Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sparks of Life

My mother often sewed clothes for me when I was a little girl. The hum of that old black, cast iron Singer sewing machine was the sound of comfort, security and love to me. It was an exercise in necessity for her as homemade dresses were cheaper than store bought ones. But it was also a creative outlet that taught me about the importance of planning, persistence and attention to detail.

I watched my mother put her imagination to work at the little fabric shop near our house. It was a cozy place filled with the fragrance of new fabrics, old dust and the talcum powder and perfume of the smiling salesladies who seemed to know my mother well from her frequent visits. Together they would spread out fabrics, compare trims and buttons, finding colors and textures that would, in a few days, become my new Sunday dress. I wandered among the bolts of fabrics while they talked and I might have crawled around on the low shelves under them a time or two when it seemed they were taking too long.

To begin a new project, my mother removed the tablecloth from our kitchen table and carefully spread the fabric to lay out the pattern for a new dress. With intense concentration on her face she took pins from her red tomato pincushion and pinned it in place, referring often to the pattern instructions, cutting around corners and curves with her heavy black handled scissors which were never used for any other purpose so they might be kept sharp and ready at all times. I still smile when I hear the rhythmic, crunching sound of scissors against a table top because it reminds me of the way my mother painstakingly cut around the lines and notches of a pattern, stacking each piece to the side and moving on to the next. This part of the process was fascinating to watch. I lost interest later, struggling to stand still, as she pinned up the hem while the voices of my brother and friends playing ball in the backyard drifted through the open window on the breeze.

I recall one visit to that little fabric shop when my mother took her black handled scissors with her to be sharpened. A little old man with a grinding wheel made occasional visits to local fabric stores to sharpen everyone’s scissors and I watched him sharpen ours. I’m pretty sure I held my hands over my ears because of the loud, screeching sound it made but the sparks that flew were beautiful, like fireworks.

I thought of that many years later when I came across this verse in the Bible:

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Some people have a gift for causing sparks. No matter how hard you try to understand them and get along sparks will fly. Whether you’re dealing with a contentious co-worker or your best friend, conflict is a part of life. 

But every conflict brings an opportunity to learn and grow,

if we’re paying attention.

My mother and I certainly kicked up a few sparks from time to time. I’m still learning lessons from her and she’s been gone from this world for almost seven years now. Boxes full of her old patterns, buttons, trims are piled up in my house. I use them from time to time, finding just the right button or color of thread when I need it. Or the patience to help me finish a project.

As I thought about sparks today I recalled a scene in the TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Cicely Tyson plays a 110 year old woman, recounting the story of her life to young reporter during the early days of the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. She begins her story by telling him about “two old rocks”, as the reporter calls them. Her story revealed that they were iron and flint she carried as a child on a journey to a new life, using them to light camp fires at night when she was freed from slavery.

For her, the sparks they produced meant




I haven't even mentioned the sparks that fly between two people when they're falling in love. 

The next time sparks fly in your life, 

for whatever reason,

pay attention.

Look for the lessons.

May those sparks lead to