Carolyn McNeill was one of the most graceful and stunning women I have ever met. By the time I could really appreciate all she was I was in my 20’s and she most likely was in her late 60’s. She and her husband Marvin, a man who found his strength as the kindness of a southern gentleman, sat behind my family at Salem United Methodist Church for years.
I don’t know about other denominations but once you sit on a pew in a Methodist church, that’s your pew till your last day. God grant us patience (and peace) should someone try to usurp our dominion over sacred seating. Even today, Carolyn’s daughter, Janet has taken over the McNeill seats. I found Carolyn fascinating for several reasons but what I most remember about her is when asked of her well being she often responded “Honey, I promise I think I’m God’s favorite kid.” She would then laugh and laugh because she knew God had no favorite kids, but she loved to think she would be in the running if he did. I’m not entirely certain she wasn’t his favorite kid, her joy was often times brimming over and hopefully I was lucky enough to be splashed by it. Since Carolyn’s death, I’ve taken to claiming God’s favorite kid designation. It’s easy to feel that way if I just take time to see all the things which have been given (quite undeservedly) to me. And I have witnessed firsthand how he also tells others they are his favorite kid.
All of my professional years I have worked with foster or adoptive families. They are fascinating people. Some of those youth have overcome events that could only be best told in horror films. Some of the parents have also been through their own personal hells and have come out with the gift of a child, of a new family. They often find that they heal each other, and both child and parents feel a sense they have been given a gift. Very rarely do you see an adoptive parent who was acting out of charity to adopt a child. What you do see are parents who act out of utter love, knowing that true love will fill them as well as the child.
So what does any of this have to do with interior design or Mark? One of the most poignant experiences I have ever had came at the hands of 13 year old freshly adopted boy. At the time I was designing and delivering marital retreats for adoptive parents. My 13 year old friend, Quint, was well known at our agency, for many reasons. As most foster care children up for adoption he had come from much pain, his foundation had been cracked over and over again and he suffered. As teenagers tend to do, when broken so badly they get angry, don’t trust and fall into what I call a “mean depression” where it seems no one can reach them. And if someone tries to reach them, they don’t trust, they fight being attached. As a result they lash out, dare you to love them, and keep a safe distance from relationships. Quint had lashed out several times, which caused long stays in psychiatric facilities and ultimately disrupting his placements. Sadly, sometimes foster children only have placements, they don’t have homes. If I remember correctly Quint had disrupted close to 10 placements. That’s living in 10 different homes and families before he turned 12. Then the Jackson family found him. They were hurting too, make no mistake, they felt inadequate, they felt overwhelmed by his need, but they also knew they wanted this teenage boy. The Jacksons followed all recommendations, they were determined; they were held up by the support of friends, family, professionals and their utter and complete desire to have Quint be a part of their family, a part of their home.
On the day the adoption was finalized, our agency ritual was to gather any and everybody important to the family and have a ceremony, nothing of legal consequence, but such a day deserved ritual and celebration. We did so on the Jacksons’ day as per usual. But it was not to be a usual day for me. We celebrated Quint home and after the ceremony I happened to catch him by the cake (Publix cake with that great frosting—-oh it’s good, but never tell my mama I said such). I asked Quint, “Baby, so how does it feel to finally be adopted?” He lowered his cake plate, looked me straight in the eye and with a steady and thoughtful voice said, “Miss Tracy, you know what it feels like when you have been running a long time? I mean like running and running and running and you can hardly breathe?” I found this to be odd thus far so I said “yes, Quint I do, I was a runner in the past.” Quint took that in and decided I didn’t understand what he truly meant to say so he started again. “Miss Tracy, it’s like running and running and not knowing where you are going, and you hurt, your muscles– they just are so tired, you think you’re going to throw up your lungs and you try to find a place to sit down but there is no safe place so you just keep running, and you’re tired Miss Tracy, you’re just really, really very tired.” At this point I was hooked and wanted to hear him finish so I said, “Maybe I don’t know about this type of running, tell me.” He did. “Well, being moved from place to place and school to school and city to city I know what that feels like, and it’s like the most horrible running you can imagine and you can’t stop, ever, because nowhere is safe to stop. But adoption? It’s like the most cushy, soft, comfortable sofa there could ever be in the world. And when you see it, and lay down on it, you immediately rest, because it’s safe to rest, you don’t have to run anymore, you aren’t so tired anymore, and you can breathe again. Adoption is like the best sofa ever, especially after you have gotten so tired, especially when you don’t think you can’t run another step. That’s what it’s like Miss Tracy, the greatest sofa in the world.” I simply said, “Baby, I’m so happy you found your sofa,” and I immediately went upstairs to my office and pulled a sloppy cry.
A sofa. The Jacksons were a sofa. And all I could think, despite all my clinical training with fancy words and theories was, yep, adoption is a sofa. I have 2 sofas as pieces of furniture, my fat red one and my stoic, fancy blue one. I sit on them and think of Quint often. I wonder what the sofa at the Jacksons’ actually felt like for Quint to make such a statement. I’m so pleased for them that they were able to speak the language of love and healing on such a simple vehicle as their sofa.
I’m glad the Jackson sofa told their story to Quint. So that’s what this story has to do with interior design. The furnishings in our home speak. They should be saying what we want them to say. Mark, quite simply, picks pieces that fit you. He is much like a therapist in that way. In fact I may start referring to him as “The Sofa Whisperer.” He’s the best at it, I think I have mentioned that many times before. To be able to let others find love, healing and connection on your sofa? Wow. Then to have them compare it to a family’s love, grace and acceptance of you? That’s mighty work. That’s a sofa well worth its money.
But let’s not overlook the obvious. The real sofas here are the Jacksons. You have sofas in your life too. That friend that picks up the phone when you ring it at 2AM; that group of family that shows up at your door uninvited to say, “we know you’ve lost your way, we are here to tell you….again…..that we are going to be here for as long as it takes to get you back on track;” those friends that do the work of heroes by providing a safe place to land; that lady who consistently cheers for you, even though you have regularly overlooked her; that friend who invites you into her home to watch Auburn football because you have no TV; but you love to holler “WAR EAGLE!,” and she is aware you’re gonna be obnoxious and scream at the TV in a most unlady-like manner and she won’t get any peace in her own home for close to 4 hours, but she welcomes you anyway (okay, that might just be my personal sofa, let’s get back on track); that person who forgave you despite the fact you tried to cut them with your words and still she comes back to offer friendship; and most especially that best good friend who, despite the miles and the time always makes you giggle to the point of snorts because it’s safe to do so- she’s just as crazy as you are– those are your sofas. Yep, those are the best sofas, may we all strive to be one.
I hope you have a handful of sofas. A handful of sofas will not only get you through life, but give you a joy to splash around in.
I think such a gift would indeed make you God’s favorite kid.