Storytelling: Grandmother gave special gifts to her, in a lasting thread
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With silk fabric, a few stitches and five simple words, my grandmother gave me an incredible gift.
In the summer of 1982 we sewed a kimono. When we made this robe, life was full of everyday joy. My grandmother, Mama Nick, and I crafted it on a summer visit to her home in Oklahoma City. The summer was filled with silky red fabric, tornado warnings and a stellar Fourth of July parade.
Nights, we would hide in the basement till the sirens subsided. By day, we'd sleep late, lunch on fried green tomato sandwiches and then pull out the sewing supplies.
My grandmother had the pattern cut for years, she told me, waiting all that time for just a moment like this. She and I talked as we streamed its supple drape through the needle of the sewing machine. This was our only work to be done on a summer's day.
Later in the afternoon I'd swing on the tire out on the old oak tree. By evening we'd recline with my grandfather to watch Dan Rather deliver the evening's news. In the morning, we'd be back at work on the kimono. As the silk passed through our fingertips attuned to the hum of the machine, I learned something new every day.
Such simple learning, in those day-to-day moments, was my grandmother's secret to life. "You'll never die if you learn something new every day," she'd say. This mantra is as memorable to me as my grandmother's ivory necklace with the spinning mandala in the middle, gracing the neckline of a woman who represented Southern beauty and gentility and carried the gift of wisdom.
There are moments when life loses its wonder. There are days when the routine leaves no room for learning. The familiarity of your husband, the drone of your job, even the patterns of parenting can become rote. Learning becomes lost to surviving. Mid-life resignation overcomes adolescent wonder.
Living anew every day is the realization that dying is not just about death, but also about losing the sense of wonder and possibility in each day. One morning, when I woke up and put on the kimono she gave me, I finally understood.
On the back of the kimono, between my shoulder blades, is a gift-wrapped box. Now, I know, every day is a present, but we are slow in receiving the gift. Every day comes wrapped in the routines and rhythms of your relationships and of your work.
We become stuck in our ways. We get lost in the un-wondrous ways of the world. I had to die, just a little, inside (and go to years of therapy) to realize I wasn't yet resigned to a life without wonder.
Will today be a review of yesterday's woes, or will today allow a new discovery about my husband's compassionate spirit? Will today be a humdrum dispensation of household duties: laundry, dishes, trash and dinner? Or will it be an opportunity to learn something new with my daughters?
Will today be a race to get through the work "to-do" list? Or will it be an opportunity to dispose of the to-do list and to discern and learn as the dots are connected in a different way? Learn something new every day, and you will never die.
So it is with joy, each morning, after I shower, I put on my red kimono robe and get lost in its vibrant colors. Drawn into the kimono's drape are cherry blossoms and coral anemones, inky lines and intricate floral design, circles of labyrinthine and leaves of sage green. Energy pulses from the scarlet dye of the fabric. The riot of color emboldens me for yet another day. I wrap myself in this gift.
To remember the other present my grandmother gave me -- not the kimono but the koan -- I pick up my journal each night and respond to these three questions: What new thing did I learn today? Where did I see a transformation from the ordinary "every" to the extraordinary? How will I live fully tomorrow, on a new day?
Now, over a dozen journals later, I look back and see a line of stitches that describe an inward journey through weariness, winsome learning and ultimate wonder. I can thank my grandmother for that gift.
First Published July 18, 2012 12:00 am