Why Do I Like This?

IMG_1647Recently, my kids decided they no longer wanted to share a room and were ready for their own space. As is my nature, I was both wistful at their growing up and excited for them. With each of them in their own rooms, I was able to move their desks out of my office. I didn’t realize it, but it had been a long time since I’d had my very own space to do with whatever I pleased. So, I set about, with marked mindfulness and purpose, arranging the office I sit in now. I didn’t just let it happen; I made pointed decisions about what would be included in my very own space – something I hadn’t experienced since my early twenties.

The things I put on the wall and arranged around the room were half practical, like pens and pencils, and half intuitive. Today, I began to wonder: Why do I like these things I intuitively picked out as decor? Each one has a story. There’s a painting Jack made when he was three. It might look like your standard abstract child’s finger painting to the untrained eye, but it’s his depiction of the 2011 Steiner Ranch fires – a huge, disastrous event that threatened to burn down our entire neighborhood. I have a lamp with a cheetah-print shade. It used to be my sister’s, and it reminds me of her. I have a large, cheap photo print – a closeup of a tulip. I love the bright colors, and I have a thing for flowers, but it’s also one of the first things Jason and I bought together. I have a calendar of local events that a friend gave me. It reminds me that, even though we now live out on the edge of the Hill Country, I’m still a part of Keeping Austin Weird. I have photographs of the kids when they were younger. In some of them, they are grinning at the camera as asked, and in some, they are completely unaware, lost in a book or play dough. I have photos of friends and family, some whom are still in my life, some not. Some have died and moved onto wherever our energy goes when our bodies no longer function for us. There’s a bright-red, plastic Ikea chair I bought off of a neighborhood resale site. I walked to pick it up, thinking it was a kid-sized chair, and was surprised to find it was almost three feet tall. I walked home, Jack at my side, carrying it over my head – quite the spectacle for passing traffic.  I have a thing for birds, and I just recently realized I tend to pick out bird-related things. I haven’t figured this one out yet. Why birds?  I like artistic, shadowy interpretations, especially when they’re red, like the decal I picked for the specific space it fits on my wall.

Each thing has a story; some of them make me want to cry, and some make me laugh. Some give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. They are just things, and things are not people or memories, but they help me. They spark something, remind me of who I am, who I have always been. From the birds, to the memorabilia, to the lamp from Target that a million other people have, what these things have in common, despite all their varied stories, is they are all me. I don’t share this office space with anyone else, so each thing is just because I like it or connect to it or find it useful. So, while things are “just things,” any of which I would give up in a heartbeat if it would help someone in need, those things are useful to my memory, my sense of self. And my kids are welcome to come in my office anytime they like…as long as they don’t touch anything.IMG_1645

 

It’s Full of Stars

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Several years ago, I walked into a coffee shop. I had some time to kill before an appointment and a good book to read. As I approached the counter and inquired about decaffeinated options, the barista asked me, “What are you reading?” It was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. He hadn’t heard of it but commented that he liked to read but hadn’t read anything recently. I, in an uncharacteristic spurt of extroversion, asked, “What did you like to read?” Then, his eyes lit up, as he began to talk about quantum mechanics and string theory, subjects of which I have an extremely tentative understanding, but his passion for it was captivating. In the few minutes it took my coffee to brew, he explained to me how everything in the universe was made from the same source, if you believe the big bang theory, so the elements in our bodies are the same as those in stars millions of light years away. “We’re all star dust,” he said with child-like delight. Then, my coffee was ready.

The whole conversation lasted less than five minutes, but the star dust thing stuck with me, and I feel just as delighted by the fact as that barista seemed to be. It’s where poetry and science meet. It makes good, logical sense, AND it feels right. The idea that we are made of the same stuff as whatever is on the other side of the universe is calming and comforting to me, and I have integrated the idea into my spiritual contemplations.

It’s a cool idea, but what does it mean in everyday life, besides being fun to think about? As I look out my office window, I see a tree, the house across the street, a white SUV. The elements in all of these things are the same as what is in me. My neighbors who have different political views than I do are made of the same star dust as I am. People who are a different nationality, race, age, body shape, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity than I am  – same star dust. The idea that, at our cores, we are all made of the same stuff means there’s no reason for us not to help each other, show compassion towards one another and work together to fix what is broken with our current world.

If we are the same as stars so far away, we can only imagine their existence, it’s a no-brainer that we are the same as each other. We are all in this thing together, so let’s act like it.

Image by  ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1207a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27850385