Saturday, 8 January 2011

Small Mercies

Here is the current state of our living room: the Chinese checkers board is still out; the only reason the marbles aren't everywhere is because my husband tidied them away last night. Several blankets are lying in a heap: from under one I can see a cat's paw and a tail. There are ashes and small pieces of coal scattered around our fireplace, and the plastic bucket my husband transfers coals in has a melted edge because one of our daughters forgot it was plastic and left it leaning against the stove. I won't mention which daughter because I am kind. And consider this: she put it against the stove because she was sweeping up the ashes and bits of coal. Small mercies.

Many other things are lying around too: shoes, slippers, socks, newspapers, books, empty cracker boxes, an embroidery hoop, cushions, board games, cat toys, matches, homework notebooks, lap top computers, a fire poker, magazines, scarves, plastic bags, candy wrappers, musical instruments, and more socks. I can't get over how many socks a family of four can generate. Add another person to the mix, and I'm betting we'd barely see the carpet for the socks. Most of the stuff belongs to my kids; a few of the items belong to my husband and me. I won't mention the things he's left lying around, because he is my husband. I won't mention the state of my desk, because this is my blog.

One of the cats has killed another bird, but someone must have locked the cat flap because the feathers are all over the front porch, but not in the kitchen this time. Small mercies. And apart from the feathers and a few drops of blood, there is nothing to clean up: the prey was obviously consumed this time, unlike the large rodent that I found, headless, just outside the front door a few days ago. Small mercies.

It ought to start getting tidier around here: our eldest daughter has gone to visit a friend. She has suffered a huge disappointment: a university friend and she were planning to travel around Europe for a whole month, staying in the homes of other pals and visiting half a dozen countries together. Last night, this much-awaited holiday was canceled: her friend's parents found out about her less than stellar academic record and they nixed her vacation plans at the last minute.

After venting her extreme irritation (tickets were purchased! reservations were made!), our daughter got on the phone and arranged to stay with another friend. I heard her discussing films, shopping excursions, visits to the gym -- and breathed a sigh of relief. Small mercies: her holiday won't be spoiled. And we won't have a miserable teenager sulking around the house for the next month either -- which is really not a small mercy. She stripped her sheets and pillowcases off her bed before she left too: that's another small mercy.

I can't look at this room without wincing, my poor husband has managed to sprain his back again, and it snowed overnight, making the roads treacherously slick and difficult to navigate. I've got rejection letters in my in-box, an oven sorely in need of a good scrub, and the leaking spot in our roof has been joined by another, bigger one. There's a nasty stain on our carpet, a rotten spot near the shower where water has soaked through the wood and boy, is that going to be expensive to fix. But I'm grateful for the small mercies, which surround me in abundance.

And quite apart from the silly trivia of my life, there are people like this woman and this man in the world.

And that's not a small mercy either.


Mr London Street said...

Reading your pieces it's really quite hard to imagine your writing being rejected by anyone. Who was it? I'm better off knowing because it's certainly not worth me submitting anything to them!

A very nice post, this. I am hopeless at spotting the small mercies; I hope I get better at it in 2011.

Helen said...

Aaah Mary - no matter the mercies - small, big, gigantic - the oven will always be in need of a good scrub!! It's as it should be.

It's good to count your blessings isn't it!

Vijaya said...

Why, Mary, you and I share a grateful heart. That is always, always, always my first emotion, no matter what is going on around me. Small mercies, tender mercies, indeed. Forget the carpet, the oven, and the socks. How I wish you and your family could join us for supper. We'd have a marvelous time together.

Eryl said...

Sounds like it's time to get yourself a tin bucket!

Mary Witzl said...

Mr London -- You're nice to say that, but I think my problem is that I haven't gotten enough rejection letters yet. I've compared notes with published authors and I think I'm lagging behind in this department -- you're supposed to have enough to paper an entire room and I've only covered 3 1/4 walls. So in 2011, my aim is to cover the remaining 1 1/4 wall. So far I'm off to a promising start -- not long to go now!

See? You don't need a positive mind to spot small mercies. You need a boundless capacity for self delusion.

Helen -- Although it sounds corny, I think the ability to count blessings in a world like this isn't just a plus, it's essential. If I couldn't do this, my life would be awful. Or I'd have to stop reading the papers.

By the way, how have you been? I haven't been able to access your blog lately!

Vijaya -- The older I get, the more grateful I feel for everything. I'm almost beginning to think that gratitude is a natural process of aging, like getting forgetful or developing wrinkles, and if so, then there's another thing to be grateful for.

You'd be welcome to have supper here with us too -- I'd even clean out the oven before you came!

Eryl -- Where do you GET tin buckets? We've looked, but we never seem to find them. (Seriously. That coal-dust smeared plastic Ikea wastebasket is NOT an attractive living room accessory.)

Bish Denham said...

God bless those two doctors. It sounds to me like you have a comfortable lived in home, not one of those magazine cover houses where everything is just perfect. Those kinds of houses make me nervous. Your kind of HOME makes me feel at ease.

(a plastic bucket for carrying out coals?)

Charles Gramlich said...

I picked up a nasty little rejection myself this last week. And there's a pile of dishes calling my name. sigh.

Kim Ayres said...

So glad older teenage daughter managed to get away after all. It really would have been a real shame for her to miss out, and for the rest of you to have to endure the fallout

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Dr. Abdi myself! This is the first I'd heard of the other man; thanks for posting that link.
And the recognition of small mercies is essential to mental health, I find. Also your house sounds very homey. If you were at mine, you'd see the Sunday paper all over the table, legos at the breakfast bar, and heaps of books everywhere--I need more shelves!

Robin said...

Wow. Reading about Dr. Abdi sent chills down my spine. Kind of puts being unable to find flies in perspective.

Your poor daughter. She's so resilient, though. Ain't youth grand?

I am looking at about 4 Lean Cuisine wrappers strewn across the kitchen as I write this. You're not alone, Sister!

adrienne said...

I have to say the current state of your living room sounds wonderful - all the signs of a busy, full life!

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- Aren't those doctors amazing? Reading about them makes me feel proud to be a human being. And ashamed of being so petty given the relative calm of my own life.

Personally, I could live with a little more perfection and little less clutter. But if I had to choose one over the other, I'd go for cluttered imperfection. Because (sigh) that is the only habitat that can sustain my family.

Charles -- (Exchanging secret writer handshake and lifting eyebrow in secret writer salute) Just remember, those rejections are the paving stones in our roads to success, and inoculations against the dreaded Writer Ego. And let's pretend that dish washing is good for the soul (and DEFINITELY our marriages).

Kim -- Thank you! She recovered so quickly, I was actually filled with admiration. The person I feel the sorriest for is her friend, whose academic failure ended up causing the trouble. It's a little lonely around here now and the bathroom looks weird with nothing on the floor and without the mirror misted up, but I think I can live like this.

Elizabeth -- I should have known you would know about her, having lived in North Africa. I only discovered her recently, in the NYT. I first read about Dr Mukwege in the Guardian. He and Dr Abdi have joined my list of heroes. Every so often (usually when I've been stupid enough to watch the news), I read about them again and instantly feel better about the world. If such brave, good people exist, surely we're not all doomed.

Robin -- If you want to be truly inspired, google the article about Dr Mukwege in Glamour Magazine. I didn't post that link because I really couldn't bear to -- it is too extreme; just reading through it was more than I could stand (though hats off to the editors of Glamour Magazine, which has come a long way). Drs Abdi and Mukwege put everything into perspective for me. If I ever publish a book, I'm going to send each of them a decent donation. It's hard to think of anybody who could put it to better use or who deserves it more.

You actually got your family to eat Lean Cuisine? Whoa! After reading that, I'm betting my clutter could beat your clutter. But don't worry: I'm too proud (and too chicken) to photograph the evidence and post it for comparison.

Adrienne -- Our lives are full all right, but the problem is what they're full of! I walk into our living room in the morning and go straight to my desk, averting my eyes to the extent possible. Today it was so bad I actually had to clean my desk. Now I'm sitting in a little island of calm in the midst of a great sea of chaos. It won't last long.

Miss Footloose said...

I'm grateful for small mercies, and big ones, on a daily basis. It's true that you learn to consider things in perspective as you grow older. Reading about those two doctors is humbling. I am in awe of people who do these sorts of things.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I am always amazed at how little barriers seem to stifle me, yet people like Dr. Abdi and Dr. Mukwege are undaunted by the huge barriers they face every day.

Mary Witzl said...

Miss Footloose -- I'm in awe of them too. They make me see the world in a different light. In a way, they bring hope to me just as they bring it to the people they work with every day.

Robert -- That's exactly how I feel. A snapped car antenna, the cat throwing up on the our carpet, another leak in the roof -- all those things throw me. I want to learn how to be more like Drs Abdi and Mukwege.

Murr Brewster said...

Man. That many small mercies didn't really add up to much. Have you considered going to bed for days as an alternative lifestyle?

Just kidding. Let's hear it for another day spent above ground. And thanks for those links.

Pat said...

That's quite a comforting post as I eagerly await my grand-daughter to emerge for breakfast. All it needed was a footnote: 'now I'm gettin' dandruff.'
And another mercy is you have a smashing post out of it:)