“We should give meaning to life, not wait for life to give us meaning ”~Stacy.
Once, driving through the beautiful Blue Mountains in Jamaica, we came upon a bus load of cyclists perched at the top of the steep climb on the north side of the range. They were assembled with the intention of riding back down the hill, down a treacherous narrow winding road. I could only admire them, and wish them well. My own cycling skills are too poor to even contemplate such a ride. Yet there are those who ride bikes across rough terrain and have great fun doing so. My nephew has done so in Canada, Europe and England, both for fun and for charity. When I first heard the word ‘upcycling’ I immediately thought of those hardy bike riders, courageously risking life and limb.
Language is a living thing, changing and evolving every day. Technology has forced us to rapidly absorb new terms into our conversation. Words like texting (or the next level: sexting!), surfing and googling and all of those internet related words have entered our language almost overnight. We love to play with words and concepts, turning nouns into verbs, creating new meanings as we go. And those poor dictionary keepers have to adapt and update as they go.
I came across the term ‘upcycling’ in England, in a cute little shop run by a cooperative of artists. The UK is full of cute little shops, old buildings with worn down stone steps, wooden doors triggering the ringing of an old-fashioned bell when opened. You step in off the street and greet the merchant, an automatic display of good manners. There is never much space in these shops, you often have to move around them in single file, goods on display around the perimeter and in the middle. But in such places you will find one of-a-kind gifts: hand-painted buttons; hair adornments; jewelry; wall-hangings; soaps and candles. Of course you could probably find equivalent items much cheaper (both in price and quality) in a Wal-Mart, But in these small shops you are supporting and honoring the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into items lovingly made one at a time.
But there is a particular art in taking items which have no further use in their original form, and refashioning them into either a new functional form, or a piece of art. This is Upcycling. Not just finding a new use for an old item, but making it better. Remember the old vinyl records? They have become key chains. Old pocketbooks (handbags, purses) may become planters. Jeans may be stitched into tablet protectors. The ingenuity and artistry is seen in the idea, the possibilities. Who would have thought of taking typewriter keys and turning them into necklaces? Or slicing the ends of colored pencils, varnishing them and making earrings? In some parts of the world there are people who turn discarded plastic into multi-colored sneakers; make beautiful bags out of old saris.
Today would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday. She, and many of her generation, were the original recyclers, forced into it through rationing, through growing up with limited resources. But my mother, in her own way, was upcycling items that were intended to be disposable long before the latest craze. Containers of chocolates could be used as travel jewelry boxes. And she would always improve on the original by adding her own personal touch like glittery butterfly stickers. Birthday cards were often upcycled in this way, enhanced and adorned and sent on.
Life has presented me with many opportunities to see things in a new way recently. Is it possible to upcycle ourselves in this way? How many talents do you have that you have left in a drawer somewhere, folded carefully and hidden away? As children we knew no obstacles, no barriers. In our early years we were full of optimism and idealism, until the realities of life put our dreams on hold. But are there avenues unexplored that we could rediscover?
And what can we make of tragedy? How can we reframe it, learn from it, and turn it into a piece of art, or see it in a new light? How can we upcycle our experiences, use them to grow and transcend? We often try to make sense of our life, to find meaning in our challenges. Frankl, a noted psychiatrist and survivor of the concentration camps, who wrote books on meaning and purpose, once said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Having this attitude means that instead of wallowing in self-pity, we can sift through the piles of garbage and look for bright sparkly objects, find treasure in the trash.
I would like to believe that upcycling takes place after death also. That the best of a person is carefully harvested and reused. That spark of humor, of generosity, that special gift that they had becomes the seed of new talent. Recently I spent time in the company of my nephew. He and his younger siblings lost their father at an early age, he was 11, just about to start high school when Desi died. I found myself calling him Desi as I hung out with him. He carried an essence of Desi, mixed with his own persona, an optimism and positive outlook on life, despite going through very hard times. We often look at our kids and see ourselves, only better. DNA is upcycled every generation!
I hope you can find a way to upcycle your life, to find those pieces of yourself that you had discarded and see how you can turn them into ‘brand new second-hand’ talents. I hope you can find sparks of those who are no longer with us, and incorporate them into your life, to celebrate their essence in a new way.
Have a fantastic weekend Family!