Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Curse

My family's curse came to mind while I was working in the nursery last Sunday morning. Each Sunday, all of us workers, draped in our ridiculously large purple smocks, eagerly accept babies from their parents before the morning service at our church. I’m not sure how, but whenever the assignments are given out for which baby each of us workers will care for, I can always pick mine out before I’m told. The one with the greenish plugs of slime in each nostril, the loner who stares and drools, the one with spit up curdles on her chin—these are always mine. They rarely assign me the sweet smelling, soft curled sweethearts. Sometimes this predictable arrangement bothers me.
Sunday I got the one with tummy problems. She kept hurling slimy streams of throw-up tinted purple from her grape juice. All morning I followed her with a fistful of paper towels and a pump bottle of hand sanitizer, frequently applying the gel to my own hands. My lips cracked from breathing through my mouth to avoid smelling that acrid stench of vomit. I lived for 45 minutes on high alert for her hurling, worried that the other babies might crawl through her soggy spots.
As I soaked up yet another gooey mound of vomit, my dad’s words came back to me: it’s the family curse. If something bad or random could happen, it will happen to us. I brooded, If there's a kid in the nursery who is gonna produce purple puke she would be given to ME. Around the nursery sat half a dozen perfect angels, smelling of Downy fabric softener and placidly pointing at pages of books or serenly cuddling on the lap of one of the other workers who gazed on me with pity as I monitored hyperactive slime monster. Shrugging as if my assignment didn't bother me, inside I contemplated self-pity.
I'm tempted to embrace the curse as an explanation for the bad things that happen in my life. It does seem that the catastrophic, inconvenient, unfortunate or merely quirky seems to prey on my family frequently enough. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Lemony Snicket grew up in my family and chronicled our misfortunes.
But just as I wanted to tear off the smock and walk out of the nursery leaving the sour smelling child to contaminate someone else, I realized that this isn’t how I want to view the less than beautiful parts of my life.
As a little girl, I was amused by nothing greater than to be handed a pair of child safety scissors, the JC Penney catalogue, pieces of construction paper and a bottle of Elmer’s glue. I’d cut out pictures of food and ducks and tables and flowers then drizzle the backs of them in the milky white adhesive and slap them haphazardly onto a fresh piece of construction paper. I’d paste until no parts of the construction paper showed. Only an amateur or careless collager would leave holes in the picture.
I guess in some ways I'm still a collager. Life, after all, is a collage of experiences, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. If you remove the bad parts there are holes, the picture of life isn’t complete and not nearly as interesting. The bad parts are only a curse if we let them be.
Snapping me out of my reverie, the little hurler roll over on top of my feet and giggle up at me, reaching out her slobbery fingers. I grimaced at first, but finally grinned back and reached down to scoop her up. After all, I’d hate to have a hole in my picture.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Wonderful Parts: Part 3

Christmas Season 2011: Once again I popped in what has come to be my favorite movie of all times--It's a Wonderful Life. I watched it in 5 installments, usually while eating supper or filling out Christmas cards or fixing my hair. Each year the Capra classic teaches me something about my life (see "The Wonderful Parts I and II"). This year's lesson was a bit more subtle than those of the years before. I found it in that part where George leaves Harry's homecoming. Right before he goes to Mary's house, Ma Bailey is talking to George about how much Mary is in love with him. He resists the idea, and when wise old Ma pushes him in Mary's direction, he turns around and heads back toward the glit and glamour of downtown Bedford Falls, such as it is.
There he meets up with the person who has always been the exotic element in his life-- the capricious Violet Bick. When she sees him standing in the median, Violet prances up to George, as brazen and needy as when she sat on that stool in Gower's drugstore as a little girl and asked to be helped down. When she presents herself to George, he, in a fit of wanting what HE wanted, tries to share his dreams with her, tries to take her with him on an unpredictable trip up to the falls for the 'perfect scam.'
But she refuses. She doesn't want the unpredictable; no, flamboyant Violet wanted who she thought George was--stable and reliable. And as a crowd gathers around laughing at Violet's shrieking fit, George hurries off, telling her to "forget the whole thing." Only after he's disappointed by what he thought would bring him relief from the soul-coring effect of discontentment, does he 'happen' by Mary's house.
There Mary is waiting with the memories of George's spontaneity on that night after the dance, years ago, when they sang "Buffalo Gals" in bathrobes, and he lassoed the moon, and they threw wishes at windows, and he left her stranded in the hydrangea bushes.
It was the woman he thought was simple and plain, who reminded him of who he really was and helped him to indulge those wonderful traits about himself.
Once again, the movie reminded me that what we want is so frequently not what we need. It reminded me that God has given each of us our passions, our desires, our traits. There will always be people who reject us or discourage us from enjoying or fulfilling those passions. My lesson this year: surround myself with people who won't let me forget about the wonderful parts of myself.