When I was in college (and I use that term lightly, since I was, at that time, a single mom who was taking night classes over an hour away and never graduated), I had a friend who was always on the lookout for some sort of antique pink wedgwood china. She'd scour antique malls and rummage sales, attend vritually every estate sale in the tri-state area and planned vacations around flea markets.
When she was successful she'd bound into class like a little kid jumping off the ferris wheel at the local fair. You will not believe what happened! she'd practically scream, and we would all settle in for a detailed account of the successful purchase of a dessert bowl or service plate. Because it was never just about the plate; it was always about the journey to find the plate.
It was a set that had originally adorned her grandmother's table, belonging before that to her great-grandmother, and she always assumed that the love she held in her heart for the bone china meticulously displayed on special occassions was so apparent and so obvious that the set would one day become hers. (Secretly, I always thought that was ridiculous. She had many cousins and aunts and in-laws who also probably loved the china just as much, if not more so, so I never understood why she felt she had a "right" to it. But in the end it didn't matter.)
The grandmother died and the dishes left and no one thought about it again.
Except for her.
And I suppose she may have gone through a time when her cousin or aunt (or whoever the recipient was) was the evil selfish one to blame for her heartbreak. And maybe she spent too many lost hours lamenting over the unfairness of it all. Who knows. I sure don't. Because I met her after she changed her attitude, after the paradigm shift, when the disappointment finally morphed into hope and grew into action.
The bottom, unchangeable line, was that she couldn't have her grandmother's dishes... they would be missing from her life forever. And she could sit in the ashes of her dispair and want or she could do something about it.
One day, she took a deep breath and realized she still had blood pulsing through her veins. Her heart was still beating and she was still made up of air and water and the only way to fill the missing part inside her was to find something to fill it with.
So, she pulled her car into the third parking spot at the right of the front door of a resale shop and grabbed her purse. She walked up and down crowded aisles filled with old dresses that had once been pretty and tin signs brightly advertising tobacco and flour, and old wooden chairs with broken seat bottoms pleading to be replaced. And when she turned the corner her heart leapt and she stared down the aisle of hope: green milk glass and tea cups of toile, a mixing bowl the same color yellow as her grandmother's and a vintage butter dish in eggshell blue. As she lightly brushed her fingertips across the plates decorated with chickens and garland of flowers, she suddenly, for the first time in years, felt like she had a purpose.
She didn't find the pink wedgwood design that day but it didn't stop her. She woke each morning knowing it was out there. Knowing and trusting that slowly, bit by bit, she'd find what she was looking for. And she did.
By the time I had met her, she had amassed quite an impressive set. I remember asking her when she would be done, when she would consider her collection complete. She shrugged, sadly almost, her eyes looking out into a distance I couldn't see. "I don't know," she said quietly. "In a way, I hope I never do."
At the time I thought that was ridiculous. Why spend all that time and money trying to replace something that wasn't even what she had lost in the first place? That would never even be complete? But, now? Well, maybe now I understand it a bit more.
I will never have, in this lifetime, on this earth, the ability to have once again the one and only thing I want at my table; the one thing that, for me, would make my table setting feel complete.
And I can lay blame and lament about the unfairness of it all and sit in the ashes of my despair and want.... or I can go out and find something to fill my missing part in with.
For me, it won't be bone china and my missing part won't ever be filled. Not really. I get that. But that doesn't mean that the journey to find the good things isn't worth trying for.
I guess that's why I sponsor my sweet son in Haiti. He, too, is missing a piece. And I guess that's why I sponsor my special girl in Rwanda. And probably why I spend so much of my time with other broken children, loving on them and listening to them. Because we're all missing bits and pieces and maybe, just maybe, at the end of our lives, when we're all gathered in heaven, we'll be able to look around at each other and smile when we hear God exclaim, "oh, my sweet children! My set is complete!"
I'd like to think that the journey to find the others - the soup bowl and the bread plate - is, in part, mine. Mine not just to pass the time while on earth, but mine to help make sense of my loss. To make me realize that, although my original daughter was precious in a way that no one else can compare to or replace, that there are other children just as wonderful, just as precious, just as lovely, that, without me taking the time to search for, they might be destined to sit in a crowded orphanage, dusty and forgotten on a cramped shelf, wondering if anyone will think they are beautiful enough to belong to someone's set. I want them to know how beautiful and precious they truly are.
And so, whether it makes sense or not, I'll continue to spend the time and the money searching for the kids that are meant to be in my set. And, maybe they won't ever sit at my table, or, if they do, maybe they'll only sit at it for a little while - a week, a month or two, maybe a year or eleven... but, I think the journey to find the good stuff - to love on the kids that deserved to be loved on - well, that's worth it. It's worth it to me.