I am no Martha Stewart, but lately I’ve had the urge to make things beautiful–the nesting instinct returning after several months of neglecting my home in order to help my mom fight cancer. And so it was that I found myself sitting in front of a white box of rocks and an old metal pan that I found discarded in the garage, Adrian enlisted as Helper #1.
We poured packing peanuts into the pan, laid down a layer of paper to keep the rocks from falling through the peanuts to the bottom, and then placed the white stones over the top, their chalky white dust streaking our hands and hair. Every so often, Ado would find a grey rock mixed among the gleaming white and pluck it out.
“This is an ugly rock,” he would say. And then he’d toss it into what he dubbed “The Ugly Rock Box”.
I find the Ugly Rock Box an apt metaphor for life. Mostly, my own path has been smooth, marred in my teenage years only by the rocks of my parent’s divorce and the fact that I never made the cheerleading squad. In my twenties, my father died of cancer–a rock much bigger and jagged-edged than I’d known before-and in my thirties, I experienced a devastating divorce of my own. And now? My mother’s illness–the rounds of chemotherapy that put her in the hospital but didn’t curb the cancer’s growth, the surgery that left her abdomen cobbled together by wires, clips, and staples, and the frustrating sensation of being on a roller coaster blindfolded with no safety belt– should be crushing me like a boulder. Except for somehow it’s not.
“I’ve had these flashes of extreme gratefulness and feeling profoundly lucky in this cancer experience,” I wrote to my sister Stephanie recently. ”I don’t really understand it–how can one feel grateful or lucky about something this awful and serious??–but when it comes it is like an incredible healing light that shines right through to my core.” Goofy? Maybe. But it’s true.
I would like to think that this epiphany is borne of wisdom, but it’s probably more of a defense mechanism–a way to prove to my mom that her children will be ok if she dies so that she doesn’t worry. I would also like to be able to toss all of life’s ugly rocks into a box as easily as Ado, not allowing them to muck up the rest, but I guess the lesson is that there is beauty in them too. It’s just more difficult to see.
Perhaps it is this newfound knowledge that spurred me to create something lovely out of rocks, a little boy by my side earnestly arranging nothing into something. And when we were through, I took a tiny succulent that Griffin grew in his gardening class and planted it right in the middle, pleased with the way its slender, green arms reached toward the light.