I love it when a plan comes together. Or when two heads are better than one. My art partner Lee and I lunch over sushi most every Friday after our therapeutic art workshop at the Lighthouse, a fifteen month long residential substance abuse program. Before we began our Christmas break, we sat strategizing about what we would do when we returned in January. Just then, a customer walked by our table with a take-away order that caused me to wonder out loud about using take-out boxes for a three dimension art project. In an instant a full-blown idea emerged in my head for adapting a two dimension collage project we’d done before.

Several years ago we introduced the women to a charming fable called “The Donkey & the Dirt.” It went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a farmer’s donkey that fell down a well. The donkey brayed piteously while the farmer decided what to do. He finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort to rescue the donkey because the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway. He invited his neighbors to bring their shovels so they could help him fill the well with dirt. To begin with the donkey cried horribly as dirt rained down on him, but soon he grew quiet. After more shovels of dirt, the farmer finally looked down the well to see if perhaps the donkey was dead. He was astonished at what he saw.

With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake off the dirt and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt, the donkey would shake it off and, using the accumulating dirt as stepping stones, take another step up until finally it stepped over the edge of the well and happily trotted away.

We shared the fable again, this time explaining that the take-away boxes we were passing out represented the wells that they had fallen into. They were invited to collage the inside of the boxes with word and images that represented the dirt they and others had thrown on themselves. Then the outside was to represent the stepping stones of transformation they want to “happily trot away” with in recovery.

Here are a few of their image observations:

 For Ashley, the picture of the handsome couple represented the relationships that looked good to begin with but were ultimately abusive.  For Denise, her “well” contained the injunction “Keep Your Garbage in the Dark” – an all to common strategy for people struggling with substance abuse. Also, cleverly paired together in her box are a credit card plus a roll of toilet paper. For her, these paired images were symbolic of how she had flushed her credit down the toilet through misuse of credit cards.

Denise also made a point of showing us how she’d wrapped an image of a gas stove’s blue flames around the bottom of the outside. For her, they represented a dual image – the flame of her growing faith that struggles with the flaming temptation of drugs. The eye of the blue fish represented her need to keep her eyes wide open and focused on the right things.

While most of the women busily worked on collaging their take-away boxes, one woman, new to the program, sat the entire morning never gluing a word or image on her box. At the end of the workshop as I gathered up the completed boxes to bring home and photograph, she added to the stack her unadorned box with an image of a colorful butterfly lightly resting inside. From where she’s at in her recovery, that’s all she could do. She’d done the art project after all.   

At the end of a time of tender, insightful sharing, one woman commented, “We laughed when you handed out these take-away boxes, but there was really a lot of deep stuff in these things!” Yup, they were taking away more than they’d imagined. That was the plan.

Have you ever had a significant “take-away” from an experience you thought was superficial or insignificant? Has that given you a different appreciation of things perceived to be superficial or insignificant? What difference has that “take-away” insight had on your life? If you were to collage a take-out box based on the donkey and the dirt fable, what would it look like?

Let me know what your “take-away” comment is from this.



2 comments to Take-Away

  • Aahmes Overton

    Lynne – delightful fable. One more reason that shows donkeys are under-rated. They are among my favorite quadrupeds. As enjoyable as the fable is, your Lighthouse women reveal insights through art that are not only delightful, but uplifting for those of us who are your readers, and must surely be uplifting for them as well.

  • Karen Greenslate

    The donkey fable is funny….reminds me of the take away that God gave to me today. We had spent much of the last week feeling the loss of a wonderful friend. Her illness and death had seemed to come so suddenly. My thoughts were laced with memories of her, and feelings of sadness and loss.
    Here is how the take away unfolded: (It’s a bit long…but stay with me…it’s a good take away.)

    My husband and I bought a new foam topper for the bed mattress in our room. The former topper, which we liked, had worn down in a couple of ‘hippy places.’ Well, we removed the old, and proceeded to put on the new topper, described as: “pure memory foam.” We discovered that pure memory foam, after it decompresses, is HARD to the touch. How hard? YOu can knock on the thing and hear a sound. We’re not quite sure about this, but we’ve paid for it and it’s decompressed and lying on our bed. Hope we haven’t wasted good money.

    Maybe we could be better stewards of good money. We decided to make good use of the old topper. Our futon in the TV room had a worn mattress…so limp that our back side muscles could feel the wooden slats of the futon frame. So, hazahh! Why not layer the old bed topper on top the old futon mattress and see if it gives the old dog new loft?

    Removing the futon cover from the mattress should have been easy…..it zips ya-know. We moved everything in the room so we could lay things out on the floor for planning and action. The foam topper was a few inches too wide and too long…no problem…we can trim it!! Mike ran off to the shop to find the right tool for the task. He had that new “Stanley razor knife”, adjustable blades carried right in the handle….a real wonder!! 30 minutes later we had to admit the tool was defective or we couldn’t understand quite how to load the adjustable razor. Back to find the old box cutter. Where do we keep that thing? Searched for blades for the old cutter. We measured twice….so we could cut once without mistakes. The topper was laid over the futon mattress……so measuring seemed easy….unless you’ve ever looked for the definite lines of a futon mattress. Was it 5 inches? Or closer to 4? We’d cut off 3 inches, just to be sure we would have enough. Cutting through 4 inches of foam with a box cutter was a bit like cutting a wedding cake with a paring knife. But, we got the job done.

    Then we had the task of slipping the futon cover over BOTH the mattress and the new topper. Things were moving. People were moving. The moving more imitated wrestling than dancing. Music might have helped. We used every finger, knees, other body parts….for weight, leverage…..condensing the mass so as to be able to zip the cover closed……all around three sides of the futon mattress. After the first side was zipped, we observed…with tense, soft voices, that the other two sides of the mattress and the topper seemed to be swelling to twice their pre-measured, ‘out of the cover’ size. Unzipped. Decided to trim another two inches off the end. And off the width. Mike was trimming two inches off a 4 inch thick pad with a box cutter…and, well…..his directions were getting a little terse. “Don’t hold the thing so far apart. You’re causing it to tear. Why are you holding it so high? I’m not going to cut the mattress! Oops, Oh, Well we can tape it so it won’t lose its stuffing. Besides, if we ever get this thing zipped, nothing will get in or out of this cover!!”

    The trimming was done. The zipping had begun. Back to the wrestling. But we were getting the idea. Lean this way. Pull the bottom of the cover up. Hold the zipper straight, pull gently out on the zipper…..inch by inch. The second side, the end…and the shortest run…. required greater LEANING, tugging, grunting. At last, we were zipping up the third side. The whole futon was certainly gaining more loft. Certainly it was FIRMER. I was lying on my side, trying to concentrate on my various tasks in the team work. If either of us lost concentration……foam would come oozing from the open side, or the zipper would twist……It was going to work! But somehow, I began to imagine what might happen as we struggled to lift this now firm, more massive……uh….mattress…..onto the wooden frame. In my minds-eye, I saw the mattress standing stiff and straight from back to floor, rigid as a board, making a perfect triangle or a slide……in no way able to bend or nestle back into the back corner of the futon frame. I started to laugh. My laughter built to guffaws…….now uncontrollable. Mike was pleading with me to settle down so we could zip up the last 6 inches. “Karen…, okay, would you settle? Karen!!” Hilarity just took over my whole mind and body. I was thinking I should get a grip…but tears were coming…..I was starting to wheeze (my Asthma, ya-know). When Mike started to laugh with me, we just let loose of the zipper and gave in to the sillies. Abandonment to hilarity. Sheer abandonment.

    The mattress did fit on the futon frame. And it bends. Well, after a fashion. Certainly you feel the new, firm support! Well. It’s all sliding around a bit. Settling, you know. It may take a while to soften up, settle down. No matter if my feet don’t quite touch the floor when I’m sitting. It’s kind of a nice floating sensation …..dreamy like.

    In the last 24 hours we had celebrated the life of a friend who is no longer on this planet with us. Tears and good memories have laced our conversations and thoughts over the last week since her death. I wondered how it would be just carrying the thoughts of Sheryl and the sadness…in my chest….throughout the days. Today, along came unexpected, out of control laughter. I felt some healing. I remembered that my friend Sheryl….she really liked to laugh. I can hear her in laughing in my minds-ear…she laughed easily. I like this memory. I’ll take it away with me.

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