.
I will leave dinner with a friend.
On the way home, I realize that I have something to tell Katie.
I do collect something after all. And it’s something that I can keep on collecting long after the corner cabinet is full.
Over these past few years, I’ve been collecting stories.
As I’ve come to tell my own with more ease, I’ve been blessed to have gotten them in return from every corner imaginable. This journey has taught me that when we dig just beneath the surface, we find that every human being that we meet has a life beyond what we think we see. Everyone has challenges; everyone has struggles; and everyone has triumphs that mean far more to them than we might imagine.
Everyone has a story.
But I do still have some really kick-@ss shoes.