A few weeks ago I visited a friend whose husband had just lost his father. They have a five year-old boy and a girl of seven months. While I was packing for the trip, my friend sent me a text sharing her son’s effort to brighten her husband’s day.
“Daddy,” he said, “I have two surprises for you!”
“I got Shrinky Dinks, and Kaitlin is coming!”
My heart warmed to be included with the esteemed Shrinky Dinks I remembered from childhood, even more so when I pulled onto their street to see her son standing in the driveway waiting for me.
Multiple losses and challenges seemed to pile onto the lives of friends and their families this month—sudden diagnoses of illness, injuries, job loss, separation and divorce, death…reminding me of dark nights of the past and making me wonder again at the meeting place of trial and gratitude.
When faced with the steep cliffs that bring us up short and turn our attention to every precarious step, a child’s glee at shrinky dinks and a few hours with a friend seem charming but inadequate at best, oblivious at worst—like the grasping words of sympathy cards that gloss syrupy condolence over deep cuts of loss that cannot begin to be healed by words. But the five-year old may know more than we do on this one.
Impact of Shrinky Dinks on Suffering
Right now I am in the middle of Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, which so far centers around a family of doctors working at a hospital in Ethiopia. On his deathbed, one character reflects back on his life, grateful he had known enough to put family life and love over the material pursuits he could have followed.
“One thing I won't have is regrets. My VIP patients have so many things they regret on their deathbeds. They regret the bitterness they leave in people's hearts. They realize that no money, no church service, no funeral procession no matter how elaborate, can remove the legacy of a mean spirit…You know, in the book of Job, Job says to God, you should have taken me straight from the womb to the tomb. Why the in-between part, why life, if it was just to suffer? Or something like that.”
Not an easy question to answer in a blog or anywhere. But shrinky dinks may have something to do it.
My young friend's excitement for small blessings paralleled the sentiments that adults streamed across Facebook and Twitter on Thanksgiving. The problem is, the rest of the year we adults are too cool for school, living daily lives in which it is gauche to be effusive, boastful to express gratitude. So we stem the "cup runneth over" gratitude for the shrinky dinks in our lives, though they exist even in the darkest seasons and may be the only real way to healing.
For those entering the holiday season while facing hardship, or those experiencing a crisis of faith, resolve or love this year, you may find some courage by finding your shrinky dinks—and shouting them from the rooftops (or at least writing them down every week or so).
Ok, I’ll start. I’ll restrict myself to a few from November alone.
Some November Shrinky Dinks:
• Returning home from an unfortunate first date to find a package of homemade chocolate chip
cookies delivered from an old friend
• Words soaring through fiction in the able hands of my favorite writers
• Cheese fondue night with girlfriends I have known for almost 20 years
• My brother visiting from Vermont, strumming “Autumn Leaves” on his guitar on Thanksgiving
• Nephews who are growing into young men but still cook pumpkin cheesecake with their dad; a
brother-in-law & dad who unapologetically crack corny jokes; sisters who feel the world with big
hearts; friends who listen, know me, and shine into their lives while scarcely seeing how beautiful
• Watching Sugar, my dad’s small white cockapoo, size up Morgan, my brother’s black lab, vie for
human attention, then bound through piles of leaves chasing each other across the yard. Sugar
fitting neatly into the crook of my arm and hip, followed by Morgan’s attempt to copy her from a
much larger body, his heavy tail whipping my face in his struggle to fit cozily
• Good news from the doctor after an illness
• Last Sunday’s sunset, sending pink and purple sighs of relief into the oncoming winter sky
The weekend before Halloween, an unexpected storm buried New Jersey in snow, astounding me with the cumulative weight of airy snowflakes on single leaves—tiny, flexible pings of color that somehow, could bear it.
Trees behaved differently. Those that could bend leaned low to the ground, their branches arching in the slow backward bend of limbo dancers. The next day they bounced back to stand straight again, waiting out the snow that ran off their leaves and assuring that fall was not over yet.
Other trees could not bear the weight, and the endurance of leaves brought down massive branches of oaks and maples across northern New Jersey. All day they whipped resounding cracks across the neighborhood in protest. The next day, their white bark wounds gaped open, their limbs falling on cars and rooftops, waiting to be carried away.
Those who are strong carry the color while bearing the weight of snow.
My shrinky dinks are all of these reminders, that we can look to the daily world for the endurance we need during seasons of loss, for the love and relationships that restore us, and for the beauty that carries it all.
What are yours?