Steen mug shot

Steen

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe…’ ” — Albert Einstein

They were just scraps.

Most people would have thrown them away.

She kept them and created beautiful quilts.

I met Barbara in the laundry room where my mother lives. As she told me the story of her quilting ministry, I was moved by the simple and brilliant way she was able to take scraps, throwaways, and create gifts to keep cancer patients warm as they will go through their treatments in what is often a cold room.  

It was such a reminder of the words of Einstein — just as those scraps became part of the finished product, so we, who think we operate independently, are part of the whole, the Universe. I wonder how many scraps we have tossed aside throughout life, thinking they were useless.

We tend to be a throwaway society these days, don’t we? We dispose of so much! I admit, I am always relieved when I can haul another bag of “stuff” out of the house, swearing not to bring more back in. But then there are the things I cannot bear to let go — things my children made, papers my ancestors wrote, photos that — oh, who am I kidding? I do not dispose of photos. 

I am part of the problem, I suppose. Yet, I used cloth diapers, I use cloth napkins and I love my handkerchiefs that wash up beautifully and keep me from tossing one more tissue into the landfill.  And that brings me back to Barbara’s scraps.

Do you have a quilt? Perhaps you can find one. Notice the fabric in the squares. They might be matching, which is pretty enough, but they might also might be different, and it is in the different we find the stories. 

The fabric from someone’s pajamas or work shirt, otherwise considered disposable, becomes a part of a bigger piece, a part of the whole quilt that tells the story of a person’s life. Those little squares, though, are representative of the things, and people, in life which and who are often tossed aside.

Oh, did I say “people?” I did. We dispose of people, too.

Elderly folk? We push them aside too often, as if they have little value, when they actually offer a perspective of history and life we can get nowhere else.

Those suffering with a mental or physical illness? We walk around them too often, tiptoeing around the uncomfortable truth that they are different than we are, less able to perform tasks or to think as clearly as we do.

The people who disagree with us? Those folks need to find other people, we think, but do we get rid of everyone who sees through a different lens? We get rid of friends in real life and on social media quicker than the blink of an eye because we’ve allowed people and relationships to become disposable.

Maybe we just need to have someone bring our thinking back to seeing the value in scraps. After all, there is money to be made in scrap metals, tastier soup to be made with scraps of vegetables, and people love their dogs so much they save the scraps for them to enjoy. 

Married to a CPA who won’t throw away even a paper clip, I appreciate how important scraps are. Save enough paper clips, and you could fill a small box, or make a necklace.

Scraps have value, and once we recognize that, the whole created from the scraps becomes richer to us. When we treat people, or allow others to treat us, as scraps that can be disposed of, we are treading in dangerous territory.

It’s interesting to note, people who move a lot tend to treat things and relationships as disposable, according to four studies done at the University of Kansas. Relationships matter, the kind we have with real people in front of us, not the kind we have with people in our video games or on social media, though I enjoy those immensely. 

A study at UNC reminds me that while we are in the middle years of life (think late teens to 60s), we need a few deep relationships to keep us healthy, but early and late in life, it is not the depth, but the number of friendships that matter.

I’m guessing that is why senior living communities have become so successful -- as we come into the last part of life, we don’t need a few deep friendships as much as we need to have many people peppering our lives with socialization and laughter. People live healthier and longer lives when they are not isolated later in life. Human beings, it seems, really do make up the whole, the universe. Scraps on their own, a lovely display of patchwork when sewn together.

Imagine the quilt with the squares removed, with exposed batting left behind. It’s a visual of how life looks as you and I throw away things and relationships that we think of as extras, as disposable, as scraps (and admittedly, some things and people need to go for our own well-being). 

We can start right now to look at the scraps in our lives, to see the way we might give new meaning to things otherwise thought of as disposable, to build our universe out of the presence of other people (in real life), so we can see and show that the whole is made of treasured scraps too precious to be tossed aside. 

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

Recommended for you