Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why I Keep The Donkey

I could not help but hear the musical twittering of birds that overpowered the steady rainfall. I looked out and saw several birds on the ground and some flying overhead – Sparrow-sized, slate gray with a white abdomen, showing white along the sides of their tail feathers in flight. I grabbed the binoculars and bird book and by process of elimination decided they might be Dark-Eyed Juncos. They winter here in Georgia, migrating from Canada, and were probably enjoying their good fortune of discovering a newly sewn grass-seed breakfast.

Birds move from place to place and make new homes wherever they land, building and preparing and nesting until their job is complete and the season ends. Then they move on for the next season. They fly with no baggage, put nothing in storage. They stop along the way and take advantage of whatever is available. They always have enough.

But me. I have a tendency to keep things in storage. So in preparation for some house improvements, I was forced to go through and make a grand sweep of cabinets and closets, freeing our home from accumulated clutter. Why do I need to keep The March of the Tiny Soldiers, my very first recital piece (I can still play it by memory)? Why have I held on to every school yearbook for my family through the years – don’t we just need the one from our Senior Year where our picture is always better than the others? Why have I continued to stack up empty containers in even larger containers – when will I use them? When will I use three cake carriers? I hardly ever bake one cake. And why have I always guarded the quirky Donkey Planter that rests safely in the back of a cabinet on a top shelf?

It’s this silly little glass donkey pulling a cart that can hold a small plant. I pulled it out of my mother’s cabinet (she too had put it away) when we cleaned out her belongings many years ago. My sisters laughed at my sentimental attraction to it, but there was no way I would let that donkey go to the donation center. I vaguely remember it at the kitchen sink with a philodendron in it when I was a child. Mother would water it after doing the dishes and we would laugh about giving the donkey a drink of water. She seemed to love it and I loved her, so whatever she loved, I loved. It became part of who we were.

My mother moved around a lot. Like migratory birds, she went with my father whenever he was transferred in the military. She learned to make a house a home in many different places. She would fall in love with a location and then just as quickly be uprooted to a new place to start over. She would leave furniture and draperies behind. But the donkey seemed to always make the cut, traveling from home to home and finally resting in a cabinet. Maybe Mother got more fashionable and decided he should retire. Maybe the reason he was put away was she got tired of explaining her fondness for the donkey to those who never felt such an attachment. Nonetheless, she held on to him – and protected him.

As I have gone from room to room, moving back in to freshly painted rooms, I discover I have my own assortment of “donkeys” that no one else would understand my attraction to them - the inexpensive poster bought on a special trip, the bottle angel that overlooks my kitchen, the bowl and basket made by young, creative hands; the primitive, pre-school, clay nativity that takes center stage every Christmas. And it becomes easier to toss those things that have not found a place in my heart, but only take up space, creating distraction from what is most loved.

Sitting at a traffic light I glanced at the sign in front of the little church. It said, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things” (Teresa of Avila) That was it. Love. The reason I keep the donkey planter is because of love. Love of a childhood that was special. Love of a mother who wisely found meaning in simple things. Love overcomes the hard times and moves with us wherever we go. Love in the shape of a donkey can make us laugh. Love can be stored safely in our hearts forever. No cabinets or boxes needed, love is carried with us through our day, filling us with hearts that can sing. Why should he stay hidden away? I think I'll offer him a drink.