Last weekend I went to Northampton with about 60 other women and 2 men and made a wonky star. Here it is: –
I made it in a pyrotechnics workshop – actually, I think it was called pyrography but pyrotechnics sounds better. It’s where you burn patterns on wood. In my head, my plan was impressive – the word hope curving gently between intricately bordered edges, bringing a sense of wonder to all who see it. I think the latter’s been achieved actually, in a ‘I-wonder-how-anyone-could-make-such-a-hash-of-it’ sort of way. The burned parts are nowhere near the pencilled pattern, the depth of the burny bits is uneven, the calligraphy was much better on google. I sat back and surveyed the finished product and it looked, well, wonky. All of it.
I’m really not good at that kind of thing and, as a primary teacher, I’ve always felt I’ve fallen short here. Most teachers of young children are good at arty stuff. I’m good at teaching English and Maths and How to be a Nice Human, but my displays and home made Christmas presents have always been a bit…off. Fortunately, last weekend I was away with a very nice group of people who all happen to live with baptist ministers. This might seem odd to you. But the thing is, we all face a unique set of circumstances with very particular pressures (and blessings) so we’ve set up a group and a facebook page and we go away together once every two years to hang out, hear an inspirational speaker and do stuff together. (I’d recommend it – you could start a group for people who live with lawyers or plumbers or lifeboat volunteers. It’s such a great thing when you’re with a group of people who just…get it). Anyway, somebody put on a
pyrotechnics pyrography workshop. The other people in the workshop were definitely the arty sort, but I tried not to be self conscious about the star even though it was wonky. I just shrunk a bit inside. I had planned to give it to a friend who’s had a really difficult time this year. But it wasn’t good enough.
I left the workshop early and went back to my room, wishing I’d gone on the walk. I put the star in the bin and decided to read or sleep or write something – these things would restore my confidence as I’m better at them. So I lay on the bed and dozed and read my favourite book and tried not to think of all the things I’m bad at – failing at things, arty stuff, cleaning and general domesticity. I was reading a wonderful ebook called Three Things I’d Tell my Younger Self intended for young people, particularly students sitting exams. But hey, we’re all young on the inside and I find the book so inspirational that I often reread it. It’s compiled by Joanna Cannon and you can download it free of charge here . I was reading the part by Mr Kipling (maker of exceedingly good cakes). His first one always gets me – ‘It’s the little things that mean the most’. He goes on to say that it’s not the big holidays or fancy new cars that we cherish in the end but the small pleasures. He gives the example of stopping for a cup of tea after gardening, or going for a walk with the dog. I find this intriguing – that we spend so much of life working towards the big thrills that we might miss the tiny-but- perfectly-formed ones. Until much later, until maybe it’s too late, until we can’t do them any more.
I thought about making the star, how much I’d enjoyed creating something for my friend, how involved I was in it. Not thinking about the future or the weather or if I’m too hot or cold or if Brexit will happen or not, but fully in the moment. There was a tongue-out-the-corner-of-the-mouth kind of concentration. I had really enjoyed it. Until I saw that it hadn’t gone according to plan.
A moment of clarity: we all have our wonky stars – things that should have been great but aren’t, projects we slaved over that didn’t change the world, people we trusted who let us down. We work and we hope and we pray and…nothing. Just a whole load of wonky. This is partly why I love our church. We pitch up there every Sunday and we stand together, side by side, and hold out our wonky stars together – the stressful job, the troubled child, the scary diagnosis – and we say to a higher power, ‘So life is a bit rubbish right now and we’re not really coping. Can you help?’ And somehow, by the end, although nothing may have really changed except us, we go home feeling hopeful. We take a breath and shift our gaze, and return to small pleasures, seeing them as gifts.
I got up and took the star out of the bin. Made with love, turned out wonky. But this is life. Perhaps I’ll give it to my friend after all.