[Today, I'm thankful for opportunities to hear the stories others have to tell, especially the ones not often spoken. This paper was submitted for an essay/interview assignment in my writing class. The names have been changed.]
Beautiful rubbish: evidence of artistry inside the everyday, the tragedies, the epic failures, and the dead-ends in life’s stories. As a writer, I look for these stories all around, in my own life or in others’, for beautiful rubbish weaves like a tapestry across time, on display in living color within glass galleries of refuse-turned-treasure. Awareness of beautiful rubbish, therefore, is an exercise in sight, on par with poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s, “Did I tell you? I am learning to see.” The more I train my eyes, the more I listen, the more beautiful rubbish appears in unpresuming glory. This is true of Heather’s story.
In her mid thirties, the pieces of her life’s puzzle didn’t fit in the picture she expected. Her career as a seventh and eight grade language arts teacher stretched to fourteen years, when she had hoped to work for only a few before starting a family with her husband. Her divorce upended that hope. Her little sister became pregnant, and then, a single mom. A two and a half year relationship, the first serious one since Heather’s divorce, ended in disappointment. She felt her “maternal instinct” intensify, stirring questions of fulfillment with no clear answers. In a matter of months, however, she watched these pieces shift into place.
Sitting in the office with the licensor for foster parents of refugee and immigrant children, the rationale for pairing her with her prospective child caught Heather off guard. “I saw ‘Somali’ and ‘pregnant’ and thought of you,” the licensor explained. During her interview, Heather had randomly mentioned having a lot of experience with pregnant women, most intimately her sister, and then the majority of her friends who are now married with children. As for Somalis, her only experience was hosting a newly-arrived family of six refugee women from Somalia the summer of 2004. While Heather had mentally prepared herself for what she described as “ a teenagery kid,” here another piece of the unexpected joined the puzzle.
Her foster daughter, Maryan, then seventeen, arrived to live with Heather at the end of October 2010, pregnant. Five weeks later, Maryan gave birth to a healthy little girl, Fatima. In a matter of months, Heather went from being single to part single mom, part grandma, and part spouse, fully inhabiting roles of both teacher and student.
“If it had just been Maryan, I might have entertained the idea I could have done it on my own,” Heather admitted. A pregnant foster daughter, she said, kicked it up a notch beyond her feelings of competency. “There’s no doubt in my mind I’m getting more out of this than Maryan is. So much of this is selfish - not altruistic. I mean, it is, but on many levels, it’s selfish.” Heather wanted to be a mom. She craved companionship. She got all this, and then some.
“This may sound weird,” Heather stated toward the end of our two hour conversation, “But it’s a little bit like dating. You hope it will be forever, but you just don’t know.” Maryan, after all, is not an orphan, but the daughter of parents still living in Somalia, who saved their money to send her away as their country grew more dangerous for young girls. Heather doesn’t know how long Maryan and Fatima will be part of her life, so she’s learning to live in the tension of one of her adopted mantras: “Live in the moment, plan for the future, but be very realistic.”
My eyes didn’t need to strain to see threads of beautiful rubbish emerging, weaving together in Heather’s story. She remarked several times how “rich” her life is with Maryan and Fatima, how she believes God has “uniquely gifted” her for this experience. Her training in life’s school of “the unexpected” - her sister’s experience as a single mom, her divorce, her career teaching teenagers, a seemingly random experience with Somali refugee women - has helped equip her for this season and reinforce her conviction that God wastes nothing.
“We never know,” I mused. She sat back and smiled, as though in verbally spreading her puzzle pieces across the table, she had visualized the art assembling for the first time.