Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boxcar Children and other tales of riches untold

Oh, how I loved the Boxcar Children when I was little.

This got me thinking about romanticizing the make-do, the degage'. I think I'm pretty good at this, if I do say so myself. Sometimes I can even perform this gymnastic feat of positive thinking on the fly, turning a Mother Hubbard moment into an opportunity to make bread, as it were.

Living in a boxcar = cozy, not impoverished.

Canning tomatoes = healthy, frugal, not too-broke-for-Trader-Joe's.

During the contemplation of my marriage vows seventeen years ago I obsessed a little. (Shocking, I know. OCD Girl overthought her vows? Nah.) The focus of my freak-out had nothing to do with the "love and cherish" part nor even the "obey" part ('cause it wasn't in there; again with the shocking).) Nope. I wasn't your garden-variety bride with stars in her eyes: I spent a good deal of time dwelling on the "worse" part.

You know. "For better or worse."

I just thought that if I could know the worse, see it coming, I could plan better.

At the time I was a cub reporter at a weekly paper. Just graduated and happy to be working in my field, interviewing small-town heroes and notable folk. At the back of my mind all that summer: What is their worst? What will be mine?

Sometimes you think you can see people's "worse" written on their lives. Sometimes you're convinced they've had no experience with the second half of that commitment phrase, dwelling in the "better" for all the world to see.

Given a little more life experience I suspect that those apparently better people may have the worst secrets of all. Given a little more living I have more compassion, less fear. More belief and less anxiety. (Erm, I still have anxiety. Don't get me wrong.)

And all the "worse" that I wanted so badly to predict and plan for? Turns out that there is no preparing for the disappointments and heartbreaks of life. Or maybe there's only character, built through the valleys and nurtured at the high points.

In 1997 my husband and I had our first miscarriage. It broke my heart and my innocence about life and in some ways I've been gluing it all back together ever since. There may be a watershed moment like that in your life: The one where you realize that you can survive the unthinkable. A sick child. A lost relationship, car accident, natural disaster, financial devastation.

We've had other times of sadness, times that necessitated leaning on the "better" in order to make it through the gloom. I keep a little journal (one of many that prove my dorkiness; different journals for different purposes) of worries and their outcomes. I learned to write these things down from a mentor who walked with me during a sad time. She told me to clean my house right to left, top to bottom. Routine will sustain you through a lot. She told me to faithfully write down my worst fears and to check back later to see how they turned out.

Turns out we have had to face the illness of a child. Turns out we have had to face some "worse" moments. Turns out we had usually enough strength to see them for what they were: low points between high.

Maybe the vows ought to be changed. For better and worse. For boxcar and mansion. For five-star hotels and camping in the wilderness. And it seems to me everyone, not just the married people, should make these vows: vows to perservere through life and to make lemonade.

Sometimes a lot of lemonade.


Carolyn said...

This is good. Really really good.

Thank you for sharing.

HP said...

Well said dear friend. Quick I need a tissue...
Oh yeh, personally I love lemonade.

Caren said...


QuiltedSimple said...

Love it. Thanks for sharing!

Barb said...

Oh, how I love this. Thank you.