Transitions are Storytellers


The summer I turned five, my parents emptied our home into brown boxes and scattered loose items throughout our garage and driveway for a summer garage sale. Strangers pulled up and parked around our cul-de-sac in small clusters and made their way in and out of our garage in waves. I watched them browse and pick items up, one by one, taking the things I had learned to associate with my family and daily life. Some of them noticed and smiled at me as if they knew me; I didn’t smile back.

A lady with short blond hair and a particularly wide smile gazed at me. Looking back, I am sure she must’ve been a mother herself, perhaps seeing her own daughter in my size and presence. After slowly perusing our things, she picked up a tiny watering can and made her way over to my mom. Until then, I hadn’t noticed the watering can was among the items spread throughout the garage on display.

I stared at her as she talked with my mom, still smiling as her long fingers clutched the watering can handle like it was her own. Assuming my mom was telling her about how I had helped her water our backyard flowers just last week with it, and how I had done such a good job doing it, I stayed mostly relaxed while I observed them from afar. Then I watched the lady walk away, out of the garage and down our driveway with my watering can still in her grip as she made her way towards a wood-paneled station wagon. She opened the backseat door, put my watering can in the back and then began to get into the driver’s seat.

When the backseat door shut and the watering can was no longer in view, I shifted from watching what was happening to action by running towards the woman and her car. Pounding on the window of the station wagon, I yelled at her, calling her a thief and demanding my plastic watering can’s release.

My mom interjected quickly, visibly embarrassed that her usually quiet little girl was causing such a scene, telling the no-longer-smiling lady to go ahead and leave with the watering can, while reassuring me she would buy me a new one after we moved and that this nice lady was going to give it to her own daughter. My mom stood beside me, the woman’s face framed by her open car window, smiling at both of us like it was no big deal. I stared at my mom with wide eyes, burst into tears and ran inside to sulk on one of the steps on our staircase.

Transitions are inevitable. They take things away. Transitions shake loose things we would rather keep still. They also bring us gifts and stretch our eyes beyond what’s been. We can resist them and we can receive from them. Most of us learn that unless we surrender to them and choose to push through with mettle, growth can be stunted and the health of life, threatened. But if we sit still long enough to listen to the stories they are trying to tell us, we not only prove our resilience, we make room to bloom despite our feelings.

Transitions ask us to listen as they tell us stories about ourselves. 

They show us how our stories fit into God’s larger story of love despite all things, making us who we were meant to be.

I still remember how I stood taller when my mom said I was doing a good job helping her take care of our beautiful backyard flowers. We stood side-by-side that day, the evidence of a Milwaukee July dripping down my forehead and onto the outer sides of my round, bright pink cheeks. We both wore shorts and flip-flops and I know I must’ve felt like I was just like my mom, the one woman God made to mother me, and the one woman in all the world I most wanted to be.

At five, I had no language for the loss I felt as I watched my watering can become someone else’s. It wasn’t the green and yellow plastic watering can that meant so much to me. It was the memories and the feelings I associated with them that I thought were being taken away in an eighties station wagon. I lost my first watering can that day, no matter how I resisted it. I am pretty sure I received a new watering can after we moved. But it’s the story that remained. It’s the story I found myself remembering by pen in a journal years later, that showed me something true about myself, the world around me and a God who loved me. Paying attention to our story in and beyond transitions becomes a pathway to tender surrender and gritty gratitude.

I wonder what little girl used that watering can next, and whether or not the woman who bought it would remember my indignant face as she drove away from our Saturday morning garage sale whenever she saw it in use. What new stories would be made as this tiny toy moved from one place to another, a plastic prop that connected the stories of two children and helped tell the story of longing held deep within the pages of this transition.