When I first came up with the idea for the Personal Upcycled Picnic Blanket, which came to be called PicnicBUM (Blankets Upcycled by Molly), I had the romantic notion that people would keep it in the trunk of their car so that they would be ready for an impromptu stop in their day: sitting on the banks of a river, on a lawn, maybe just a quick nap. I later came across this essay in the book Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door, by Barbara Mahany. I enjoyed this essay, and I hope you do too. I also hope you take some time for a spontaneous picnic, snack, or quiet moment.
by Barbara Mahoney
it dwells, as too many things do, in the back of my old blue station wagon, the one so old it pre-dates the cupholder as standard feature.
it once was a wedding present from a friend i dearly love. for years and years it covered our bed. then the bed of the boys who came two and 10 years after the wedding. then it started getting so holey i thought it might wend its way around the little one’s neck some night, so off the bed it came.
in the back of the car it landed.
which, it turns out, is a most essential thing.
the blanket, now, has a much more important job than keeping arms and legs and little pink toes covered through the night.
the blanket, now, is in charge of instant, spontaneous, unanticipated (have we sufficiently pounded home that point?) taking time out. the blanket, indeed, is for emergencies.
emergencies of most essential non-essential nature.
see, the sad thing about me–or one of them, at least–is that i am not a natural-born heehaw girl. no, no. that would be some other self, a one i’ve never truly caught up with.
i remember long, long ago being home for spring break and being holed in my room for like 10 hours straight, memorizing every blessed function in the human body for a doozie of a physiology exam. i remember my papa, a man known to keep his fingers to the keyboard for sessions that routinely went late into the night, i remember him coming to my room, practically nabbing me by the scruff of the neck, offering forth one of his famous gene-isms: “the wise man says, a nose to the grindstone only leads to one thing, a sharp nose.”
and so he ushered me out the door, down the stairs and off to some silly movie.
i still need prompts. i still need post-its stuck around my life, reminding me that not every hour need be for getting something done.
i still need, basically, someone to grab me by the neck, point me down the stairs, turn me in the direction of silly movies.
my papa’s not around, so i keep my blanket near at hand. you, like many who’ve glanced in the back of my wagon, might wonder why i travel, 12 months a year, with my holey blanket.
well, the reason, one of them anyway, made itself duly apparent yesterday when me and the ol’ wagon and those two boys turned in at the lighthouse parking lot instead of driving by. i lurched the car into park (if you’ve ever driven with me you know i don’t choose these verbs randomly, they are plucked with true precision), slung backpack over shoulders and, while wondering eyes absorbed the shock, i hauled blanket from the back.
“c’mon boys,” i shouted over my shoulder, headed down the hill. “we’re going to the beach.”
mind you, our beach was less than a mile from our house, but we fell into communion with all those around the globe, many of whom started out from here, the town that’s been deserted, stretched out on sands, slathered under sunscreen.
oops. i forgot the sunscreen.
ah well, the blanket, you recall, is prompt for unintended fun. it has no duties in the practical department. that would be another post-it i’ll need to leave around: don’t forget the sunscreen.
before i leave you stranded on the beach, though, my whole point in bringing up my blanket is the most essential grace of stopping time sometimes. hitting the proverbial pause. even if, especially if, you’re not a million miles from home, and you’ve not packed a suitcase.
the zen buddhists teach us well, and muslims too: take time out of your day. carve deep places for quiet contemplation. and don’t forget the prayer of the unplanned picnic.
to gather on a beach, to bury legs in sand. to watch the waters ebb and flow. it can be a holy moment. the sacred sound of laughing with your children, or anyone you love.
there is unending grace, it seems, in allowing an ordinary moment to turn itself inside out, to expose the whimsy of an hour when all that really matters is that you’re not doing the thing you thought you would have been.
so here’s the prompt: be ready in an instant. don’t leave home without your holey blanket.