I spent the weekend with my family in North Dakota celebrating my 50th birthday. My father reminded me about the shopping trips we used to take to Fargo, ND when I was in Junior High School. There was a giant mall in Fargo (giant according to my Midwestern mid-Seventies perspective) with an Art Store.
While my family wandered the mall looking at all the exotic items only available in the metropolis of Fargo/Moorhead I walked up and down the 8 aisles of the largest art store I had ever seen. I would pick up pastels and oil paints and brushes and pads of paper and study each of them, turning them over and over in my hands. My father used to stand outside the store and watch me. It took me hours to come to a decision and purchase something. When I got home I would look at them over and over again, eventually putting everything away in a closet with the intention of using these precious exotic materials one day. I wonder now what I was waiting for. Was I waiting for inspiration to strike me or was I hoping that one day I would be good enough to use them?
Years later I was home for Christmas and watched my eight year old baby sister open a gift from our Uncle. He sent her a “Complete Artist’s Kit” with all kinds of different art supplies. From watercolors to oil pastels, she was blown away by his generosity and the fact that he must have thought that she was deserving of such a spectacular gift. Once all the gifts were opened and the wrapping paper had been cleaned up and thrown away she took her new Artist’s Kit to the kitchen table, unwrapped it, and began to draw with her new tools.
I was flabbergasted. How could she have just opened such an amazing gift and started using it? She hadn’t relished in the fact that she had it for long enough. She hadn’t planned over and over in her mind how sweet the moment would be when she actually used her new gift. She hadn’t dreamed of the way the 42 colored pencils would feel in her hands, or the joy that the gift would bring her.
She didn’t save it for a special occasion. She didn’t save it until she proved to herself that she was genuinely worthy. I saw in her what I wished I had found for myself at her age. The realization that the enjoyment of life isn’t meant to be put off for some mystical perfect time in the future. At 8 years old my baby sister understood that life is meant to be lived in the present moment. What a gift it was for me to see that through the innocence of her perspective.
When both of my grandmothers died my parents found gifts from us unused still in their original packaging. They felt the sweaters and the little necklaces we gave them were too special, too precious to wear every day so they put them away for a special occasion. Unfortunately, in numerous cases, that special occasion didn’t happen for either one of them.
In this regard, I don’t want to be like my grandmothers. I don’t want to die and have my family find fabulous things in my apartment that were too special to use. I want to be like my baby sister. I want to understand that life is happening right now, today, so I should use and enjoy everything I have.