Friday, April 11, 2008

What Do You Collect?

In the 6th grade our teacher asked us to share with the class, "what we collected."
I come from a seriously "Heinz 5" ethnic stock. We are a kaleidoscope of nationalities on my Mom's side but the "Menefee" Scottish frugality was definitely a dominant trait in my family. Maybe because my Mom was born during the great depression we inherited a waste not, want not philosophy of life. I like that this trait dovetails nicely into being environmentally responsible. I think I have always been "green" I just didn't have a buzz term for it.

Anyway, back to my story. . . . Mrs. Reid (my 6th grade teacher) asked us, "What do you collect?" She started at he top left side of the room and each student responded in turn - right down the rows. I was in the third row about 2 or 3 desks from the front.

"Collect? Collect!" I was frantically thinking. "Who has money to spend on knick knacks and junk? If I HAD extra money I sure wouldn't buy bric-a-brac with it."
I was pretty sure of myself and my opinions back then (I guess some things don't change all that much!).

Kids were enthusiastically responding to her question. "I collect spoons. I collect kitten figurines, I collect rocks, I collect comic books . . . . stuffed animals. . . . Barbie dolls. . . . records. (yes, records --- grooved vinyl discs that played music on something called a "record player")"

It was getting dangerously close to my turn and I had NO answer.
"OK, I rationalized, if I could collect something what would it be?"
Nothing warranted enough interest that I would actually spend money to amass a collection.

"OK, I rationalized, "What do you like?" That was easy. I liked ballet and horses. That didn't help -- what was I going to say, "I collect old ballet & horse shoes?"

I was feeling that kind of panic that slowly but surely wells up inside you very gradually but physically and seemingly unstoppable . . . . It was making me very uncomfortable, my mouth was dry and sounds were seeming distant. I knew might to start to either giggle or cry uncontrollably at any minute. What would I collect, what would I collect, what would I collect?

The answers were still enthusiastically being spouted by my classmates, "I collect Madame Alexander Dolls (her dad owned the bank), I collect barrettes, I collect marbles. . . . bottle caps. . . . tropical fish. . . . I collect Pez containers.

My brain suddenly shifted a bit and I thought of the question from a different perspective. I asked myself. "What makes you happy?" And then it hit me -- I loved birthdays. I loved knowing that a day was special to someone. I knew every family member's birthday. In fact, I was shocked when I learned that most of my friends did not even know or think to ask their parent's birthdays. I knew my parents' birth dates, I knew their parents' birthdays, I knew the dog's birthday, for goodness sake! The knew the best birthday of all -- Christmas.
So, I kind of DID collect something.
I heard Mrs. Reid say, "And, what do you collect, Peggy?"
"Birthdays!" I said, quite confident and quite relieved.
Then something happened that surprised me. Everyone got really quiet and turned to look at me. The teacher paused and said, "That is a very interesting collection. Would you like to add my birthday to your collection?" heads were nodding up and down all over the room. Others were asking to be added to my "collection."
That day in 6th grade I started a collection to which I have continued to add. A few years later I made a goal to fill everyday of my birthday calendar. Although I have over 365 birthdays I still do not have everyday filled. I also made some rules.

  1. The person has to be someone I know personally (the only exceptions are Pope JPJII, Pope Benedict IV and Dr. J (yeah, Dr. J, go figure!)
  2. If I can't remember who someone is or I completely lose touch with them they get "archived" and their date doesn't count toward filling every day of the year. I used to just delete their names but as I get older that is harder to do; probably because I have known so many of these people for so long. So, if we exchange a Christmas card or email every 2 or 3 years and I feel like I can legitimize keeping them on the birthday calendar. Some of those people are pretty doggone special and I know we are there for each other should an emergency arise.
All of this interest in days and what makes them special made me stop and think. . . .When did the secular calendar start to take precedence over our most beautiful Church Calendar? Certainly before my time or did those children of the 60s, 70s and 80s who went to parochial school got some taste of Feast days, Ember days, Rogation days and the like?

Funny how God leads us back to Him in an infinite number of ways. My birthday collecting helped me realize that no matter how tough of a day I might be having -- somewhere, someone that I knew was having a birthday. That usually made me smile.
What I was searching for was hidden in that birthday collection . . . .finding what is historically and communally special in a day. The church calendar fills that need until my cup is overflowing. As I began to learn more about my faith and as I fall madly, deeply in love with the Catholic Church, I realized that feast days, Church celebrations and observances filled my calendar with rich traditions and teachings and love.
This is my new collection. The Church calendar of days. It guides us, enriches our lives and keeps us focused on the realities of our purpose in this life.

Funny to think that Mrs. Reid's question started me on a journey that God intended all along. He knew the joy I would find in 2008 and He let Mrs. Reid plant the seed.
Praise God.

source: The beautiful Horse Ballet painting was painted by Michael Schur


Lisa said...

What an awesome post! I love your collection, Peggy ~ and all the thoughts that it's inspired this morning.

Soutenus said...

Thanks, Lisa! I love how we find God . . . everywhere.

Bia said...

What a beautiful post, and what a wise little sixth grader you were!

It's a beautiful idea, especially when today so many children have ridiculously extravagant birthdays.

I, too, have been trying to pay more attention to the church calendar . . . I am learning so much.

God bless.

Soutenus said...

Dear Bia,
Thank you for the comment! We, too, have found the Church Calendar to be such an incredilbly rich resource.
I also agree about "paying attention."
As I get older I find that my consistent regret is not paying attention well enough (to just about everything!).
It is so easy to zone out in today's world . . . tv, movies, radios, Ipods, computer games, hectic schedules, texting, etc.

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