What began as a gift to my friend Janet, an evening out with her husband while I watched her children, ended with unexpected yuck, gross, mess. Janet said this was a life lesson. I would have preferred that the lesson was one in which friends do nice things for each other, end of story.
The children and Plum made hanging birdseed ornaments to adorn a local assisted living home. We made a huge mess, laughed while seeds scattered and hands became sticky. When all of the birdseed had found a cookie cutter, each child washed hands, scrubbing away remnants of gelatin and sunflower seeds. As we ate dinner, the children delighted in silliness that comes on Friday evenings when tiredness hits and they are feeling free. I delighted that my friends were having a rare child-free few hours to reconnect. It all started out so good. The middle was great. Then Janet came to retrieve the children and as we chatted at the door her kids left to get in the car. Squish, ick, smash. Child stepped into a pile of beast leftovers in the yard. In his tennis shoes. That he wears all the time. They don’t have dogs, it didn’t occur to child to stay on sidewalk and driveway. Life lesson Janet said. Horror I said.
I wonder what he learned though? Watch where you step, especially in the dark? Feeling free doesn’t mean you are free? All good things end in shit? I can’t let go of this messy evening, stuck in my mind like the dried feces in the grooves in his shoes. Flecks that send out that distinct odor when the moisture of snow is added, thoughts of the ending overtake any other memories of the night. I wanted to give back a small portion of what she gives to me, I gave her shit covered shoes. My life lesson, some gifts are like this. We try to do good, sometimes it ends up with more work, more energy than maybe the gift was worth. Trying to avoid all of the landmines that come with dog ownership or families may mean carrying a flashlight, taking extra precautions. Some may choose just not to step anywhere close again. Deciding if the gift is worth the risk of a potential malodorous encounter is maybe the lesson for all of us.
We had planned for some time to accompany Chef’s mom to her doctor’s appointment, to have time to talk with him regarding diagnosis, prognosis, medication. We discussed the travel arrangements daily, sometimes several times a day with Mom who no longer remembers so much. When we arrived at her home though, we stepped into a pile of family dung 40 years deep. What began as a gift to all of us, to determine the true nature of her health care status, morphed into tears loud voices accusations. Phones ringing with sudden blasts and then the quick click to signal the call was over, we had stepped into feces and no one knew how to start cleaning. Further, the ugly horrid smell surrounding us all grew as each layer was exposed to air but not addressed, reconciled and cleaned. Old piles left in the yard decompose, but if the hard outer crust is disturbed, the smell permeates the air again, the process must start over. I know this from years of having beasts and Chef missing days of poop patrol. So putridness got exposed and we are all sitting in the stench.
Janet was right though. Life lesson indeed. Grab a toothbrush, start cleaning. Get all the tread, sorry it smells but it has to be done. It must be thoroughly cleaned or the bits will haunt you forever. We may not be able to clean up this mess with the brothers, yet we do have an opportunity to choose how to respond. We don’t have to accept all the poo that is directed at us, we can offer grace back. If we understand that the smell is coming from places of hurt and a lack of faith, we can show up with our Jesus face on. While dealing with old family hurts requires more grace than we often feel we have, we no longer have the freedom to avoid the interactions. The pile of feces we call family may stink, but with a bit of cleaning and nurturing, it can be fertilizer as well. A chance to grow something beautiful out of the filth. Today we will return to celebrate Mom’s birthday, it might get really smelly. I think I’ll take an extra pair of shoes, knowing we may get covered in excrement. I’m praying we find a way to clear the air.