That Special Occasion Is Today

“Don’t die with your best song still unsung.” ~Anonymous


[While kindness has been and will remain one of the most important lessons of my life—and one I continue to learn daily—lately, I’ve been thinking about other lessons life has taught me. And I’ve become increasingly aware of the lessons that no longer serve and need to be “unlearned.” Like many writers who say they write to find out what they think, writing is how I make sense of my world. Periodically, I plan to explore some of my life lessons here. I invite you to share some of your own.]

I’m finally learning to use and enjoy the things I love—without worrying about whether I might break them, wear them out, or use them up. Growing up, I somehow ingested a notion that special things were to be saved for special occasions:

“We only use those dishes when we have company.”

“Those are your good shoes. You can’t wear them for everyday.”

For years—even long after I was out on my own—I didn’t wear the favorite sweater to go grocery shopping or just around the house. I didn’t serve dinner for only the two of us on the pretty china with the blue flowers, or pour water, lemonade, or wine into the delicate crystal glasses. I refrained from writing in the exquisite hand-sewn journal a dear friend gave me because my scribblings were just too mundane for such a gorgeous book.

But somewhere along the way—finally—it occurred to me that the sweater wasn’t made to spend its life in a drawer, the china and crystal would give us pleasure and maybe even psychologically elevate the quality of my mediocre cooking. And if I didn’t think my writing or my thoughts were worthy of a lovely journal (and a good pen to write with), then what kind of timid, phony writer am I? If I fill it up with my thoughts—however jumbled or humdrum—I can get another. I’m worth it.

I recall a story that circulated on social media several years ago about a woman who helps her brother-in-law go through his wife’s possessions after the wife’s sudden death. They come across a beautiful and delicate lace slip, wrapped in tissue paper and still bearing the price-tag. The husband recounts how his wife bought it years before, but never wore it, always saying she was saving it for a special occasion. As he tosses it next to the dress they’ve decided to bury her in, he says bitterly, “I guess this is her special occasion.”

Some people don’t use the “good stuff” because they want to keep it unsullied to bequeath to their kids or grand-kids. Well, guess what? It’s a safe bet that the kids don’t want it and also don’t want the burden of disposing of it after mom and dad die, or when they can no longer live safely in their home. They’d be much happier seeing their parents enjoy these items while they’re living . . . and seeing that might even create memories that confer lasting sentimental value on the old relics.

In her 1989 New York Times essay, “Write Till You Drop,” Annie Dillard has another take on this whole issue of saving things. She approaches it from a writer’s perspective:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

What are you saving for just the right occasion, the right story, the right day? What if that day doesn’t come, or if when it does, you find only ashes?

Me? I have a hundred-year-old, hand-painted china tea-set. The delicate cups and saucers with their beautifully detailed flowers give me enormous joy just to look at them. Perhaps it’s time for a tea party….


“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.” ~Dalai Lama

35 thoughts on “That Special Occasion Is Today

  1. While walking from a restaurant to our car during a visit to Oakland, California, we came upon a wall lining a viaduct, The wall was made of tile squares, each created by a survivor of the 1989 earthquake that had caused the collapse a double-decker highway. Each tile was poignant, but the message on one of them stays with me still: “Use the good china every day.”

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  2. Beautiful! Although I don’t have delicate china, I do have my mother’s set of Russel Wright dishes that I love. I wrote a post a while ago about “using the good stuff” because of the same reason: Life is Short. Now, rather than sitting in a cabinet, I pull them out regularly and enjoy not only their beautiful blue color, but the memories they evoke. If one should break, oh well. I hope you have that tea party!

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    • It is a beautiful work of art, Neil (and that photo is just a sampling of the many pieces). If we had kids or other family who might treasure it, I might be less inclined to use it, but I fear it’s bound for Goodwill or an estate sale eventually.

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    • You are so right, Cheryl! Clearing and decluttering is a wonderful gift for the people who will have to sort through our possessions. My mother was a bit of a hoarder and it was a nightmare going through her condo after she died.

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  3. When I sold my china cabinet, the fine china went into boxes. When it was time to leave my marriage, I took half the china with me. My daughter asked, “What are we going to do with that?” I said, “Use it”, and we do, just like regular plates. I’ve used the fragile tea cup and saucer for so many years, it has a crack down the side, but still holds tea. I also wear my favorite sweater around the house when it’s rainy. Life is meant to be enjoyed every day, with all treasures included. 💖

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  4. I loved this, Donna! And I agree, we should live our life to the fullest, each day. That means using the good china whenever we want to, and not letting that sweater sit unworn in the drawer. My grandparents (who were German, and it might have been a cultural thing) always saved their “best” for only very special occasions. Which meant all kinds of treasures were simply stored, and never used or enjoyed at all!

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    • Thanks, Ann. I wonder if that mindset of our parents and grandparents is connected to the scarcity of the Great Depression and two world wars. Maybe the inclination to save “the good stuff” came from their difficulties in obtaining or replacing items. Hmmmm.

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  5. Good advice, but difficult to embrace sometimes. It’s not that I don’t think I’m worth it, it’s that I’m lazy. And getting the good stuff out of wherever it is stored seems like work. And isn’t that just sad?

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    • I get that, Ally. Things are buried in hard-to-reach places, the back of a closet, or—heaven forbid—the attic. It’s not just that they’re a pain to unearth, but out-of-sight is out-of-mind. I wonder what Marie Kondo would advise (my inclination is always to do the opposite).

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  6. I remember all those hospital gowns or pajamas. Just in case you go to the hospital. Wow. These days everyone has to wear the same pale gown if admitted. No need to save for that. Oh and there were doctor visit undies. New. We’ve started using our China as everyday dishes except when a microwave is involved. Much China has a metal trim. Only drawback.

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    • Hi, Sascha, and welcome! Glad you could relate to both the material and writerly aspects of holding back our best bits. I think it’s one of those lessons we learn incrementally. Thanks for commenting!

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  7. Hi Donna, I am thrilled to meet you!

    Ally Bean sent me. You are the first blogger I selected on this list. I was drawn to the beautiful title of your blog.

    I am captivated by this post “…easily distracted by the next shiny object that catches our fancy.” A sign of our times. “…invest my time and energy.” You are speaking my language.

    I am inspired by the “15%” rule. A great description on what I already feel in my bones. Your sentence “being dreadful is part of the process” made me smile. And then, Rumi’s quote – I am hooked. I have subscribed to your blog.

    I am presently on “pause mode” writing my blog for a number of personal reasons. I still visit blogs when I can. I look forward to learning more about you. Erica

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    • Hi, Erica! Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind comments. I’m glad some of my thoughts resonated. And so glad Ally facilitated our connection. Even though your blog is on “pause,” I’ve signed up. When I saw the quote: “My Life So Far, ‘It was nothing I thought it would be and everything I had hoped’,” I was hooked. Looking forward to getting to know you.

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