What do you do that keeps you sane?
In my first “Silly Things We Do” essay, I speculated that many of us have these things we do that would appear impractical and odd were it not for the good they do us. Funny how writing about that one habit of resting in winter sunshine has given me a lens for evaluating so many other things I find myself doing.
The “silly thing” I’ve noticed lately involves a collection of teddy bears, two rabbits, a dog, and a pig – all stuffed animals – that sit in a corner of my bedroom closet. I realize that I’m a middle-aged woman admitting to stuffed animals. My Google search as to whether or not this counts as laughable, weird, immature, or otherwise silly was inconclusive. However, I’m still taking a deep breath as I admit that I – a woman with aspirations to emotional maturity and professional gravitas – have a collection of stuffed animals that catches my eyes as I get ready in the morning and wind down at night.
I can’t help it. There’s nowhere else I’d rather keep these little stuffed critters. They make me smile. Oh, the stories!
The pig was a joke, of course, but the workplace antics leading up to it represented months of office fun that actually left me feeling pleased when Mondays rolled around. Lest you think that my colleagues and I were slacking, I assure you that I’ve rarely managed as much productivity as I did during that time. (BTW, I believe that employee morale is one of the most under-valued resources of the contemporary workplace, but I’ll save that for another essay.)
My mother gave me one of the rabbits – a big, lop-eared bunny with curly grey fur – during my college days. I’d recently been diagnosed with a mood disorder. I remember how much I judged myself in those days for having trouble (so I thought then) with “adulting.” The gift of that rabbit from a parent who believed in me whole-heartedly and had nothing but love and encouragement for me felt deeply comforting. The term “transitional object” can so diminish the power of these beautiful symbols that remind us of the people who believe in us and get us through our difficult phases of life.
I could tell story after story. These stuffed critters came from family and friends over the years, and while they most often sit there in my closet, I occasionally bring them out for other purposes. A large tan dog with floppy ears went with me to church one Sunday to star in a children’s sermon, and I don’t think I’ve ever had listeners receive anything I’ve said with as much enthusiasm as those children received the visit of the big, floppy-eared dog. I still laugh at the memory of all the children (and even some adults) who wanted to hug the dog afterwards.
“A memorial is a pocket-sized collection of memories that we can take with us,” writes Dan Moseley in one of my favorite books, Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change.* “The work of remembering,” he explains, “involves downsizing the reality so we can carry it within us into the future.” I like Moseley’s lens on memorials, and as I reread Lose, Love, Live recently, my mind went to the stuffed animals in the corner of my closet. That gathering of button eyes, velvety noses, and worn fur keeps saying to me, “Love.” Each cushy critter reminds me of love and the myriad ways it’s touched my life over the years, both in giving and receiving.
I believe that whatever else sanity means, it means not forgetting love as an active presence in our world. I don’t mean to make gods out of any of the people or relationships that have given me stuffed animals over the years. I do, though, suspect that God resides in love of all kinds, in all the ways love touches, heals, and blesses lives. And why shouldn’t we encounter God in spaces of play and comfort as well as in spaces of seriousness and striving?
I, at least, take the presence of stuffed animals in a person’s life with a great deal of reverence and appreciation. In some cases, I even give them as gifts to other adults. If even one stuffed animal here or there reminds someone of love at a time when they need it, then that soft and furry little life will have been one of great blessing.
What about you? What reminds you of love?
 Dan Moseley. Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change* (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010), 64-65.