June 21, 2016

Things I miss.

I was recently writing in my journal with a pencil and, after filling up one complete page, noticed that the heel of my hand was covered with pencil smudge. The sight took me back to elementary school and all the times my hands would end up smudged from using a pencil to write an essay or story. Funny how I spent so much time in the lower grades of elementary school excitedly anticipating the day when I could trade in my pencil for a pen to do my schoolwork.

And now I'm grown and often choose a pencil on purpose because of the nostalgic feeling is gives me. 

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past" it applies specifically to times and places that we have happy personal connections with. I've written about this feeling before, a certain homesickness we have for places and people we hold dear.

There are other things I miss besides using a pencil to write all my secrets. 

I miss being little and staying with my grandma during the day, watching educational programs on public television, including a show where a lady taught me how to write in cursive. I miss waiting for my grandpa to come home from work. I miss the smell of his uniform, his Kroger butcher's apron covered with bits of meat, the remnants of his day. I miss how he'd sit in the corner of the kitchen, where the yellow Formica snack bar counter met the wall, a pair of half frame reading glasses perched near the end of his nose. I miss being small enough to fit on the kitchen counter lying down, my head dangling into the sink while my grandma washed my hair.

I miss how safe and sound my world felt. How nothing bad even crossed my mind because I didn't think there was anything bad to get me.

I miss the days of not knowing how good I had it. Of not having a clue how much hurt and sadness there was in the world.

I miss standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with a grown-up, and my only concern was whether I'd get a candy bar or a pack of gum, depending on who I was with and how generous they were feeling.

Now I stand there unloading my shopping cart, looking at the magazines on the racks placed perfectly at eye level. The stories of the Orlando shooting, the faces of the victims. My husband points to one face and says "that was the mom who was out dancing with her son. She died trying to protect him."

And now I'm weeping and can't pay for my groceries. And missing the days of candy bar or gum.

I don't want to be one of those people who romanticizes the past. I know there were plenty of hurts and problems back then too. But I didn't know about them yet.

There's a freedom that comes from not knowing. And on the flip side, a responsibility that is paired with awareness. Sometimes the responsibility feels so heavy, because it seems like no matter how hard we try, it makes such a small difference in the world.

But then I think about the people who made such a significant impact on my life, through just the tiniest kindnesses: My grandparents who loved me like there was no tomorrow; my 4th grade teacher who hung my artwork on the board for all to see; my mom's PBS colleague who touched my face and said I had the loveliest peaches and cream complexion.

There are many more of these kindnesses, too many to count, and I've been on the receiving end of them throughout my life. And they have made me a better person. So it was more than a small difference. I try to remember that each time I have the chance to make a small difference in someone else's life. I don't always rise to the occasion. But it feels good when I do.