The poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “So much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow/ glazed with rain/ water/ beside the white/ chickens.” That simple statement often comes to mind for me when I consider small, ordinary things that began matters of major magnitude in my life. It may not sound as poetic, but for me, so much hangs on a baby’s hangnail. And upon some very silly, fluff-stuffed, homemade Christmas wreaths.
Days after my daughter was born on a December night three decades ago, I carried her downstairs to the lobby of the apartment building where we then resided, in order to collect my mail from the mailboxes there. On my newborn’s face was a pink scratch made by the baby’s own tiny fingernail. This scratch did not escape the notice of a stranger who was also fetching her mail there.
“Would you like to borrow my baby-nail clippers?” the stranger asked.
Embarrassed, I pointed out how my baby’s hands were now covered with the fabric attached to the sleeve of her flannel sleeper, which was designed to keep her hands warm.
“It would be so much nicer for your baby to be able to safely see her hands,” the stranger advised gently. “Why don’t you come up to my apartment and have a cup of tea? Then I can lend you the nail clippers.”
The cup of tea led to a companionable conversation. It turned out we both had baby daughters, and we were both embarking on the uncharted territory that comes with becoming young mothers. With Christmas just a week away, we decided to craft some fluff-stuffed fabric wreaths, to give to friends as inexpensive gifts. Chatting away as we worked on these wreaths, we achieved mixed results. While the wreaths we made were really quite unimpressive, the friendship we forged has been nothing short of magnificent.
Our lives have taken us to different states, careers and through several stages of life. Yet we have seen one another through everything. We were there for each other throughout our children’s illnesses and the surgeries that two of our daughters faced, job changes, financial ups and downs, my separation and divorce, my mother’s stroke and her mother’s recent troubles in a California firestorm. We were there to share each other’s glories, too. We celebrated our children’s accomplishments and weddings, her rise to an important position in the private education sector and the publication of my books. More importantly, we were there to urge each other on in the small triumphs that are the stuff of life — especially in finding inner peace at those moments when life is anything but serene.
And so, this December, as I hang up one very old and fluff-stuffed Christmas wreath, and as my friend welcomes a grandchild into her life, I am wrapping up a pair of baby-nail clippers to send to that child’s mom. I will include the message, “So much hangs upon a baby’s hangnail. May the small moments of motherhood bring you someone into your life who is as wonderful as the friend I found in your mother.”