Blowin’ In: Wonder
By Susan Mangan
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one . . .
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water . . .
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
(“Clearances III” by Seamus Heaney)
As I so often do before I write, I gather ephemera: bus tickets from an unexpected journey through the streets of Dublin, Christmas cards from 1977, tattered novels from 1942, and hand copied poems torn from composition books. These things, and I do not use this vague word things lightly, inspire me whereas others may toss them into the bin as a hinderance to clear thought.
The bus tickets and train passes, pamphlets for art exhibits, scribbled notes from old boyfriends, and love letters written for me by my children raise my consciousness. Surrounded by this ephemera and cold cups of coffee undrunk, I am reminded of unplanned opportunity, spontaneous affection, and hope.
In February, we are well into the new year. Unattainable resolutions have been thrown in the metaphoric bin along with the clutter of the previous year. There exists, however, that collection of ticket stubs to a Harry Styles concert, a receipt from a wine tasting in the Finger Lakes, a yellow Post-It Note reminding you of a book title that a clerk in a bohemian bookshop in Chicago deemed the best read of the year.
In essence, you have saved remnants of joy. Oftentimes, joy is not found, but rather manifests from moments that simply arise from the mundane act of living. Granted, it takes money and some degree of planning to score a front row seat at a Harry Styles concert; however, I know a certain hair stylist working in New York City for fashion week who took a chance at a solo ticket and found herself front row at the said concert.
Serendipitous moments cannot be predicted logically or statistically. They simply happen and one must be open to chance.
As I age and my daughter grows older, I have experienced serendipitous events that have connected both her and me to my mother. My mother was practical: a planner, a nurse, and later a hospital administrator. Despite her herculean effort to balance work, life, the care of others, she was always open to laughter and lived with a child’s heart.
In later years, when time and money allowed, my mother traveled, as did her mother. Now Mim, my grandmother, traveled all corners of the globe, riding camels in Egypt and elephants in India; my mother’s travels were a bit more modest, but she did have the opportunity to tour part of Europe.
Over the years, she kept her travel ephemera in a brocade suitcase. Stacks of photographs, tour bus itineraries, even a prix-fixe menu from a bistro in Provence are all zipped within this suitcase, a treasure trove of things.After she died, my father and I found this suitcase in the shed. He was ready to throw it, contents and all in the trash, until I unzipped the case to reveal two decades worth of travel memories.
Before my daughter embarked on her first solo trip abroad, a semester in London, she and I sealed our memory of my mother with a symbol of a blackberry. The blackberry, as I have written many times before, was central to my mother’s last words to me. I once wrote of the poet Heaney and his connection to the blackberry as a symbol of youthful promise, but also of the often-disheartening reality of life.
For my daughter and me, the blackberry stood for Mema; and so, her spirit followed us to London, reminding us of her presence one Sunday morning in a shop in Marylebone, where a poem I read following her death appeared unbidden on a bookshelf.
During the spring, my mother’s love for unexpected adventure followed me along a tram route in Dublin City, where I saw advertised an exhibit dedicated to the life and work of Seamus Heaney. Here I was gifted with a handwritten note from a librarian curating the program.
With an open heart, I shared with this kind stranger the story of my mother, my daughter, unexpected journeys, life changing news, and the symbol of Heaney’s blackberry. She in turn shared with me Heaney’s Clearances III, a poem about the love between a mother and her son, and simple moments filled with hidden grace.
This past summer, my daughter traveled to Italy. On the same day that she texted me a photo of herself in which she is standing amid sulphur-rich hot springs in a Tuscan pool, I found another image in my parents’ home on Crooked Lake linking our journey: hers, mine, my mother’s.
Stored beneath old crossword puzzles, skeins of yarn, and knitting needles, I uncovered a forgotten travel journal dating back to my mother’s first trip to Italy many years ago. Holding my daughter’s image in one hand and the journal in another, I wept over this newly acquired piece of ephemera; I wept for the promise of youth, the beauty of maturity. Once again, my mother found a way to assure me that our worlds are indeed inexplicably connected in surprising moments of wonder.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at su*******@ya***.com.