by Karen Bjork Kubin
It was during the Hard Time. I bought myself a pair of earrings, and to an outsider maybe that seemed like a simple act, but to me it was a symbol of who I wanted to be. I bought them because they were beautiful but also because of their shape: bowl-like—open, fillable, generous. They were small but also bright, capturers and reflectors of light. Circles, and therefore whole, but imperfect—like all things that have life.
For a long time I wore them almost exclusively. I wore them and fought to embody those things they symbolized. I fought to stay open most of all, and when I could not stay open, I fought to see light, and to cup it in my hands, and reflect it outward.
Then something inside of me went underground. Had to. I did not wear the earrings every day, partly because I was tired of fighting. Partly because I wanted to be more than the fight. At night, in bed, I wished to die. I knew I could not die because of the small ones who needed me, but I could not stop from wishing it. During the day I paid careful attention to where the light came from, and moved toward it whenever and however I could.
And then a week of vacation, at a summer camp in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with my family. Covenant Point Bible Camp is a place we return to year after year. A place where multiple generations gather to experience church camp together: worshipping and playing and eating together, sharing cabins with other families. Counselors took the children for activities and crafts while the adults met for coffee and conversation after chapel, but everyone gathered together later in the day for theatrical, Capture the Flag-style games. I resolved to sing and play and pray and love, just like any other summer. But what do you do, when you are rawness rattling inside a brittle shell, to occupy yourself during Free Time every day when the kids are happily playing at the beach, or running around with friends?
I found my way to the Arts and Crafts building. I would make something. It is some kind of wordless prayer, making something and hiding yourself in the process—in form, in color, in watching your fingers shape something new.
Just being in that place felt safe. It was a small building, and shaded, smelling of paint and glue. Music playing–not campfire music, but college student music, a little on the quiet side. A scattering of people, all ages, absorbed in their work. On one wall hung examples of possible projects: picture frames, bracelets, a papier-mâché bowl. It was the bowl that caught my eye—colorful, translucent. Nobody had instructions for making it, but there was a coffee can on the counter full of bright squares of tissue paper, and newspaper and Mod Podge, and an old aluminum bowl that rested neatly in my two open hands to use as a mold. So I experimented. Each afternoon I worked on it, layering newspaper, then tissue paper. Color upon color, layer upon layer. Sticky fingers. Quiet heart and mind. The bowl solved nothing, but there was healing in making it. Something about the color and the transparency of the paper spoke to me about warmth and light. How good to hold that in my hands, to watch them work steadily in such an elusive medium.
This habit of looking for light—it is powerful, habit-forming. And when you are in the dark and trying to find your way out even the smallest glint will pull you forward. So glint-by-glint you move, gathering as you go, and one day you realize you have gathered bowlsful.
To an outsider maybe it seemed like a simple bowl, made at camp. To me it was more. I set it on the mantel when we got home, just to set it down. All around it life shifted. The light increased. Miracles ensued. I did not move the bowl.
It is still there on the mantel, a bowlful of light. I cannot imagine it anywhere else.
Karen Bjork Kubin is a violinist and violin teacher living in a small city in the Midwest who needs writing as much as she needs music. She has been published in 14 by 14 and American Suzuki Journal, and has poems forthcoming at Third Wednesday and Off the Coast. She blogs at www.kbkubin.blogspot.com.