Years ago, when my parents got divorced, my Mom had me make something for her. She never told me why or gave me any backstory, and I never asked. She had an old piece of slate broken into approximately the shape of North Carolina and she asked me to ink a quote on the gritty gray texture – “Deep in the mud and scum of things, there something always sings.” She told me it was from Thoreau and that has always made sense to me since he spent so much time outdoors around a wet, sloppy pond.
I never fully understood the reason she wanted it so badly. She was insistent and nagged me about it until I got it done. I believe it became one of her most prized possessions. And the quote certainly made sense given what I’m sure was a very painful time for her. My mom was full of optimism and hope and had a contagious smile and laugh. I have always admired her ability to find something singing in the middle of the scum. She is probably the reason I’m so optimistic and hopeful. I wish I could take credit for it all on my own – or with some of God’s help, certainly. The reality is that I believe she taught me everything I know in that regard, and she made me everything I am.
The slate is one of a box-full of things I pulled from her house after she died. It’s faded to barely perceptible words on what someone would easily mistake for trash. It sits propped on a brass art stand on a table in a heavily trafficked area just beside my home office. I have seen it and thought about what it says for 82 days in a row. At times I’ve been angry at it. “Yeah, nothing’s singing here,” I’ve thought. I’ve been looking – or rather listening – for something to start singing since the day in December that feels like a swirling vapor not even three months ago.
One of the more difficult days I’ve had since Catherine died was the day we donated most of her large equipment. We gave two wheelchairs and a jog stroller and a bike and a stander and various pieces and parts of the world that is disability to Cedar Lane School. They were incredibly grateful though I questioned who would really be able to use her wheelchairs since they were customized to Catherine’s specific body and needs.
A couple weeks ago, Brian had to go to Cedar Lane. I wondered what the day would be like for him and if it would bring death pangs, the opposite of birth pains, to his chest. When we got home that evening, I asked him about it, and he said that it wasn’t hard. He projects a calm fortitude, even in the midst of deep grief, and he sounded nearly incredulous that I would think it might be hard.
“Really?” I asked, an air of suspicion in my question.
“They told me about the girl who got Catherine’s wheelchair,” he said.
I paused and looked up at him. I was nervous about where this was headed. “Oh yeah?”
“They told me she wasn’t very communicative and then they put her in Catherine’s chair and she started talking and communicating a lot better because her body was supported better.”
Deep in the mud and scum of things…. There something ALWAYS sings.
With apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who actually said the quote a little differently: “Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.” I sort of like Mom’s version better.