I have lost many things in my life…phone numbers, IDs, keys, earrings, and sunglasses to name just a few. There is a basket in my laundry room solely for the purpose of collecting lost socks. Sadly they pile up on top of the dryer, a basket full of hope and a yearning for purpose to fulfill.
I have also lost a lot of money, some of which I cannot blame upon the stock market or poker table. Being a college student in the early 90s when wristlets (little wallets that dangle from your wrist) were not yet a cool fashion accessory, I ashamedly admit to regularly carrying $20 bills in my shoe and under straps that were meant to secure much more than a picture of Andrew Jackson.
Safe to say, I now adorn a beautiful leather wristlet for nights out on the town.
These losses have left their mark upon me. I am now THAT mom, the one who obsesses over every puzzle and game board piece in the house. I find myself having to account for every miniscule piece to each ant-sized Lego set, Matchbox superhighway, and Barbie doll glam squad.
No, you can’t play with that on the sofa. Couch cushions are scientifically proven to be black holes for Barbie shoes.
No, you can’t take that on the porch. Do you know how many pieces have fallen between the cracks never to be seen again?
No. No. No. Please don’t get that out in the car. There’s a place under the back row that collects every hair tie, sticker, candy wrapper and forgotten Happy Meal toy and melts them into a dustball-encrusted lump of stickiness that the Bionic Man couldn’t separate.
Who’s the Bionic Man?
Long story short, the losses add up and recently I lost something that took my obsession to a whole new level.
A few months ago, I introduced you all to my dear friend John. You’ll remember that he passed away in 1989 just before we were to graduate from high school. Earlier this year, when I took down my scrapbook of John’s pictures, letters, cards and poetry from my closet shelf, I noticed the book’s pages were becoming sticky, and the thick binding was worn and peeling. Being a preserver of things that need to be preserved, I went to the store and purchased the highest archival-quality book I could find. As I traced my fingers on its black linen cover, I knew it was exactly what I needed to keep every precious word legible to my 80-year-old eyes.
I eagerly came home and began to slowly, carefully and meticulously breathe new life into what John left behind. Many of his words have been long written on my heart.
And yet when I got to the end of the stack, I realized that one special piece of paper was missing. In perhaps his most colorful note, John had drawn a picture of the world smiling back at me with big brown eyes, gangly arms and eight tiny strawberries running around its Chuck Taylor’ed feet. Above it all was a glorious picture of the sun. I couldn’t recall what was written on the paper, but the picture was forever etched in a space far deeper than my memory.
This drawing of John’s was the source of The Great Tattoo Debate of 1991, when while sitting in the backseat of my mom’s Buick on a beach shopping excursion, I decided to inform both my mother and older sister of my intent to get a tattoo. Not just any tattoo, but the aforementioned picture adorned in full color upon my sun-kissed 20-year-old self. As I pondered out loud whether or not I should get it inked on my ankle, or my shoulder, or my wrist, or my….
My mother and sister quickly put the brakes on my plan. I silently sat in the hot, leathered backseat and endured a ten-minute rebuke of all that I thought was good about the idea.
Do you know how much a tattoo cost?
It will fade and stretch and get wrinkly and…
They just didn’t get it. Two years into the grief of losing my best friend, and there I was still passionately searching for some way to never lose sight of him.
As it turned out, I didn’t end up getting the tattoo after all. It wasn’t because of the wisdom imparted to me on that summer night. It wasn’t because I cared about what others thought or that I couldn’t afford one. In this coming-of-age story, I simply couldn’t find my inner compass to help me decide exactly where I was going to get it permanently pigmented upon my body. It boiled down to my indecisiveness.
Yet now, thirty years later and much more decisive, I couldn’t put my hands on the piece of paper that had long been precious to me. It was not in my scrapbook. It wasn’t in the envelopes of all that I had left of John. Whether it was misplaced or tossed, I knew that it was most definitely lost.
I was heartbroken.
For the better part of two weeks, I thought about that piece of paper every single day. I quizzed my husband and kids. I called a friend. Had anyone remembered seeing it?
I moved every hanger, shoe, and storage box in my closet. I checked coat pockets and pocketbooks. I took down my heavy collection of memorabilia from the top shelves, a box at a time. I sorted. I shuffled. I sifted and shifted. Even with the most organized walk-in closet in town, I still didn’t have the irreplaceable picture that seemed priceless only to me.
One Monday night, after unsuccessfully sorting through the last of the boxes, I retired with a heavy heart and spirit. As I placed my head on the pillow and closed my eyes, I handed over all that had burdened me to a much higher power. I had reached an impasse, but I didn’t get on my knees and beg for it to drop from the sky or miraculously appear in a cloud of dust.
“Just lead me to it, Lord. Just lead me.”
I said it over and over again until I fell asleep.
The next morning, as I walked through the bedroom, I took notice of the antique wardrobe in the corner. I could count on one hand how many times I had ever opened its doors. It had been the one place in which I hadn’t looked.
Na…I never put much of anything in there.
It’s just full of old quilts, long forgotten sand dollars, and some family photos.
And to convince me further, our oldest daughter, in her own pre-college closet cleanout, had begun a rather large donation pile right in front, blocking the wardrobe’s doors. I went back to work, but it kept staring at me. It sat there in the corner of my bedroom, with its beautiful, dark-stained finish, and it called to me. It kept calling me until I finally gave in to my reservations and pushed the mountain of clothes aside.
Lord, lead me.
I turned the slim skeleton key to open the left-side door and was greeted by a stack of small wooden boxes that I had begun to collect after my grandmother’s passing when I was a teenager. I opened the one on top and found a silk-wrapped Easter egg gifted to me ages ago from a dear soul at church. There was a bag of precious trinkets stored for safe keeping that my sister-in-law brought home from her many world travels; and as anticipated, a sand dollar from the summer beach trip when my husband filled a sand bucket with little, white, star-encrusted jewels of the sea.
I was a hot second away from just shutting the door when I decided to adjust the top drawer. It was jutting out a little further than the rest. I pulled it out a little too quickly, anticipating that it held something heavy, but instead it housed just a faded manila file folder framed by the edges of some newspaper articles that I had written long ago.
When I picked up the folder and the papers slipped, I gasped and simply dropped to my knees…
I had caught a glimpse of eight little, heart-shaped, red strawberries racing their green legs around a pair of Chuck Taylors!
Thank you Lord. Thank you.
I called my husband in the middle of his workday to share the joy of my discovery. I had to repeat it twice because it was hard to speak through the tears of relief, thankfulness, and reignited grief all over again.
“I didn’t know that losing it had bothered you so much,” he said.
I shared the words of the prayer that I had prayed just the night before. He better understood the significance of what I had lost and what I had found.
I took a picture of the letter and sent it to John’s mother. She rejoiced with me. If ever there was someone who truly believes in the power of prayer, she serves as a fine example.
Most people may just look at John’s letter and see teenage doodling.
But when I look at it now, I wonder how many times he picked up the pencil, the blue pen, and eight different colored crayons to get his drawing just right? I traced the perfectly centered sun with my fingers and imagined him pressing hard to outline its rays. I saw his old friends, flower and shovel, who showed up frequently in his writings. Of course there are song lyrics; there always were when he really wanted me to listen. I even noticed a megaphone drawn on the left edge with the word CHANGE written inside. Odd how I had not remembered it before.
And then I noted the slightest remainder of faint pencil lines to what appears to be a tornado lifting off and a large heart trailing behind. John had tried hard to erase them.
But I know now that some things can’t ever be erased.
Even the ones drawn in eight different Crayola shades on wrinkled paper.