Barbara Benson Keith’s wake-up call came while chatting with a fellow kindergarten teacher at the end of a school day.
Her colleague said, “‘I hope in 10 years I’m right here in this classroom doing the same thing,’” Barbara recalled. “And inside I was like, ‘Ack! No!’ That didn’t appeal to me at all.”
In the spring of 2000, after 12 years of teaching, Barbara took a leave. She was ready to end the persistent stream of sickness teaching had triggered and embark on her next adventure. “I thought, ‘You can be safe or you can take risks and live your life.’”
Barbara traveled to Pompeii, Italy, taking in colossal mosaics that left her slack-jawed. Back home, she immediately set to creating a mosaic, digging out leftover chunks from a community ed stained-glass class she’d taken nearly a decade ago. She worked on a card table wedged beside the basement furnace, playing the “Wicked” soundtrack on repeat as she pieced together a 51-inch by 51-inch rendering of Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.
The mosaic took four months and 4,800 pieces of hand-cut glass and won second place in the Minnesota State Fair, landing Barbara the first of dozens of public art commissions that have kept pouring in, providing full-time work since 2007.
She and her husband, Pete, moved to the country and built a home, starting with a large work table for her mosaics. Now the self-taught artist has her own studio, with a mirror on the ceiling and a rescue dog at her feet. She tends to chickens, taps maples for syrup and studies roving shadows.
With her black hair, youthful face and bright smile, the petite 46-year-old looks stress free. “When I was teaching, there was always noise,” Barbara told me. “Now it’s quiet, and I’m healthy, and I don’t have to set my alarm in the morning. You finish a piece and you say, ‘Wow, I made that!’”
Barbara’s journey from the classroom to the country inspires me, especially as we unroll a promising new year. It is a chance to more fully become the people God designed, to discover and perform the work he set out for us, drawing on the unique set of skills and talents no one else possesses. That may call for a career change, an address change or an attitude change.
Maybe the key will be to start praying or to resume praying, to pray earlier or later, alone or in communion, with your own words, with ancient words or with no words at all.
It could be time to take a long, hard look at the thing keeping you from pursuing God’s will. Will you bend to it again or are you ready to press forward? Are you willing to cut and glue as many tiny pieces as Barbara made on the card table in her basement? Can you trust that all the labor may produce a masterpiece?
Perhaps the difference between you and your better self is a matter of being less rushed in 2013 — more awake, more aware, more attuned.
I’m anticipating the new year like never before. I can almost see the flood of love and purpose it will bring, shoving all the less important stuff out of view and demanding my best — someone wiser, gentler
My answer will be simple, the same word that turned a peasant into the Mother of God, the one that opens every door and invites every grace: yes.
Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at www.ReadChristina.com.