Friday, August 28, 2009

Wisdom from a Leaden Figurine

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. This unique assemblage~~ 83 marvelous pairs in all~~now resides in my home on the wooden wall rack my father constructed for them more than 50 years ago.

I’ve placed one of my favorites next to my computer as I write this. An Amish woman sits on a black rocking chair, hands folded quietly in her lap. Both woman and chair are cast of lead~~an unfortunate choice to hold substances to be sprinkled over food~~and together are less than 3~1/2 inches tall. The woman detaches for a sprinkling of salt, while the chair itself holds the pepper.

As I gaze intently at this figurine, my Amish woman begins to whisper to me. She tells of a multitude of interconnected stories, each a part of her journey to my desk.

She introduces me to miners and smelters. I watch a man in a small factory pour molten lead into the mold that births her, and an artist paint her features and clothing. I sense, too, the innumerable forces that brought each of these people to their place in my Amish woman’s tale.

We travel to a small country store where she abides for a time. I see my parents, decades younger than I am now and unburdened by the weight of years, walk through the store’s screen door, setting the attached bell to jingling. I feel their joy in finding this rare pair, woman and chair, on a shelf in a far corner.

My Amish lady and I travel back in time, before my parents meet. I observe the hard economic conditions that brought my mother north to a teaching job in Baltimore, and my father east from his depression~ decimated mountain town to climb poles for the telephone company.

I am shown the forces that brought my parents together, including the mailman whose crush on the widowed Mrs. Mac led him to encourage my father to rent a room from her. I watch my father move his few possessions into the three~storied brick house, where my mother, it turns out, shares a room with a girlfriend. I see my parents’ individual and family stories weave together, and watch my siblings and me rise from the mix.

And beneath it all, the earth carries lead in its veins, and grows seeds into edible plants to nourish all preceding and subsequent generations of laborer, craftsperson, store owner, postman, Mrs. Mac, and my own family. I watch upper air currents bring moisture to crop and animal alike, as ocean becomes cloud, and rain, and stream, and ocean once more.

I see the earth turn on its axis and revolve around a sun’s warmth, as that sun moves through an inconceivably expansive universe.

My Amish woman on her chair holds all of this and more within her. Remove any one of these elements, and she would not be exactly the same. As naturalist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir, writes, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The idea that we have a separate and independent existence is, as Albert Einstein says, “a kind of optical delusion of…consciousness.” The trick is to experience life as it truly is~~not a collection of things separate, but something whole and indivisible.

My little Amish woman on her rocker is, indeed, hitched to everything else in the universe. And now she is hitched to you.


Loanne Marie

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