When the Watch Stops, Where Will I Be?

downloadBy Peggy Wuenstel — I am not sure if it was a story I read , or a Twilight Zone episode that I watched as an impressionable child.  

Dear readers, please write to tell me if you recognize the tale I relate. I would like to reread it, as well as give it due credit.

It was a story about a magical watch that would allow its bearer to stop time at the moment of his or her choosing to remain at that instant of serenity and happiness for all time. As you can imagine, the story has a twist. The man in possession of the watch keeps waiting for the “next best thing” to appear in his life;  a little more money, a more fulfilling job, better standing in the community. As a result he misses not one, but several chances to remain in a happy movement in his life and ends up unable to use the powerful gift he has been given, as the closing years of his life are filled with pain, loss, and other challenges. It is a not at all subtle reminder for us to relish the wonderful events all along our life.

This bit of musing paired well with a recent parable from Sunday mass about a rich man who became so burdened by the possessions that he accumulated and carried along the path of his life that he arrived at the proverbial end of the road with a great many  material goods and very little to show for his journey. A fellow traveler, far less concerned with what he was amassing, scattered seeds along the roadway, and watched them burst into bloom. Our riches can be a blessing or a burden depending on the way we utilize them.

I have been warned that this happens as one enters the later years of life. The clutter becomes more irksome, the accumulations less valuable. They carry less sentiment and gather more dust. Paradoxically, as our aging minds have more trouble calling up memories, we find less need for the souvenirs of our pasts. I am the queen of keeping things that I might need “just in case”. In fact I have an entire room in my home devoted to arts and crafts materials. They have come in handy on occasion, and I love being the go to person for obscure items. But, these bins and baskets and bundles are getting heavy. I have a dear friend who is of a similar persuasion. One of her favorite phrases has been “I know I have one at home, but I don’t know where, but I do know what aisle it is in at the store”. And, she buys another one.

I have also had a few personal experiences with giving lately that have me radically rethinking the concept. My husband and our yellow Labrador Bitsy have become a highly effective pheasant hunting team over the last few seasons. In addition to some amazing meals, I have also come into possession of a large quantity of beautiful feathers. They fill a ceramic crock in my hallway and add a nice decorating touch. But now they don’t all fit comfortably and they look cramped and uncomfortable.

My reading classroom has one of those display coffee tables in it with a drawer that can be filled with interesting and decorative items. We call it our artifact table and we’ve had fall leaves and acorns, Halloween spiders, and strips of paper with our things to be thankful for that we rolled into napkin rings for the family table encased within. I had also added some of these overflow feathers to round out the display in a decorative way. After a session of boys’ book club, in which feathers were featured in our shared story, I distributed them to the participants as a memento. Their reactions were amazing. There is nothing I could have done with these feathers that could have produced more joy. The ones in my vase at home are more beautiful as a result of the ones I gave away.

The girls group I meet with is reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. An angel statue features prominently in the story of a pair of siblings who run away from home, and try to solve the mystery of the origin of the sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they have chosen as their hideout. I had accumulated a large number of craft angel wings and we created personal angels as a celebration of the “mission” each of these girls has chosen for herself. They mean far more now that they are not stashed away in a craft room drawer.  I have noted how the kids I work with delight in the colored paperclips that gather their practice flashcards together.

I am now constantly looking for things to give away, send home, pass on. I want to plant as many seeds as possible along the road I am traveling, and to enjoy the wildflowers that spring up along the roadside. I want to carry less and less as I get closer to my destination. I want to see those in need and be inspired to offer what I have to fill that void. I want to offer before it is requested, see before it is voiced. This might be the greatest gift I could receive this holiday season. As I clean out the closets this year, pass on the heirlooms, and make the Goodwill run that is often a part of the New Year’s resolution list, I’ll be thinking about a magic watch, a lighter backpack, and ways to make little people smile.

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