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The Art of Trash

At an early age, I'd been seared by the hot iron of Rejection, and no matter how many times I put my thoughts through the spin cycle, the yellow-singed-triangle remained. I’ve had many bouts with it over the years, but this particular memory is the first that I can recall, and needless to say, I did what most would do—I dog-eared, stamped, and filed it away; just to remember, not to forget.

For a long time, the rejection I suffered cluttered the pages of my subconscious. Cutting and weaving its way to the front of the line, like a reckless and impatient driver, or a middle-aged woman in business attire who casually jumps ahead, pretending not to notice the twenty-two people in front of her. The earliest memory of rejection that I recall includes my sisters and me, and it goes something like this…

“A red stop sign sprung from the side of the yellow bus. A prism of light reflected off the dew, and guided our steps across the road to the lean bi-folding doors. I climbed the steep steps, and plopped down in a green high-back seat with Charlene. I tapped my foot while waiting for “Hop-a-Long” to make her debut—Pauline struggled with the task of crossing the road, climbing the stairs, and hobbling down the grated aisle. The bus, instead of having a single sign to read “stop,” should have been equipped with a second sign to read, “Pauline Crossing.”

Laughter filled the bus. I wondered, “Are they laughing at me? Or at Pauline’s pirate-patch and pilgrim shoes?” Charlene’s head swiveled my way, questioning the finger pointing and hysteria with her worried eyes. The bus driver unbuckled his belt, and stood. “Catch that dog!” he said, pushing the lever to glide the door open.

“Dog? What dog?” I wondered.

Suddenly, something moist and wiry brushed my skin as it breezed past. I looked down just in time to see Sparky. I threw my palms on my cheeks, and cried, “Ah Fiddlesticks!”

I made several desperate attempts; I lunged into the narrow aisle, almost snagging his foot. Charlene ducked under the seat to try to head him off—Pauline limped like Tiny Tim trying to fetch him in the aisle—loud snickers and chaos fueled his skittish movements. Each time Sparky approached the back of the bus, the Cooley sisters stomped their feet to startle him and to torment us.

“Look—It’s the Three Stooges!” a Cooley girl shouted.

The other passengers were as useless as Cypress knees; they stood laughing, and bent over the backs of the seats like they’d been sawed in two by some magic trick… (a small excerpt from my memoir titled, In the Land of Canaan, Maine: A Little Girl’s Giants, to be published).”

Popcorn and Cranberries

And yet, rejection comes when you least expect it, and it feels like that piece of hair that wraps itself around your Parmesan chicken and screams, “Surprise!” leaving you tugging and pulling, like the red, and yellow, and green magic scarf to get to the end and say “Ta-dah”—only to find out that hair doesn’t belong to you. And then, you do that thing we all do—you put out an APB on the wait staff, eye-balling them one-by-one, as a mental line-up to find the guilty party that matches the description—12” inches, straight, blonde.

Late into my twenties, I dreaded going out alone, and when I did, I walked with my head down to avoid the furrowed brows, awkward stares, rolling-the-eyes thing that happens at the grocery, in the hall, at the park, and in general. You know—the quick once-over someone gives you in order to determine how pretty, how rich, how intelligent, how good, how important you are. I’ve progressed over the years, but the struggle is still real for me. My husband is my first line of defense against rejection. He probably has no idea to what extent.

At one time, I would have waited on my husband to open a public door for me, not in some gentlemanly fashion, but because I wasn’t sure whether to pull or to push, or to push or to pull, and I didn’t want to be seen pulling when I should have been pushing, or pushing when I should have been pulling; in order to avoid the obscure chance that someone might laugh at me. In May of 1993, my husband and I had a small wedding. I was good with that. I didn’t want the pressure of walking down the aisle with all eyes on me. I was afraid I would trip and fall, and people would do what they’ve always done—laugh. Perhaps, a forever ago escapade in Junior High didn’t help matters much; when I slipped and landed on the floor with my purple dress over my head, and my white granny-undies on display for the English class to see. Or the period pants in History class. Or worse, the moment someone whom I loved dearly rejected me.

This dearly rejection came the day I decided to visit my grandmother. I hadn’t been to her house in a while, at least not since my uncle pleaded guilty to sexually abusing me, and serving twenty-days in jail for it. Yep. No typo—twenty-days.

Rewinding time, I still remember my grandmother standing at the sink with my aunt eye-balling me as I walked in, like I was that wait staff, and they’d found my hair. I wasn’t there long before my aunt spewed, “Why don’t you ask your grandmother if she wants you here?” like she knew something the entire extended-family knew that I didn’t. I felt pummeled and disoriented. It never occurred to me that she might not want me around, since he confessed and all. So with my tail between my legs and on the verge of tears, I asked, “Is it alright?”

After an awkwardly long silence, grandma replied, “For a few minutes.” It was then, when I was eleven, that I recalled the pain from the searing hot iron of rejection again. So I did what any eleven-year old would do; I sprang from the rocking chair, ran at her, as David did Goliath, and kicked her in the shin with my shoe. Then wisely high-tailed it out of there before my aunt could lay hands on me—And no, not in a Benny Hinn or Jim Bakker ‘let me take you to a spiritual place’ kind of way, but in an ‘I’m going to kick your …’ (shall we say, derriere?!) kind of way.

Unfortunately, my uncle wasn’t the only one over the years that sexually abused me. Prompting that same aunt to label me “white-trash” and “promiscuous.”

At Christmas time, when I was small, my mother would pop a big batch of popcorn and fill a large mixing-bowl with fresh cranberries in order to make an edible Christmas garland, adorned with delicious treats for the Chickadees. We would sit for hours, with cramped legs and cramped fingers individually piercing each red and white parcel of food with a sewing needle and a thread. The tradition went like this; first, a popcorn; and then, a cranberry; a popcorn; a cranberry; here, a popcorn; there, a popcorn; popcorn; popcorn; popcorn. And when we were through, we draped the string over the ice-covered branches of a pine tree and watched the birds feast. In much the same way, I'd become good at that -- stringing together the rejections, I mean.

A Body-less Pair of Legs

In 2008, I visited Amarillo, TX on a business trip with my friend, Christine. We toured many of the attractions, which included a drive down Route 66, The Big Texan, and the Canyon Amphitheater in Lubbock. But the two attractions that caught my eye the most were the “Ozymandias Legs” and “Cadillac Ranch”—roadside art sculptures. The first, a “huge pair of disembodied legs in tube socks,” was visible off of I-27 and Sundown Lane. The second, a field of 10 Cadillacs standing on their noses like a tutu-wearing-circus-dog. These cars are buried with their fins sticking straight up, and covered in graffiti. We had a blue can of spray paint in hand, and approached the rusted, dented, windowless, mirror-less gems to leave our graffiti-markings on. After spraying the Nationwide Insurance logo on the side of a door (since we were there on business), we took a snapshot of the tutu-wearing-Cadillac’s that were retrieved from a junkyard and sculpted into a timeless work of art.

If truth be told, the searing iron of rejection isn’t anything new, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic when it happens to us. Two-thousand years ago, it may have looked like a woman with an issue of blood, a blind man, a leper, a Syrophoenician, a Samaritan, a prostitute. For many years, I believed the message that I wasn’t good enough and that I was white-trash. But with time, I have grown to realize that I’m not alone in this thinking. Rejection has many faces. It can look like the first-draft you gave someone to read and they critiqued to say, “It’s kind of boring;” they might as well have told me, “Ma’am, you have the ugliest baby!” Or like my good friend, Erin, whose mother wrapped her in a periwinkle-blue blanket, placed her in a cardboard box, and left her in the park for a homeless man to find.

As humans, we do this all the time. We string together our rejections, one-by-one as a huge garland of “popcorn and cranberries" for the subconscious to pick over, like the Cadillac’s retrieved from the junkyard; the trunk-less pair of athletic socks; the unkind labels; the foot-loose dog; the white granny panties; the woman with the issue of blood; the leper; the periwinkle blanket; the here, a rejection; and there a rejection that life throws our way to dog-ear, stamp, and file away—just to be sure, not to forget! And somehow through it all, I’m reminded of the words, “God doesn’t promise us to escape sufferings or pain. Rather, He promises to miraculously use even bad situations for your ultimate good,” Jim George said. Reminding me of the roadside sculptures created by artists’ who were widely known for recycling trash and to renaming it.

Perhaps, this unconventional form of turning trash into art has been around before the blind man’s eyes were sculpted out of clay; or before Isaiah penned the words, “He is despised and rejected of men…”; or before Adam was created from dirt; or before the foundation of the world even. It's not just you. Even the greats of the Bible were rejected. The verse that says “I am a new creature in Christ Jesus” makes me think of the beautiful graffiti covered streets of Melbourne; the Mosaic-titled backsplash of Sicily; the soldered together tin-man at the auto parts store; the pink tread-less tire with pansies sprouting out of it; and Jesus, who was the ultimate Example of Rejection.

Be encouraged that the One Who painted the first Starry Sky and carved out the Grand Canyon, is currently rummaging through the dumpsters looking for the next Masterpiece. He makes all things new, and with just a few simple brush strokes He’s able to transform all of our sorrows and all of our ashes into something beautiful and lasting, like a book, or a blog, or a homeless shelter. And this is what I like to refer to as The Art of Trash.

I Am M.O.R.E., and so are you!

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