One Blue Shoe

It’s weird the things we hold onto, both physically and mentally. On and off today, I’ve been haunted by the image of one blue shoe.

Many years ago, when I was moving from my parents’ house to my first solo apartment, a studio with an amazing wood stove that dominated the room, I ran out of space to hold my as-yet-unpacked boxes. I’d informed my stepfather that the last box would have to wait, but he didn’t listen, and donated the box to charity.

Whatever charity he picked ended up with several dresses, a few pairs of jeans, a really old pair of ice skates (so very useful in San Jose, CA), some books designed to teach adults how to draw, and half a pair of lovely navy pumps with French heels.

Me? I was left holding one blue shoe, and more than a little frustration.

“You told me you didn’t have any more room,” he said in an attempt to defend himself.

“I said I didn’t have room last night. I didn’t tell you to get rid of my stuff.”

“Do you want me to get it back?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, knowing such a request was absurd.

At some point we both laughed, but the really funny part is that it took me years to finally accept the fact that the other half of my pair of shoes was lost forever, and I’d never be able to wear them. Instead, I carried that single shoe with me into the first days of my marriage, into our first rental house, and into the first home that we owned.

It wasn’t until we moved from our condo to our first “real” house, seven years ago, that I finally pitched that shoe. I’m not sure why I kept it, and while it would be fitting to ascribe the act of throwing it away as the final goodbye to childhood, the reality is that I got tired of having a stray shoe among all the matched pairs.

Today, that single shoe has been clopping around my brain, pausing daintily on all sorts of shoe-related miscellany. I suspect it’s there because I was watching a sappy Christmas movie called, “The Christmas Shoes,” last night while lounging in bed. I suspect it will trot away to wherever half-pairs of shoes end up, in a day or so.

In the meanwhile, I’m thinking about how much my life has changed, mostly for the better, since I moved into that tiny apartment. At the time, I was crushing on a guy named Julian, and had just purchased my first computer. A year and a half later, I was living in South Dakota, married to Fuzzy.

Like that year, this year has been full of changes. My main writing gig ends for good at the end of the month, and while I know that will make our finances a bit tight, and finances for others even worse, there’s a part of me that feels oddly free. It’s time for the next phase of my life, and while I have no idea what it will bring I know that if I have to, I can hammer things together with the heel of one blue shoe.

Light One Candle

At choir practice tonight, we spent so much time on Christmas music, and on a special song we’re doing on the 20th for the first annual child dedication, that our director actually dismissed us early – or rather, she tried. She called us back almost immediately, because we’d forgotten to rehearse for this Sunday, when we’re actually doing a Hanukkah songs.

One of the songs we’re doing is a special favorite of mine: “Light One Candle.” It’s a Peter, Paul & Mary song, written by Peter himself, and it combines generic Hanukkah themes with social justice themes, thereby making it a perfect pick for a UU choir. I don’t even mind that we’re singing it “straight” instead of like the kicky folk song it really is, because I like the song so much.

The actual lyrics aside, I’m a fan of the song because it mentions candles, and I’m a big fan of the wick and the wax. I like the way candlelight softens the lines of any room so lit, and the lines of any face gazing into the flames. I like the way a single candle in a window can be a beacon of hope, or a sign of welcome.

Candles can be romantic, decorative, or simply functional. They illuminate dining tables, fireplace mantles and sumptuous baths. They can be scented, or smell simply of wax and smoke.

In all cases, however, candles make the mundane a bit more magical.

Take a moment sometime in the next few days, to put the holiday chaos aside. Light a candle, brew some tea, curl up in a comfortable chair near a crackling fire, and just let the flickering flame warm you, heart, soul, and mind.

Chosen Families

Most of us are familiar with the standard definition of “family,” that of parents and children living together. There is, however, an alternate definition of family: a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together

In my life, I am privileged, even blessed, to have two families.

The first is my biological one. At its nucleus is the duo formed by my mother and myself – we who had a Gilmore Girls-esque relationship long before the Gilmore girls were created. It extends from there: my stepfather, and his son, my aunts, and their spouses and children, my cousins who less directly related. We don’t always like each other as much as we ought, but always, we love each other, and when we’re together there is conversation, reminiscence, laughter, and copious amounts of coffee.

My second family is my chosen family, and it’s gone through various stages. I had such a family of close friends in California, but even though they were – indeed are wonderful, talented, smart people, I never really fit in. When we moved to Texas, five years ago, I drifted for a while – made some friends, let them slip away – as one does in a new place. We tried to find a chosen family at a local Episcopal church, and while those people were warm and welcoming, again, I didn’t really blend.

A bit over a year ago, while Fuzzy was in Hong Kong, I found the second family I always wanted. They, too, were centered in a church community, but this time the church was Unitarian Universalist, the politics liberal, the minds brilliant, and, like my biological family, copious amounts of coffee are a crucial part of their being. It took me a few months to be completely at ease, but from the first moment I met them, I knew I’d come home.

My first family is my blood family, though they are all in my heart. My second family is one strictly of the heart, and while the two groups mix at times, I’m fine with them being largely separate, because it means I’m surrounded by a depth of caring and kinship that most people never get to experience.

I may never be rich, and I may never be famous, but that’s okay, because I have two families, and that’s a double blessing that can never be matched.

Surprising Beauty

The lamp is burning low upon my table top.
The snow is softly falling.
The air is still within the silence of my room.
I hear your voice softly calling.
If I could only have you near to breathe a sigh or two,
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love on this winter night with you.

A couple of weeks ago in church, I was struck by the beauty of one of our elders. She is not a conventional beauty. Her curly hair is graying, her face a tangle of fine lines and wrinkles, and her hands showing her age in similar fashion, but her eyes are bright, her mind as alert as ever. In the moment, however, she was as beautiful to me, with her fierce love of this church community mixed with a kind of innate graciousness that cannot be taught, but that some women are apparently born with, as any Hollywood starlet ever could be.

The faint tones of an east coast youth color this woman’s voice, and even though she is nothing like my grandmother in appearance, I felt my grandmother hovering softly by me as she spoke, and had to close my eyes and accept the feeling of being watched over before I could return to being completely present in the moment.

I cannot capture with mere words the apparent softness of her cheek, or the way her hand gripped the microphone with such surety. My grandmother’s hands, though gnarled at the end, were just as sure every time she brushed away my tears, wrapped my hand in hers, or gripped her own communication device: a wooden spoon.

This moment was just another assurance from the universe that I’m where I’m supposed to be right now, and it came when I wasn’t looking for it, in a splash of surprising beauty followed by the still, cool pool of inner peace, and while it faded rapidly, as such moments tend to do, I treasure its resonance and carry it in my heart.

The fire is dying now. My lamp is growing dim.
The shades of night are lifting.
The morning light steals across my windowpane,
where webs of snow are drifting
If I could only have you near to breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love, and to be once again with with you.

*Lyrics taken from “Song for a Winter’s Night” by Sarah McLachlan.

holidailies 2009