The steam is rising from the first mug of Christmas blend 2012. The sunlight catches the rim and in the middle of the enlightened area one tiny sparkle dances into my eye. The light stretches diagonally across my old wooden desk highlighting the layers of peeling and scratched wood. My beloved ten dollar garage sale find of a desk, so loved and well altered in the name of many an art project.
A jar holds treasures in a bouquet of random that are not at all random to me. Dried flowers and peacock feathers, found shells from the lake, vintage buttons, spools of thread, knobby sticks, and well loved paint brushes donned in layers of paint. The brushes no longer paint pictures, but their matted bristles carry the stories of my days, days of favorite paintings and struggles and countless times of art as worship, art that compels us to the light, art that brings to the surface that which was previously unseen.
The jar of wild, collected beautiful rests in the path of the morning light casting brave shadows upon the standard white wall. I watch the etchings transform as the sun rises in the sky and something comes alive in my soul on this Friday in November.
My coffee mug is illuminated now, the painted shadows from the jar more or less are faint patches of dark of the wall. I turn and see the sun peeking in from the top corner of the living room window. It is 8:44 am. That fleeting moment is passed, but not forgotten. In the pausing and seeing, we allow these small gifts to become the exposition for the chapter of our days.
On Sunday, we found these hardcover books, dressed in the most decadent vintage patterns. In each book, collections of old stories have lived since 1954. They sat on bookshelves until they were tossed into the donation bin, where they were placed on institutional shelving in the thrift store that smelled bad. Jane Eyre and Les Misérables sparked my interest, but the real appeal was in the the magic of the binding, the painted pages, the golden adornments, the pages rich in old book smell. To our delight, these books were marked at $2.49, as if the employees had no idea of their real value.
I devoured Les Misérables in four days, a story that I thought I knew, but had never read.
If ever there was a story of grace and redemption, it lives here. It says that in a world oozing with broken wretchedness, grace transforms and frees and births new possibilities, unimaginable possibilities. And it speaks of love, the passionate, young, blind version and the kind that grips our beings and changes who we are, beckoning us to compassion and sacrifice and dedication.
In the words of Kathleen Kelly, “read it, I know you'll love it.”
But that isn't even what I wanted to tell you about today. I turned the page and discovered, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, by Mark Twain. A title like that could not be refused. I read the introduction pages and learned that this was the story that launched the career of Mr. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). As a young journalist, he would sit for hours in bars and listen to drunkards tell their stories to willing ears. I can only imagine the rubbish that he heard, but I think he knew that treasure could be found in most peculiar places. He listened and gathered. And one day, he wrote down this tale about a gambler, a stranger, and a bet on a jumping frog, a bit of regional folklore and submitted it for publishing. It was rejected again and again, until a couple years later, someone said yes. It was rather successful and printed in its own copy. This ridiculous tale is how the world came to know the creator of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. This short story is pure nonsense, nothing but the sheer enjoyment of a good tale that may or may not be true.
As I finished reading, I laughed out loud twice, once for the silliness of it all, and again at the realization this was his first big break. Something so incredibly random and inconsequential. And I thought about how most of us are searching for that “big break,” in whatever it is that we do, the ladder to success and affirmation that we are talented and appreciated for what we love to do. But how much effort do we place on predetermining the value of something, by what it means to us. Oh this isn't any good, it can't be worth finishing or submitting or sharing. Oh, this is just a bit of nonsense, no one will read it. Oh this painting is just average, but not nearly as good as that one over here. And so we go about the limiting the value of our creations, causing them to wither before they even bloom. But, honestly, great creators don't just give away the answers and meaning of things. No they do not, do they?
It's like a mother bird who has nurtured her young and when the time comes, she must allow them to leave the nest. She must accept the chance that their little wings might struggle before they can really fly. And she must be brave enough to send them into the world, because they can not remain in the nest, for if they do, they will never reach their full potential. It would be a tragic waste of wings.
I wonder how much bravery and beauty is being held hostage by us? The ones who aspire to greatness, but fear the journey, criticism, and rejection. How many of us will ignore the jumping frog tales and fleeting shadows on a wall and in doing sacrifice the Huck Finns? What are we suffocating because we simple do not understand what it means and we are not sure what will happen?