Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life's Hidden Secret

Each day made Samuel crazy. His constricted way of life. He wanted to be wasteful: eat half a sandwich and throw the rest away, rip to shreds T-shirts when one hole appeared or trash paper clips still capable of holding multiple paper sheets together without leaving rust marks. Those were simple thoughts to distract from what really bothered him: meal leftovers. Tallied bread crusts saved to fill a measuring cup for pudding, hamburger crumbs glued together with ketchup three days after grilling, and limp celery stalks, oh, how he hated celery.

Samuel's best friend Ernie commented one day while both jammed sandwiches into mouths like squirrels reacting to the first blast of cold winter air that life had been good to them since automobiles still broke down even in an economy hurting from recession and they were there to fix them. Samuel had to agree, but he recognized Ernie only perceived the upside of a seesaw destined to bump the ground again.

Samuel recalled a decade prior when he'd been eighteen and Dad would be in blue jeans, green flannel shirt and baseball cap bending next to a hot sputtering hard-starting lawn mower. Mom would be in a house dress, mixer blades whirling and a raggedy, threadbare dish towel posed at the ready. With the immediate chores accomplished, both would turn to fixing things. Mom held nails while Dad pounded, a repaired curtain rod securely attached. Next came the screen door, the radio batteries, the hem on a dress shortened to be stylish in length even if the material faded and old-fashioned. Nothing discarded  We were keepers, Dad said. Waste not, want not, chipped in Mom.

Samuel gulped the last dry bread crust and bore his eyes into Ernie's gaze. "I want to be wasteful," Samuel said. Forget saving. The envisioned trumpet announcing affluence meant Samuel could be wasteful. Things could be thrown away for a hefty bank balance meant more could be obtained when needed. He dreamed of life with buldging pockets straining to retain wads of folded C-notes. An unending line of credit always paid off without interest. Neighbors envious of a new car each fall.

Reality intruded upon Samuel the day an ambulance whisked his Mom to the hospital. The doctor's notification finally received that he could visit her room; Dad, teary-eyed, disheveled next to the bed. When Dad moved to allow Samuel to squeeze next to Mom's bedrail, the room's window allowed the heavenly sun to explode its warmth upon Samuel. Mom's lips formed words of love before her chest became still. A green line ran across the bedside monitor screen. Dad pulled the monitor's plug from the wall socket.

The pain of learning that life is not infinite, but finite, overwhelmed Samuel. While he may have known of the inevitability of human fraility in the deep recesses of his mind, it never choked him as hard as it did in Mom's hospital room. Mom would never again be a help to her family, or him especially. The extended usefulness of material things would slowly ebb away with Mom not there to add sustaining life.

Dad said one thing to Samuel that reverberated like a Christmas bell. Mom was happy, he said, because the family provided meaning and emotional nourishment.

Samuel knew that wasn't Mom talking about the wash machine she complained of frequently, nor the socks that needed constant darning, nor the stretching of meals with pasta the last week of each month. Those were not heading her list of importance. The smile across Mom's face the brightest when she reminisced about reading Samuel a story when an infant, the hugs from Dad each time he left for work or family holiday celebrations and the handmade ornaments.

The love expressed through human acts that didn't require expensive payment were the currency that required keeping. Samuel made a mental list of family and friends to be thankful for. He'd keep them front and center in his life. The material things no longer cluttered his dreams or longings.

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