I washed the china dolls at sunset. The shadows were long in the room, and my husband bent over the piano, softly picking out a melody. The girls danced in the backyard pool, and my second son, he whittled soap with one eye cocked, and a nose deeply furrowed. I scrubbed.
They had come all the way from Holland, these dolls. I had passed over tattered Dutch guilders in a dark little china shop, with so much blue, ever the 18 year old kid. Girls were posing in red-lined windows around the corner, and we were young enough that it made us giggle, still. The world was tantalizing, beautiful. I ached for home.
I gave the dolls to my grandmother the following Christmas, and for 13 years they anchored themselves to her stove, drawing out flavors the way she drew out lives. So when she died, when the home was sold, with the smallest amount of desperation I asked for the dolls to be mine. They travelled from kin to kin, from sea to sea, until they landed on my counter in the prairies by the word of my mother, the goodwill of a cousin, and the hand of well-loved aunt.
I thought about this last night, as I made clean the tiny china faces, about the lines of love in a person’s life, and how experiences shape who we become. I was scraping crevasses with the tip of a knife and could see as clear as anything my grandma’s wrinkled hands pouring in the same pepper and salt that I now discarded. I wished she could see my fifth-born; she’d had five born, too. I wished death never happened. I wished she was in the room.
It led me to think about how life wounds and makes beautiful, how loss haunts and makes full. There is always that, you know. Beauty from ashes, and we choose to love and let go.
There was a sign outside the train station in Amsterdam, high up and lettered blue. “GOD ROEPT U” it read: God is calling you. And beside it, “JESUS LOVES YOU” so bold, and true. I met the words a tad bit broken, that day; I left them a tad bit whole. There in the winsome city, with all its decadent vice, a banner lifted. And even in the most godless of places, Christ arose. I remember–I filled with wild hope.