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My life in a lunch sack

Submitted by on Thursday, 15 September 2011 No Comment

Big Guy brought the project home from school Monday. It started with a typed note attached to a brown bag – bring three things to school that represent something important in your life. You’ll talk about it to the class, and then you’ll write about it.

He’d had a similar project last year, sans the written part and with a bigger bag. This year’s container was a standard lunch sack. How to fit your whole life into 5x3x10 packet? It’s an interesting question, and not just for 8-year-olds.

Big Guy’s thoughts immediately went to baseball. “I can take my Matt Kemp ball!” he said, but then he quickly frowned. “No. Mrs. C said not to bring anything valuable. Something might happen to it. I’ll take the PSP instead.”

I smiled at the idea that a $15 baseball – heck, it’s even a used one – is more valuable than a $150 electronic gadget. I had to agree with his values, though. The game system is just a hunk of plastic and wires. The ball is a reminder of the most magical moment in one of the most fantastic weeks in his young life.

He finally settled on a sports medal. It was from a soccer team – he can’t remember which one – but he said it represents all the great times he’s had with teammates over the years.

Next, he moved on to NASCAR. We couldn’t find any ticket stubs from races, so I suggested a toy car. “A Hot Wheels?” he scowled. “Those are for babies. I don’t play with Hot Wheels.”

“True,” I replied. “But your NASCAR car won’t fit in the bag. Maybe you could find a Hot Wheels that looks like a race car so it could represent NASCAR.” A few minutes later, a green racer joined the soccer medal.

“What next?” I asked.

“I wish I could take Rita, but no way will she fit.”

“I don’t think she’d be happy staying at school over night either.”

“I could take one of her toys,” he suggested, but I already was rummaging through the hall closet.

“How about this?” I asked, pulling out one of her old collars.

“That’ll work,” he grinned. He deposited the purple strap in the sack, and his collection was complete. A medal, a race car and a dog collar. It’s a pretty representative sample of his life.

It led me to consider what would represent my life if I were given the same assignment. As I started to mentally gather objects I banned myself from collecting pictures, for the same reason I didn’t suggest them to Big Guy. It’s too easy – pictures are intrinsic story-tellers that take you back to the specific instant they were taken. They’re a snapshot in time, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered in life it’s that, although moments are precious, the big picture matters more.

I instead thought back to the two plastic toters in the garage, each labeled with a guy’s name. Somewhere deep inside, near the bottom, are the first t-shirts the guys were given in the hospital the days they were born. Except for me, the t-shirts go far beyond that day. They represent the beginning of a journey. Oh, how much I didn’t know that day, about them or about life. Oh, how much I still don’t know now but, my, what an adventure. It’s literally the adventure of a lifetime. Their lifetimes. My lifetime. Our intertwined lifetimes.

For my final object, I considered an index card. I love to cook, and I have a number of family recipes that my mom has rewritten for me. I liked the idea of the connection between generations, but then I thought about the kitchen’s true importance in my life. There are times when it’s a prison, not a pleasure. Would I be perfectly happy calling the pizza place on those nights? Absolutely.

I finally selected a pen. Any pen, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about an emotional attachment to a writing implement. It’s about an emotional attachment to writing, one that formed in third grade when a friend and I would mail a “book” back and forth over the summer. I was the writer, she the illustrator. Sometimes I’d fit words to her drawings, and sometimes it was the other way around. It’s not unlike the way I make my living to this day.

Except writing is about more than making a living. It is living. It’s all those nights I spent as a teen splotching the sheets with ink, a pillow stuffed under the door so my mom wouldn’t figure out that I was still awake. It’s all the people I’ve met and all the stories I’ve told since then. It’s about something that makes me feel more alive than anything else on Earth.

I suppose I could quit if I had to. I just don’t want to. Isn’t that what all addicts say?

Two newborn t-shirts and a pen. They pretty much do tell the story of my life.

What’s in your lunch sack?

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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