My Life as a Doll, Part One

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Baby Girl the Second’s ‘big’ Christmas gift last month was a very special doll, one that looks quite a bit like her. For the first couple weeks, Buttercup went everywhere with us, had her hair combed frequently, and was talked about to every friend, acquaintance, and store clerk who seemed even mildly interested (or not).  This daughter of mine has never latched onto one particular necessary-for-breathing doll or stuffed animal or blanket, but it looks like Buttercup is going to be a good friend for a long time, even though the first flush of adoration has worn off a bit.

Naturally, Baby Girl’s interactions with her doll set me to thinking, not only about the dolls who were my particular companions when I was her age, but also about my own experiences as a doll.

I loved my dollies; they were as tenderly cared for as a little girl knew how:  bathed and dressed and tucked in carefully at night.  But even more, I loved Grandma, and I was her dolly.  That was what she called me when I was small, and I was supremely happy and secure in the inarticulate but clear understanding that I was cherished and delighted in.

We moved a state away from Grandma when I was five.  She and I remained close always, but I had outgrown being her dolly by the time we lived near each other again.  That’s what happens, of course.  Little girls grow up, and their relationships change and mature.  They don’t relate to either their grandmothers or their dolls the same way when they are teenagers that they did when they were toddlers.  But that innocent assurance of being treasured, just by being, still seems to me a grievous loss.

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Poetry as Therapy

A recent study shows that reading classic literature induces a higher-than-usual level of brain activity, and that poetry can ‘affect psychology and provide therapeutic benefit.’

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2261636/Reading-Shakespeare-Wordsworth-offer-better-therapy-self-help-books.html

I can personally attest to at least some of these findings; poetry has most certainly provide(d) therapeutic benefit in my life, particularly the past couple years.  Reading poetry, memorizing it, reciting it, talking about it with friends, writing it, writing about it — in all these ways, poetry helps me find my self and my way.

Shadows, Part 2

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Sometimes shadows hide things.  It’s easy to image in the near-dark of late dusk that they cloak monsters or wild animals or evil men, waiting for the last light to fade completely before they leap (or creep) out to attack us.  We think that perhaps if we sit very, very still, don’t bat an eyelash, don’t make a sound, barely dare to breathe, we can pass the night unmolested.  Or maybe we’re paralyzed because the shadows are concealing our way.  We don’t go forward for fear of missing a signpost or a fork in the road, or stepping off into a mire of quicksand or over the edge of an unseen precipice.

Those dangers are, of course, real possibilities, and sometimes — sometimes — sitting down and waiting for the light to return before moving on may be the wisest course of action.  But not always, and never permanently.  We can’t stay forever in the makeshift huts we build ourselves on the edges of the shadowy places, which, if we’re at all honest, we know don’t offer any real protection anyway.  Sometimes we need to look at the shadows differently through the last shreds of sunset or the final flickers of our guttering torches.  This is affirmed in another definition of the word:  shelter from danger or observation.

Sometimes shadows hide us, screening us from they eyes of those who would harm us, providing us cover to slip past hostile sentinels unnoticed.  They may, blessedly, shroud obstacles we would think insurmountable, or veil perils that would freeze our blood if we could see them clearly.  Perhaps they prevent our being deceived into taking what would look, in broad daylight, like a shortcut or an easier road to our intended destination.  Shadows might make us more alert to the soft touch of a guiding hand, more apt to hear a still, small voice.

Friends, Finally

We are friends now, at last.  I’d say I’ve known them all my life, but it isn’t true, really.  I’ve identified them by sight, certainly, for as long as I can remember, but I refused to acknowledge them for years.  I’d shut my eyes and turn my head away, enduring their visitation in stony, jaw-set silence; or rage in hot tears at their intrusion.

But eventually anger runs out, and I realized that if we are going to meet regularly — and we undoubtedly are — it might as well be on amicable terms.  I gave up trying to avoid them, stopped resisting their company.

Now we sit together in a companionable silence most days.  They offer me a space for reflection and contemplation, and a first sounding board for ideas I’m not yet ready to share with anyone else.  I’ve come to truly value my time with four and five.

‘The Confession of a Lifelong Insomniac, Rebekah Choat, composed between 5:17 and 5:54 a.m., November 10, 2012’

The Shadow

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The word “shadow” has sixteen definitions or shades of meaning in my dictionary.  One of them is simply “darkness.”  In turn, darkness has a number of different nuances.  The natural physical darkness of night is both an invitation and a facilitator for our bodies to rest.  But that same night-darkness is feared by my young daughter, making many nights uncomfortable and unrestful, leaving me exhausted at dawn.  This weariness then makes me vulnerable to the darkness of depression, which seems always to hover nearby, ready to seep in through any crack in my defenses.  A friend of mine, who understands this struggle well, refers to depression as “the shadow.”

I’ve gradually become aware, the past few years, that the depression which assails me has a component of seasonal affective disorder – these darker days and longer nights of winter take a vague but noticeable toll on me.

Yet, in my heightened awareness at this season, I have found unexpected, sometimes startling, redemptive ways of looking at darkness.  T.S. Eliot says to let “the darkness of God” come upon you.  C.S. Lewis’s hero Ransom finds the darkness on Perelandra dense with the presence, the spirit of God.  George MacDonald notes that “all things seem rushing straight into the dark, but the dark still is God.”  And, as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Samwise Gamgee realizes, looking up out of the forsaken land, a star shines most brightly against the darkest sky.

Working Toward the Center

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I’ve liked doing jigsaw puzzles since I was a little girl, maybe because I was a strange, solitary child who preferred playing alone; maybe because I was shy and uncoordinated and not good at tag or dodgeball; maybe because it gave me a sense of power and accomplishment to be able to manipulate little pieces of cardboard into a picture that meant something and was beautiful into the bargain.

In a lot of ways life seems like a giant jigsaw puzzle to me, one with 25,000 tiny pieces and the picture on the box missing.  I know the basic parameters – four corners, find the straight edges and build the frame first.  That much I’ve managed, by the grace of God and with a lot of help, in 45 years.  I know what my foundational values are, what beliefs make up the framework and structure of my life.

Now I’m in the process of filling in the outlined space, working toward the center.  I have some idea, based on the colors and shapes I can discern, what the finished picture may look like, but there are some pieces that don’t match the pattern I have in mind, and I can’t imagine how they are going to fit.

I’m generally not half bad at working puzzles.  I have a knack for seeing connections; sometimes I can tell at first glance which piece comes next in a section under construction.  But there are also times when I’m completely stumped, and the only way to proceed is by trial and error – pick up a piece that looks like it might work, try it this way, turn it around and try it that way, discard it and pick up the next piece that looks likely, repeat until something snaps in place.

Even this method isn’t foolproof.  Once in a while I get a piece that is the same color as the ones I’ve already put together, and it seems to be shaped properly to fit the space, but when I try to connect it something just isn’t quite right.  There’s a minute gap where there shouldn’t be, or a slant that’s a few degrees off, or some bit that juts out into an area where it clearly doesn’t belong.

Occasionally, the misfit is virtually imperceptible, and I don’t recognize it until some time down the line, when the initial shift away from true has sent everything else askew.  Then the only thing to be done is take apart the pieces that were built onto the false connection and set them aside to be worked in again later at the proper time and place.  Pushing forward without correcting the error, forcing unnatural conjunctions, only results in distortion and damage.

Some days the process is very frustrating, and I just want to throw out the pieces that don’t seem to fit, or quit working on it altogether.  But a still, small voice encourages me not to give up, that it will all come together someday, to keep working toward the center bit by bit.