CANDY By Gwyn Cready
My grandmother used to read me a story about a girl who was given a magical box of candy. As long as the girl ate no more than two pieces each day, when she woke up the next morning, the box would be full again. But if the girl got greedy and ate more than she needed, which of course she did, the box would lose its magic and never refill itself again.
I can think of no better metaphor for the joys of this world.
If we can give up our need to dictate the terms of our joy-the amount, the timing, the flavor-we will find all the joy we could want without even looking for it. We need the red leather sandals with silver buckles, but we find unexpected joy in the cool grass under our feet. We need the prize in the writing contest, but we find joy in the challenge we’ve undertaken and the camaraderie with other mindful writers.
For me, that is the reward of being mindful (if mindful needs a reward beyond itself.) When you let go of need, the joy of the world finds you.
I’m writing a memoir about getting to know my sister, Claire, who died when she was 31 and I was 35. A friend calls it my odyssey. Claire and I weren’t close in age or temperament, and after I left Pittsburgh for college in Chicago and she left for college in upstate New York, we weren’t close in distance either. When she died I can honestly say I didn’t know the name of single one of her friends. That’s a terrible thing for a sister to say, and I feel ashamed for it. I became a writer to honor my sister’s memory. She was a photographer and a poet, and I, a corporate drone. After nine years of writing, I sold my first book and dedicated it to her. For a long time I thought that was enough, that I’d fulfilled my duty to her, but two circumstances combined with two events made it clear to me my journey had only begun. The first circumstance is that my name is pretty rare. There are fewer than 300 Creadys in the U.S., and only one Gwyn Cready. The second circumstance is that I kept “Cready” even after I married, which means my unmarried sister and I never stopped sharing a last name. This meant that when my books brought a tiny bit of national recognition, and at the same time when Facebook was reaching a critical mass, I was eminently findable.
Suddenly, anyone who’d known Claire and wondered what had happened to her was able to reach me. Their messages trickled into my in-box–boyfriends, roommates, friends, professors. They put me in touch with other people. Every single one was happy to talk to me about Claire, and I’ve traveled over the country to hear their stories.
One of the people was Claire’s ex-boyfriend, who’d broken up with her several years before her death. I hadn’t liked him when they were dating, and even if I’d known his number, I wouldn’t have called him when she died.
He told me he had a statue of Claire’s that he wanted to give it to me. I was floored. It took him a long time to send it, but when it finally arrived it was beautiful-an Asian goddess with an elongated face, carved in wood, her missing arms held in some exotic dance pose. She stood about three feet tall and wore the accoutrements of the culture she represented. I was thrilled to have her and to try to tease out the meaning Claire found in her.
Then I was asked to read the manuscript of Madhu Wangu’s novel, The Immigrant Wife. Madhu has created a lush, engaging story of a young woman’s journey from naÃ¯ve but determined art student in India to mature, capable immigrant wife in America. As I read the book, it dawned on me that Madhu is an art expert and Indian native; she might be able to help me understand more about the statue. So I brought the statue to the Mindful Writers Group weekly session that Madhu leads. Madhu was enchanted. She explained the statue is not a goddess but an apsara-a Sanskrit word meaning “heavenly nymph.” How fitting for a treasured possession of my sister. One by one, she named the accessories Claire’s apsara wore, from her necklaces to her draped fabric skirt to her garland crown. Madhu made me fall in love with the statue all over again.
As a goal-orientated person, I am often tempted to just sit down, tick off the interviews for my sister’s book and just finish it. But I also see that letting the story come to me in its own time, at its own pace, with its own twists and turns, may be the way this journey needs to be. I am mindful of the goal, but I am equally mindful of the importance of the delights that come from the journey itself.
The girl in my grandmother’s book got greedy and lost her box of candy. My box is safe. I savor each piece. Claire’s death brought me a new career, which brought me Claire’s friends, who in turn made me see I owed Claire the gift of getting to know her as well as I could. Claire’s boyfriend, who turned out to have loved my sister deeply, has given me wonderful stories about Claire as well as her apsara, which connected me in a new way to Madhu. Where will the journey take me next?