I didn’t find that envelope with her Edwardian script all across the backside until I had ranted and raved myself raw.
It had been lying on the floor all that time, her looped Ts and swaggering Ss, somber witness, and I’m certain she grieved me more in that moment than I her, her with the grave growing slow moss over her in steady October rain.
There had only been the picture frames left. A pile of extra blankets to be stacked and stored. The rest was finished. The bookshelves sorted, moved, the couches rearranged, the piano transported and situated, pictures shifted and readdressed to new walls, the baskets all having migrated to quiet dens, fattened with books, now the vacuum cleaner humming bliss, domestic birdsong in background. The back of my shirt clings damp, the rain of work and the hours. Only just now, the remnants to be swept away to the Rip Van Winkle sleep of the storage room. I’m ready for pillow too.
Turning that knob, who could have been prepared for the shock of the implosion? For the blue rubbermaids of the carefully folded Osh Kosh memories dumped, the yellowed clippings of winning days tossed, the trophies for track dashed, sprinting gold runners accidently amputated? A few of the guilty curious slinked.
I did this, and only this, right. I didn’t combust. I did lay my head against the wall and heave out deliberate, methodical chest-still-hurting praise. A heart is a one-feeling dwelling; gratitude evicts stress, sends frustration packing. I help her get her bags with choked out thanks. I spew the words, one at a time, hard breaths.
‘I thank You, God, that we breathe.’ (When you are in exasperation’s vortex, the cling to gratitude can be embarrassingly primitive, desperate.) ‘I thank You, God, that this isn’t terminal. I thank You, God, that You are still here in this mess. And. that. You. don’t. leave. us.’
And then I bit my tongue hard, entered warily into the disaster zone and began picking my way through the kid-wreckage.
Silence is the mistake I made.
I should have kept murmuring praise. I should have kept speaking the blessings.
Gratitude glues to God and silence lets annoyance mount the steps and I should have kept the door shut with the thanks. I didn’t and ire slipped in the back door.
“You guys know you’re not to be in the storage room. Who rooted through the sports tub and left the racquets and kites and frisbees all over the floor?’ I can feel angst horning her way in.
“And the baby blankets… and the Christmas decorations…. and the photos??!!” Gall makes herself at home and a band of children shift sheepish at the door.
I’m spitting out the disgust, folding this infant dress, volume ramping, gathering these papers, a flurry of swoop, this blasting wind of maternal despair, when I find her envelope on the floor.
I’d know Grandma’s handwriting anywhere.
An envelope (frugal women never let a thing of use go to waste) lying there next to the decapitated trophies, strewn ribbons. I gave Grandma’s eulogy eight years ago this December. Her handwriting hadn’t faded.
I picked up the envelope and that was the title.
A little speech she gave? The wedding shower she’d hosted for me downstairs in that red shag carpet rec-room with the white wicker wing backs? This, these words, I don’t remember.
“Happiness doesn’t occur by itself.
You cause it to happen or not….”
I lower myself onto rubbermaid lid of the Christmas Tree, whisper her words. I can hear her voice.
“How you relate to life’s events
Determines your joy or your misery.”
The words begin to blur, too, the mess on the floor, the wide-eyed felonious children in the doorway. I read the words softly aloud, and Grandma meets us in this soul shambles.
“Whether your feelings are mean or kind
Your attitude to life is the key.
Don’t wait to be happy until things are just right.
Don’t let life’s little annoyances get in the way…
You can be as happy as you decide to be.”
She’s near the end of the envelope; her words curve up the side. Tears carve down my regrets.
The words slip too, hushed and broken. “Yes, Grandma, yes….”
I run my fingertip along the words, the wonder of finding this here, now. The rubbermaid lid sags and I shift. God left a note in storage room rubble and the only sound in the shadow room is my repentance falling.
And in den of disaster, (soul, not domestic), I think of Daniel before he was thrown into his.
“Now when Daniel… he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” -Daniel 6:10
Three times a day Daniel prayed. This I knew, Sunday School staple. But this I find only recently in my morning reading:
Daniel’s prayers were not of petitioning, but of praise. Three times a day he stopped his hand from the task and turned towards God and gave thanks.
His prayers were hands raised in eucharisteo.
His knees were bent with the blessings.
His attitude was gratitude.
It’s not trite cliche. It’s the posture of a sinner-made-saint.
I can be as happy as much as I choose to give thanks. Fixed hour prayer, eyes fixed on blessings.Do I dare?
“Sorry, Mama.” A wee lip trembles at the door.
She blurs too with the mama remorse.
“Oh, Mama is sorry, sweet. She should have kept her lips a thanks altar.”
And the contrite wrap in the penance and when I bend the knee towards Zion, last of the thrice prayers for the day at the prayer bench, I write the thanks in the journal, happy Daniel saved from the jaws of wrath.
Lord, three times a day, thanks prayers. Daniel knew the way out of the pit. Show me too?
(A recommended journal for making a visual journal to write out the thanks prayers three times a day: Black Large Spiral Sketchbook )
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Photos: God’s note in Grandma’s handwriting on the storage room floor, giving thanks three times a day in visual journal
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