Unopened gifts and tangled ribbons

Dec. 1, 2008

The season finds me deep in melancholy musings, mainly
about family and friends no longer with us, and about my
long-ago-and-faraway office mates, bosses, relatives, and college chums (who
owe me an annual report on how they are doing). My thoughts echo Maya
Angelou's sentiment: “People will forget what you said, people will forget
what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

During the holidays especially, I recapture the
extraordinary feelings I gained from scores of people who have moved in and
out of my life. In composing a letter from the Birmingham jail, MLK Jr.
wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a
single garment of destiny.” That we are tied in a single garment of destiny
evokes an image in my mind of the colorful tapestry of my life, made from
the life-threads of others woven in and amongst my own.

Those master weavers moved through my days — and, some,
to the end of theirs — often unaware of their importance to me. (As an
anonymous someone once said: “Everyone is gifted, but some people never open
their package.”) But then, even I was not aware until much time had passed
how their subtle braids, knots, twists, and loops impacted my life.

For instance, the first 27 years of my working life,
mother and I chatted via telephone every Sunday, starting with my “blue
Monday” lament and ending with us laughing so hard we had to hang up without
good-byes. Can I recall why we laughed? No, but I always felt better
afterward. Now on Sundays, all I have to do is call Sister, who claimed we
would never laugh after Mother left. (She was wrong … for once.)

My former employer's pampered wife would arrive late on
Fridays at his offices in her chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Silver Cloud —
her manicurist in tow — to have her nails painted before their evening
dinner at a snazzy restaurant. As the manicurist worked her magic, I held a
cigarette to Lady Boss' lips; she puffed; I tapped off the ash and offered
the cigarette again. Her gift to me? Learning when not to laugh?

When I got to third grade, Mrs. Shull (my first-grade
teacher) gave me her grown daughter's collection of Bobsey Twins' books,
along with two years' use of her piano (we kept it when her military hubby
was transferred overseas). I loved the books, but the piano was my fast
track to classical music, music without lyrics! Up to then, I had listened
to Hank Williams on Grandpa's radio, memorized hymns in Sunday school, or
hummed along with my Daddy's rendition of “Ol Man River” from Porgy and
Bess
. When I hear a classical pianist, I always remember Mrs. Shull. She
believed in me.

Who else? My lawyer boss (who died earlier this year)
rushed off to the courthouse nearly every day with the tail-end of his tie
caught in his pants' zipper. My friend's old gin-tipplin' mamma took me in
when I had nowhere else to go after my furnace blew up. The exotic
“Hungarian” dance teacher taught us girls ballet, then left town the day
after our disastrous recital. Libby, an elderly downstairs neighbor,
practiced screaming “HELP” to see if I could hear her in any given spot in
my upstairs apartment. The familiar street beggar in downtown DC confessed
to having different personas for different begging venues when I discovered
him dressed as a veteran across town on a bridge. My great-grandfather in
his Derby hat, starched white shirt, and suspenders carrying me through a
hatchery to see the little chicks peeping. They never knew how they made me
feel, but I remember.

As this year draws to a close, may you recall with fondness those whose
presence became part of the tapestry of your life. Remember, “Each day comes
bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.”* And on behalf of the MLO staff, may you enjoy the gift of a delightful holiday
celebration and a very Happy New Year.

*Ruth Ann Schabacker

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