Sunday, October 9, 2011

The story of the quilt

October 9, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

This is a story about a quilt. In the end, I think it is a story about relationships too.

My friend is the speaker in this quilt story. My role is simply that of storyteller preserving my friend’s story. I do not want its voice to be lost in the ocean of human forgetfulness.

My Friend Tells the Story of the Quilt

This is my story about a quilt. I am not at all comfortable with having Gay speak for me. She uses words in ways that I do not. But the story is the thing. I trust that as Gay re-speaks this story that what I think is important will become plain. I think there will be something of what Gay sees as important as well.

My part of the story began at an estate sale. It was the kind of estate sale where after family have chosen items that they wish to keep, an open house is held and the remaining items in the house are ticketed for sale to the public. I was browsing through the house, thinking about the family that had once lived in the house, those people whose possessions were now simply objects for sale to any stranger who became interested.

A woman ahead of me purchased a large mirror that she had found leaning against a wall. Like me, seeing the sale sign, she had simply walked in from the street to browse, and now found herself unprepared to carry home the mirror she had purchased.

The woman managing the sale picked up a quilt lying over the back of a nearby chair.

“I’ll sell you this quilt for $5.00,” she said, “and you can wrap the mirror in it.”

The woman inspected the quilt doubtfully for a moment, and then said, “No. I don’t have any use for this. No. I don’t want the quilt.” She paid for the mirror and then left.

After the door closed behind her, I said to the woman managing the sale, “I can’t believe she didn’t want that quilt for $5.00. Just look at the work that went into that. Why are you selling it for $5.00?” I have limited skills with a needle, but even to my untrained eye the tiny stitches and the carefully arranged blocks were beautiful, the work of an artist.

“My mother-in-law made that quilt,” the woman said coldly, “and I don’t want it. I don’t want it in my house.”

Something about the woman’s voice and the look in her eyes prompted me to act.

“I’ll take it,” I said, and paid her the $5.00 she had asked and left.

Driving away I thought, “Now why did I do that? My house is not a quilt kind of house, and those blocks are every kind of red. I don’t have red in my house. Now what on earth am I going to do with this quilt I just bought?”

Not long after, however, a solution presented itself. I had planned to drive back to see my father who still lives in the farm community where I grew up. I decided to take the quilt to Aunt Sally so that she could place it for auction in the annual church bazaar. I thought that people there would recognize and value those kinds of stitches. They would know about the pattern of those red blocks. And so I took the quilt with me to Aunt Sally’s as my contribution to the auction.

Aunt Sally was very pleased. We talked about the tiny stitches. “That’s better by a far piece that anything I can do,” she said. “Someone will be glad to buy this.”

She was right. At the auction, someone bid the quilt in for $250.00.

I was glad and not just because the church needed the money. The whole thing gave me a feeling of satisfaction that somehow I had been a part of the journey of that beautiful old quilt from a place where it was not respected and not valued to a place where it was recognized and prized for what it was.

I think it’s important that we watch out and value things for what they are, not just because we like them. I didn’t want that quilt--I suppose that in some ways I didn't even like it very much. But that quilt had value. I thought it should be cared for. That’s what I think is important in this story of the quilt.

Gay’s postscript:

Here is what I think is an important relational truth in the quilt story.

When we place an overmastering emphasis in relationships on attaining what we want as an individual, we risk the danger of failing to identify value (and beauty) in both people and things that are unrelated to satisfaction of our personal desires. We miss the opportunity of participating in the kingdom work of preserving the good and the valuable and the beautiful unless it has personal significance to us.

Thinking with you this week about another quasi-paradox: perhaps my capacity to live and relate fully is correlated not with my concern about myself alone, but rather with my willingness to live my life as an individual but as an individual committed to the common good.

See you next week.


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