Thursday, January 3, 2008

100 Buttons

For many people the start of a new year brings with it thoughts of new beginnings. A clean slate on which to make our mark, explore new opportunities for growth, or to make a difference in our world. The theme of a clean slate as a metaphor for new beginnings, became manifest into reality, when the first day of the year found me clearing thirty years of clutter from my environment.

“What in the world am I keeping all this stuff for?!!” I kept thinking, as item after item emerged from every possible nook and cranny one room could hold. Scraps of paper with some long forgotten but once imagined “important” piece of information tucked here. Diskettes full of long obsolete technology there. Buried beneath old sewing patterns were bits of fabric for clothing once worn by children long since grown. All of it made its way to the trash heap.

Then I found the buttons. Tubs of buttons stored in a drawer I haven’t opened since the beginning of the year 2001. I closed the drawer. It did no good. The buttons began a rattling in my ears that continued to reverberate until I opened the drawer again. I stopped my frenetic cleaning and sat before the open drawer. As I looked inside, I saw the face of my young niece.

Only a few days into the new year of 2001 my mother suffered a massive stroke while in Florida for the winter. Two of my sisters went to Florida right away to be with Dad and help with Mom. I drove each day to my sister’s house to pick up her kids from school and be with them until their Dad returned from work. It was during this time that the 100th day of school elapsed.

“Auntie,” my niece said, looking up at me with serious blue eyes. “I need 100 things to bring to kindergarten for the 100th day. I don’t think I have 100 things.” “I have 100 things.” I told her. “But how can I carry 100 things to school?” she questioned. “Easy,” I said. “You bring them on a string.” I found it great fun to play this guessing game with her about how a person can carry 100 things on a string. That evening, I pulled out the button collection and carried every tub with me so Sarah could pick out the buttons she loved best. We counted them out and strung them on a string for school. Sarah was proud to bring that treasure to school on the 100th day.

I began the button collection to be frugal back when the kids where small. Mom had such a button collection. I remembered looking through them when I was a young girl. Mom had buttons in her jars that once belonged to my grandmother. Children of the depression era know better than to ever toss anything. As I looked at the buttons, they represented the passage of time back to my grandmother, and the promise of the future in my niece’s eyes. I stopped then and re-evaluated my cleaning.

I picked up the old diskettes and examined them more closely. Soon I was looking at long forgotten photos that brought me smiles of joy and tears of sorrow. I retrieved the bits of paper and unfolded the edges to remember what had been so important. It was then that I realized the lesson being taught to me in that moment.

Who we are is a result of our cumulative experiences. Learning what is valuable to hang on to and what is worth letting go of is the skill of the master. In looking more carefully I could see that where I had been, where I moved to, and where I want to go, was tucked into every inch of this room. I closed the drawer with the buttons, then said goodbye to all else. The lessons here are learned. The past is to cherish, but not relive. The future is not yet mine. I have now, and it’s a good place to be.

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