My father has been carrying the same plastic cup to the University of Colorado Student Union for the last nine years. It has the Buff’s logo in faded yellow and black. Pieces of Ralphie’s fluffy head have been rubbed off by years of trips through the dishwasher.
But that cup is known and has a reputation. When he hands that cup to the barista behind the espresso machine the college server knows to add extra milk, while my father asks about their philosophy class or how the Shakespeare paper on themes of jealousy went. The cup has become an invitation to air academic gripes or rehash a bad football play. New baristas come and go but the reputation of the faded Buff’s cup is an institution that remains and my father listens as engineers and artists make their way through their education.
My girlfriend asked me to make her a bracelet to help keep her mindful of her children while she was at work. She chose a stone for each of her boys and we wove those stones together with beaded colors that provided unity. She glances at her wrist when she is involved in demanding projects that beg her to stay late and she remembers there is an important reason to go home as well. The bracelet allows her to think not only about what is immediately in front of her, but also about what is waiting at home.
I have been in many people’s houses, and walked by many desks at work. I’ve seen the photo collages and the screensavers that tell stories about what is important to them and guide them with how they live their life. A pencil holder with yarn swirlies is a reminder there is a vulnerable being still living inside their teenager who constantly shuts the world out behind a closed door and ipod ear buds. An afternoon run is a moment of reverence to transition between workday and home life. A suitcase carries the memories of countless vacations with more ease than it holds a spare toothbrush.
When a fire breaks out people run for the hand written note under a magnet on the fridge and leave the expensive stereo system behind. These things become little altars reminding us who we are, that we are loved and belong.
Living on the Grand Mesa I typically take my daily walk in the wide open vistas, but yesterday I walked among the trees with the glowing belly of the autumn hillside at my back. When you live in the midst of such beauty you can’t help but take pieces of it for granted, however, as I turned around to go home, the trees formed a tunnel and focused my eyes on the glorious aspen trees. I saw the variation in the colors from golden to crimson, that wonderful coral orange in there as well. Suddenly, because of that tunnel of trees, the colors came alive.
Whether the altars in our life come from a coffee cup, a bracelet made with intention, yarn swirlies on an old orange juice can, or a tunnel of trees that catches us off guard, they become the reminders of who we are and who we are becoming. Sometimes these altars are presented to us, and for that I am always grateful. We can create a spot of reservation; an altared space; a place dedicated to cultivate high voltage and subtle insight.
If we surround ourselves with killing frenzies and battle scenes, video games aimed at destruction and social divisions like black and white, democrat and republican, gay and straight, we become embattled, divided people.
If we, instead, surround ourselves with tokens that remind us to connect, giving ourselves tunnel vision for the particulars that make the world beautiful, we will find beauty abounding each day.
I would love to hear about the coffee cups and bracelets that make up the altared spaces in your life. Please tell me about them.