March 2, 2018

This Will Not Break Us.

I'll never forget when my then fiancĂ© and I were completing our wedding registry at Belk and looking at china patterns, the sales lady took a delicate plate and banged it against the display shelf to show us just how durable bone china really is.

I was horrified at first, but saw that she was didn't crack or break. While I'm not saying this is necessarily a good way to test the strength of your fancy dishes, it was a good reminder that not all is what it seems.

If you had asked me prior to this demonstration, I would have sworn bone china was the most fragile and delicate option available. I would have been incorrect. In fact, bone china, though thinner and lighter than porcelain, has the greatest strength and highest chip-resistance of all ceramics. Stick that one in your save for later trivia file.

Isn't it funny how something that you perceive to be very delicate or fragile can surprise you with an inner strength you didn't know it had?

I found myself in this very situation recently while having a conversation with my paternal grandmother. While our relationship has been somewhat complicated over the past decade, she remains one of the most influential people in my life.

Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of time spent with her, playing Barbies or cooking or making arts and crafts. And it wasn't just the things we did together that felt special. It was the way she related to me. The way she made me feel valued, without expecting me to do anything to earn her acceptance or approval.

In many ways, she was my first best friend. Actually, I think I always saw her as more of a friend than a grandma. Maybe that's why I have never called her Grandma, opting to instead call her by her first name, Patsye. In my childhood mind, it was more than a name....sort of a term of endearment more special than the generic 'grandma' used by most kids.

I always saw her as one of the most creative people I knew. She could make anything. As long as I could dream it up, she could figure out a way to make it. A talented seamstress and quilter, she brought to life the beautiful dresses and outfits I would sketch. When I asked her to make me a quilt with a ballerina on it, she rose to the challenge, turning scraps of satin and vintage lace into a tutu and toe shoes.

But while I always saw my Patsye as talented, creative and kind, I knew she had another side. A very fragile, sensitive side that could surface in any given situation and leave me feeling very confused.

Once, while looking at old photographs of her as a teenager, I saw one where I thought her hair looked funny. It was the 80s, and I'm sure it was the fact that hair styles of the 1950s were very different from hair styles that I knew to be 'normal.' I said, "Patsye, why does your hair look so funny?" not meaning any disrespect, but truly wanting to know.

This upset her very much, hurting her feelings and somehow she didn't understand that I didn't really mean it as an insult, just an innocent question. She went to her room and as I recall, didn't come out for the rest of the evening.

There would be other situations like this. When things would upset her or cause her to withdraw into herself. I learned early on that I had to tiptoe around her in some ways. But my grandpa was always there as a buffer, swooping in to make a joke, or change the subject, to protect her from one thing or another.

While I love my grandmother dearly, I would never have used the word strong to describe her.

But thinking back to her life, I can imagine that it was challenging. Her parents had an actual shotgun wedding and she always believed they were never in love. She told me on more than one occasion she never saw them be affectionate or say that they loved each other. She also felt very rejected by her mom, which I'm sure impacted her in many ways. These early life experiences shape us so much and while as a kid I only saw her as my grandmother, as an adult I can look back and see that things weren't always so great for her.

There have been plenty of not so great things that have happened since then as well. Family dramas, fractured relationships, addiction and illnesses that threw a major wrench in all the plans. This is not where I thought we'd be.

The other day I was visiting with my grandmother and found myself getting emotional about a situation I have been facing. It sounds cliche and I guess it is, but after I poured out my heart to her, I said, "It's just not fair." 

"No, it's not fair," she said. "Nothing ever is. But we are strong. This will not break us." 

I remember looking up at her through my tears and thinking, who is this person? Where did she come from? 

Perhaps she has had this inner strength all along. No, not perhaps. I'm sure of it. I don't know where it was or why she kept it hidden from me for the most part. But when I needed a reminder, she was right there. Speaking wisdom.

And she's right. This will not break us. I won't let it. And even though I have no idea what you're facing....hear this: it will not break you. Even if you feel like you are already broken. The part of you that matters most is fully intact. Unbreakable.

This is why I eat peanut butter crackers on my Wedgwood wedding china. Or whatever else I happen to be eating on any given day. I want to always be reminded of the importance of putting my valuables to good use. And also I want to remember that whatever I'm dealing with, it will not break me.