Preserving Our Past For The Future

I had lunch with a friend today. It was nice to catch up with what he had going on in his life and fill him in on what I have going on in mine. We were in the middle of a noisy little pizza place that had started to buzz with the lunch hour rush. As we were chattering away, (well I was chattering away, he doesn’t chatter) and I was getting to the funny part of whatever story I was regaling him with, I could see he was looking past me and a bit to the right. His whole face had changed, growing long and concerned and I thought I heard him say something like “Poor guy”. It was said under his breath and as my own voice was trailing off I started to turn and something stopped me. It was the stares of the people all around me at the other tables, including the children. A young man had sat at the table behind us and to the side, and his pretty partner had walked up to bring him a drink, and everyone quickly and uncomfortably went back to what they were doing when she walked up….but I could see them still stealing a glance their way with odd reactions on their faces. My lunch partner also looked back down at his plate and we continued on. Something told me to just stay focused on my meal and my own companion for the moment so I did.

Eventually I ran out of drink, and the machine was behind me in the restaurant. So I excused myself and turned, passing the table where the mystery boy was sitting and my heart ached in my chest when I saw him…he was a patchwork boy. Apparently the young man had been through a terrible accident or perhaps self-imposed trauma, a fire of some kind. He only resembled a human being because he stood and walked upright and was wearing clothing with a Yankees baseball cap perched cockily to one side on his completely hairless head. One of his eyes had been sewn shut, his face gave the appearance of being melted into a indistinguishable puddle , and as he ate, the right arm of his flannel shirt hung loosely at his side, flapping and empty. As I was coming back to the table I walked slowly and looked at the surrounding folks, still making their furtive glances when he looked down to eat his food, leaning in and whispering to each other. The mother in me wanted to run over and offer myself as a human shield from the stares and whispers, surround him with myself and keep him safe from the pain he would surely feel if he only looked up and saw the reactions of others. But as I approached the table I could hear a drift over of the boy’s conversation and he was animated and laughing although you could not tell this by his face…it didn’t move except slightly around the lips. I could see full into the face of his partner and you could see she was totally absorbed in him and his story, laughing lightly and reaching out and touching his hand as she enjoyed her lunch with him. They were both oblivious of how their moment in life was affecting those around them.

My companion and I finished lunch and eventually parted company for the day, but I could not shake the image of the patchwork boy as I went about my errands. As I was checking my emails later, I received word about a friend of the family who had tragically lost his wife today. Her leg started cramping and she thought it was a pulled muscle. Then it started swelling and they had to do surgery, but there was a blood clot. She started spitting up blood…her lungs were bleeding. Two heart attacks were suffered and doctors had to revive her several times. All were effects of drinking huge amounts of vodka for years, resulting in liver failure. They were testing her heart before shipping her out to another hospital for emergency liver transplant when her lungs started bleeding….she  never recovered after that…

I closed the email and sat back and thought how tragic. I reflected on them, when they married, how they had made a seemingly great life out of two pretty messed up ones. Both came from some hardships and marriages that were not ideal, but when they had found each other they both seemed to have found the missing part, at least for a while. But something somewhere had happened, or maybe not happened, that turned her into a patchwork girl…a girl who was using pain patches to get rid of the hurt that would just not go away and stay away on its own.

So many of us live lives full of pain patches. Quilts of our lives are being sewn daily with people, and events, and loves and losses and gains. We always have a choice of what we use to fill the holes up with and sometimes those choices are wonderful, other times they are remnants of a past destructive behavior or habit, or perhaps a new pain patch that is not cut to fit us and our current lives at all. We drink too much and self-medicate to the point we don’t notice the holes in our life anymore or we simply don’t care about them. We become workaholics so we don’t have to go home to an empty house, or worse yet, go home to an empty relationship where there was once deep love and comfort that now gives only  empty arms. We patch our pain with religion and spiritual rituals that are void of true depth and meaning and become an exercise in futility rather than an abiding relationship with our own Creator. We try to fill the holes in our heart with casual sex or shallow external relationships that cause more pain and more patching us up later. We come and go in our closest relationships…we long for love to the point that anyone and anything can come along and offer us their hand and we take it, whether it fits or not, and join ourselves to the quilt of another with a patch of pain rather than the smoothness of a right fitting silk or cool chintz. Then the years bring rips and tears to the fabric and the seams pull and we find ourselves in the middle of the same patchwork mess we were in before. Rather than gather ill-fitting patches of pain it would be better to have a quilt with gaping holes in it that may never get patched than settle for an ill-fitting patch of pain. But over and over, we search out experiences with people and things that will only bring us heartache, rather than bring us joy and complete our own life quilt.

The smiling patchwork boy had dealt with his lot in life and his outer quilt was still full of holes and patches, but he was ok with that. He didn’t need my shield from the stares, nor the pity of those around him. His patches had become a part of his life, and he realized this did not have to become ALL of his life. He was moving onto whatever his life might have for him next, and he was moving on holes and patches… and all. I’ve never been much of a seamstress, but I am thinking it is time to get out the needle and thread and then just patiently wait by for the right patches for my quilt to come along…

s Charles Edward Wilson (British painter, 1854-1941) Making a Patchwork Quilt


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