Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.
Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary.
But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.
The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.
The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?
Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?
These are the last days. They matter.
Soon we will remember how everything changes.
. . .
The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.
Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.
My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.
Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.
Ready and waiting.
Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.
I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.
And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.
. . .
I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.
These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).
Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?
The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.
I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.
And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.
The Case of What Happened To My Birthday?
It hit me for the first time, on the eve of my 33rd trip around the sun, that it’s a pretty darn perfect metaphor for what I’ve learned in adulthood.
March 8th used to be All About Me. What’s a birthday other than your unique footprint upon the calendar? Everyone sends you cards, calls you on your special day, wishes you a wonderful celebration. You get to bask in the glow of 24 hours with you at the center: cake, cards, presents. Even the daily horoscope selects a personalized (yet simultaneously vague and laughable?) prediction for your next year.
I loved my birthday every year, gripped it tight with a happy grin. Mine.
Then, as fate would have it, I fell in love with another Pisces.
Another March 8th Pisces, to be precise.
And somewhere between my initial eye roll of disbelief, the driver’s license he produced as proof over dinner, and the eleven years since? The day ceased to be mine forever.
March 8th became our birthday, still a strange stumble of pronoun off my tongue. Like another anniversary or Valentine’s Day (except we always find a restaurant that offers free meals or desserts, much to the waiter’s double chagrin). A shared celebration.
No longer mine but ours.
Of course that’s what marriage is about, cue the clichés. But I truly never thought I would have to bake my own birthday cake every other year. I never thought I’d field birthday calls for us both. Or open birthday cards addressed to two.
Google can’t tell me the odds of sharing an exact birthday and birth year with your spouse, but I’d bet it’s slim. So the one day that was rightly my own on the calendar? (Aside from some fleeting thought that statistically, of course, I surely shared the natal date with millions of others.)
Now it belongs to us.
Then another funny twist happened.
Ever since our first baby was born, and the story and details and life-changing milestone of his birth day were forever seared on my brain, I started seeing birthdays differently.
Suddenly they were about the mothers, too.
The ones who stand smiling in the background while the child bends over the cake to blow out candles. The ones who were always missing from the photos because they were behind the camera every year. The ones whom nature made the necessary half of the equation that produced a birthday.
The ones who birthed.
Strange as it sounds, ever since I became a parent I always think of people’s mothers when I wish them a “Happy Birthday.” I think of the women who couldn’t forget this date, either, even if they are no longer in their child’s life. Because they labored and sweated and suffered on that day to bring a baby into the world.
And the body and soul don’t soon forget that sacrifice of love.
So today I’ll roll over and wish my husband a Happy Birthday. He’ll smile and do the same.
Later on we’ll talk to our mothers, I’m sure. They’ve taken to calling each other, too, exchanging congratulations for a job well done years ago. And we’ll share birthday cake with our sons (who still don’t understand how their parents aren’t twins).
All in all it’s a darn-near perfect picture for what I’m learning about this life. That’s it’s not about me or even us. It’s about them.
The ones whose love brought us here. And the ones brought here by our love.
It’s their day, too.
First, thanks to all of you who sent so much love with my big announcement last week! I’m floored by your support and can’t wait to share my “baby” with you very soon.
Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions on the details (apparently cryptic reflections on liturgical feasts aren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity?) so I wanted to answer the questions I’ve been getting via email and social media.
What’s the title? What’s it all about?
The book is called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
I call it a spiritual-memoir-meets-parenting-memoir with a twist. It takes the seven Catholic sacraments as a lens for looking at life with little ones in a whole new light. So it’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the sticky, Lego-strewn, does-anyone-ever-mop-this-floor? ground zero of parenting.
But the book can perhaps be best summed up by this hysterical – unofficial! – trailer that my brother made me. (Ok, actually it’s nothing like this, but I can’t stop laughing when I watch it.) If anyone can catch every single pop culture reference upon first viewing, I will send you an autographed copy of the book:
Who’s the publisher? When is it coming out?
I’m delighted to be working with Liturgical Press, and the book should be out by early fall 2014. Will keep you posted!
And finally, the #1 question I seem to get regarding the book:
How did you find time to write this???
People always want to know how I do this. (I know I’m far from the only mother-writer who gets these baffled looks.) My guess is that it’s the same way any of us make time for the passions we love: stealing spare moments and carving out corners.
But here are five ways I able to write this book (while raising two young kids, working part-time, and surviving a challenging pregnancy or two in the past year):
1) I slacked off elsewhere. I cancelled my gym membership after our second son arrived, and I’ve felt guilty about the lack of exercise ever since. But something’s gotta give in every season of life, and in this stage with little ones underfoot, working out is what I let go. Physically? Not so healthy. Emotionally and spiritually? I’m much happier if I spend my free time on writing. I know someday I’ll have time for regular exercise again, but for now chasing preschoolers and squeezing in yoga will have to suffice.
Also, housekeeping chez nous took a sharp nosedive in early 2013 when I started seriously working on this project, and it has barely recovered. Don’t look too closely at the bathrooms next time you come over. Trust me.
2) I had lots of help. Being blessed with a supportive spouse who sees my writing as a calling makes this work possible. I took a lot of Saturday mornings to write at coffee shops, and he regularly took on the boys’ bath/bedtime routine solo to give me extra hours to write at night. I couldn’t have done this without him.
But I also asked for help from others when I needed it: I paid for a few extra hours of childcare with our sitter when my schedule allowed it, and I leapt at my parents’ offers to watch the kids whenever we were visiting them. Writing a book is a team effort.
3) I learned when I work best. Once I started paying attention to the natural rhythms of my mind and body, I figured when the best times are for me to do creative work: before dawn, between 10 am and noon, and after 9 pm. Now I don’t try to force myself to write during other times of the day, and I find that flow comes much easier.
Of course, my life doesn’t always align with my creative energy. So I stock up on caffeine and chocolate to work during naptime when I’m home with the kids, or I stick to editing tasks during my “off” hours. But knowing when I find flow helps me stop banging my head against a wall when things aren’t going well: I check the clock and decide when to start again later.
4) I organized against my nature. This might contradict my own advice in #3 (know thyself). But I am not a type-A person. I’d much rather enjoy a lazy day, go with the flow, and act spontaneously. Most of the time that doesn’t jive with running a household or raising kids. So over the past year I’ve forced myself – with gritted teeth – to develop some type-A habits.
I methodically meal-plan every week so I never have to come up with dinner ideas at 5:00. I charted all our household chores and made a weekly/monthly schedule so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done. I still bristle at sticking to these uber-organized systems, but they’ve freed up enough precious moments for writing every day to make it worth it.
5) I stuck to a schedule. This is what happens when a humanities major meets an engineer: one person delights in work plans, the other rolls their eyes. But when I got serious about finishing this book in one year, my husband sat down and helped me make a weekly calendar that would allow me to write and edit every single chapter within the allotted months. (I guess this combines #2 – team effort – and #4 – unnatural organization.)
Bless his heart, he hoped I’d track every hour I spent on the project so that I could know exactly how much time it took to write the book. But I will say that knowing exactly what I needed to work on every week, rather than following inspiration’s whim as is my fancy, made it possible to pull off pregnancy + book in a way that surprised even me.
So there you have it: what it is and how I did it. And what a gift this opportunity has been – I am so humbled and excited by how everything has worked out. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring…
We’re inching towards a day I dread on the calendar. The winter solstice: shortest day of the year. As a lover of light and warmth, I cringe at the cold, recoiling from the longest dark.
When I worked outside the home, I hated these December days even more – commuting to work in the blue-black before dawn, driving home after the sun had already set. All the life seemed sucked out of the hours before I ever got a chance to enjoy them.
Small consolations twinkle: Christmas lights flashing through dark neighborhoods, a thick cover of snow that glows luminescent all night long. But still I long for summer’s bright yellow light and stretching evenings. Pulling tight the curtains in the kids’ rooms to convince them it’s time for bed even though their parents plan to sneak back outside barefoot once the covers have been tucked under their chins.
But every year in Advent, a season of lighting candles and marking time, we lose sunlight hour by hour. It gnaws at me: how I have to release into the dark to let these days pass.
. . .
When I was pregnant for the first time, my wise friend Anita wrote to me on a baby shower card that the best truth she’d heard about raising babies (and she’d had three, so she knew well) was that the years are short but the days are long.
I’ve heard this comforting adage a thousand times since, so I know it rings true for parents who have passed through the throes of life with little ones. In the endless cycle of dragging days filled with newborns and diapers and toddlers and tantrums and preschoolers and discipline, the years somehow slip by. Quickly and quietly.
I hear parents of grown children tell me to relish these days, because they long for them now. And of course I won’t, any more than they savored potty training or dinners full of whining or 3:00 am sobbing wakeup calls.
Still I respect their wisdom; I know that I will one day look back fondly at the same. How wondrous and fleeting were these years full of tiny ones.
But the same truth echoes across the cold dark snow of this winter solstice, too. A month full of shortest days means longest nights. So much temptation for brooding in the darkness. Advent is a necessary hope: we must light the candles and sing the songs and prepare as the weeks pass.
Otherwise we would despair.
. . .
Some parents call a child after miscarriage their “rainbow baby.” A promise of hope after loss. A shimmer of colored light after bleak rain. A sign of calming peace after the storm.
But for me, this baby has been a full moon. Round and bright in the dark sky. Pulling my eyes back to its light whenever they stray. Casting its glowing shine onto a cold world waiting below.
The full moon has brought me comfort through each passing month. Whenever I would rise at night – from nausea, from anxiety, from restless sleep – I found my companion in that glowing orb.
A single light strong enough to fill the sky and flood the land below.
My longest nights have been full of this presence of God’s promise: that light always returns. Even when the days are short from December’s cold, or the nights are long from children’s demands, there is always brightness somewhere, if I keep searching.
If I keep looking up. Even in the deepest dark.
Christ, be our light.
Mama, do the Our Father in French tonight.
He whispers his request as he burrows under the comforter, eyes flashing bright in the dim of his bedroom draped in night. Of course, I agree. And in an instant we’re off. I close my eyes and start to sing, and for a moment I drift back.
The cold stone church, frigid even in summer. The rows of plain wooden chairs with ancient woven seats. The prayers of the Mass turned to poetry in another tongue, the words I committed to heart to keep from flipping through my missal every moment like the obvious outsider that I was, even after a year.
I’ve forgotten so many words from that time – the names of strange vegetables at the market, the polite way to ask for directions, the slang on the corner store magazines. But still the language lingers, if not on my lips then deeper.
Even when I thought I’d left it behind.
. . .
Some choices seem definitive. I dropped the journalism minor when I fell hard for the humanities. I left the English major behind when art history flared its passion. But I could never quit the French. Even when it was impractical, indulgent, unemployable, save for the doctorate too many professors tried to push me towards.
So when I finally had to admit to myself that there was a turning, that the longing was no longer for language, that the tug was towards theology – the deepest of the humanities, the heart of the cultures I loved, the Word before all other words – I had to grieve the loss.
There were dreams – of a Parisian address, of doctoral programs abroad, of years spent pouring through poetry – that I had to let slip away.
Maybe somewhere deep down I wondered if it might bubble up again, if I could come back to the conjugations and the circumflexes and pick back up where I’d left off.
But I never really thought it would happen.
. . .
People would ask sometimes: you’re teaching the boys French, right?
And I’d look up at them with dark circles under my eyes from bedtime battles and mid-night nursing and early morning rising to tug soaked sheets off the crib again, and I’d think to myself: you’re kidding, right?
But then little by little, it started to creep back in.
A nursery rhyme here, a church hymn there. A few cooking words in the kitchen while we’d bake. A simple grace before meals. Then one rainy afternoon I taught the oldest Notre Père and we were off.
Suddenly he was digging out the children’s dictionaries and asking me to tell him words-in-French from his favorite books and correcting his little brother’s toddler version of Frère Jacques.
How did we get here? I’d wonder.
. . .
I’d only grabbed the church bulletin out of habit, something to read for the thirty seconds between strapping the last kid in a car seat and starting the car to drive home. But that Sunday a small notice in the corner caught my eye: French translators needed.
Turns out our sister parish in Haiti was sending a team to visit us this fall. Since they didn’t speak English and our folks didn’t know Creole, everyone’s non-native tongue was the only way to email back and forth.
You’re kidding. I thought to myself. I could actually help them with this from home?
So here I am now, the giant black French dictionary back on the desk, the dusty Micro Robert off the shelf to check verb tenses, even the Google Translate cheat to look up words that didn’t exist a decade ago in my college texts. I’m back in the world of delighting at what translates well and laughing at what’s impossible to culturally correspond, back in the world where we reach across differences through the power of language, back in the world where words matter deeply.
And with each email request that pops in my inbox, I remember how much I love this world.
Would I have had the courage, the confidence, even the chutzpah to blow off the dust and start the rusty wheels squeaking again, if it hadn’t been for these little boys who dragged me back first? It’s a terribly humbling thing, to spend years of your life perfecting a language and then fumble for the most basic turns of phrase years later.
But my son’s Montessori teacher talks over and over about synapses, about stretching out the tiny tendrils of a preschooler’s mind so that years from now, when he comes across rhombus or ovoid or quadratic equation, the synapses will already be reaching out across the divide to let the spark jump that much quicker.
Maybe callings run across these same impulses and energies. When we spend years chasing one dream, plowing into the work and sacrifice it takes to strive for a worthy goal, then even when we turn and take up another direction, the pathways do not close completely behind us. There’s still electricity waiting to leap across the now-dark abyss.
In all my work on vocation, these are my favorite stories. Not I knew I wanted to be a doctor from the time I was 5 years old. Not I stumbled into this work, though looking back I can see God’s hand.
But I had this dream once, and I thought I let it go, I thought my life turned in a very different direction, but then it turned out that years later, I did get to follow that dream after all.
So when he cuddles under the quilt and asks me to sing Je vous salue Marie again, I always say Yes.
You never know where Yes will lead.
I never read a single “how to blog” article before I started.
I never tried to find a niche.
I never strategically stalked other bloggers to boost my stats.
I never joined the blogging networks that pay you for running their ads.
I never worked on sensational titles or pin-worthy photos.
I never got sponsors.
I never tried to make a single post go viral.
I never even told you my children’s names or shared zillions of shots of their adorable faces so you could fall in love with them.
By many standards, I’ve never done this blogging thing right. All the experts scream that readers want sound bytes, top-10 lists, slick design, meme-worthy quotes. I’ve done none of that.
(For crying out loud, it’s been over a week since I last posted. Don’t I know the first thing about keeping readers interested?)
But from the beginning I’ve wanted to do this blogging thing real if not right. Which is to say that when my family or my work or the rest of my life needs me more, I always step back for a bit. I don’t stress about posting; I don’t check the stats; I don’t keep up with the comments.
And the lovely thing about a true passion is that it always forgives you the neglect.
Right now I have lots of irons in the fire. Right now I have plenty of projects in the works, including the biggest and longest thing I’ve written to date (!) and a bunch of other deadlines gently elbowing my side: don’t forget us. Right now I have two busy little boys who run me ragged sunup to sundown with an exhaustion of love and giggles. Right now I have a husband who travels and a house I stopped cleaning and an email inbox stuffed to overwhelming with so many good things and people I need to respond to.
So I let the blog slide, or maybe I let it lay fallow, or maybe I let it slow down. Knowing that coasting and resting and pausing are all part of the ride. Knowing that the energy and excitement always come back to this place.
Because you are here, and I never take for granted the gift that is someone else reading these words. What never fails to blow my mind is how that people keep finding their way here, even when I never intended to draw them in.
So today I’m reveling in all that I don’t do right. The bathrooms I don’t scrub, the homemade meals I don’t scratch together, the to-dos I haven’t done, the errands I haven’t run, the activities I never signed my kids up for, even the blog I neglect.
Because in between all that I don’t do right, I do so much real. With a partner and kids and work and faith that I love.
And maybe because all of that is wrapped tight with hope in the truth that faithfulness was always a deeper call than success, I’m reveling in letting things fall where they may. In this season of falling leaves and dipping temps and letting go, I’m giving thanks for all that is done and undone. Knowing that whenever I turn back to pick up what has fallen, there will be time enough, again.
Time enough, always, for the real. If not the right.
Do you ever revel in this, too?
Some months of the year are almost too bittersweet to bear.
April is one. It teases, coy and cunning, with windows-down 45-degree days, full of more soft breezes than we remembered possible. Then the next day the blizzard dump another 6-to-9 and the interstate is piled with skeletons of cars spun out in six-foot drifts.
October is a heartbreaker, too. It starts so bright and beckoning, full of rich yellow light and red leaves splashing the treetops. But by month’s end we’ll be bracing ourselves against biting winds as we drag costumed kids through dark streets.
Too much change in one short month.
Today as we colored with chalk on the sidewalk outside (or rather, as I took orders from the tiny artistic director barking over my shoulder: do a square, mama! now do a triangle!), I glimpsed again how the natural world mirrors our own seasons, each one slightly different from last year’s version.
This is our only fall with a four- and two-year old. No matter what the coming autumns bring us, it will never have quite this same configuration.
And each of my children – my blond-haired, blue-eyed eldest and my brown-haired, dark-eyed youngest – are crammed with so many changes of their own within these ever-evolving seasons. Favorite foods, toy obsessions, beloved stuffed animals, bedtime routines – they all shift so slightly as the weeks turn.
The first day of a month rarely resembles its last.
Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I love change, that I’m type-B enough to breeze through without anxiety over the unknown. But these months of too-much-change always remind me this is false.
I cling to summer, squinting through September’s last golden days to make them masquerade as August. And as soon as the leaves start to swirl to the ground, I find myself frowning at the fact that fall is here and winter’s chill is right around the corner.
Maybe it’s the same with my kids, too.
I tell myself I want them to grow up, to grow out of diapers and into shoes they can tie themselves, to grow out of potty jokes and into academic interests to deepen our dinner table conversations.
But secretly I cling to their small selves, too – the way my toddler’s legs wrap around my waist like a koala when I scoop him up, the soft rub of my preschooler’s skin when we snuggle our noses together to say goodnight.
It’s the vertigo back and forth between the two – the babes they are today and the big boys they will become – that exhausts me sometimes. I watch it ripple over their faces in an instant as the light hits just so, and I see the glint of the men they will become and the memory of the newborns they once were.
So much to hold all at once.
But October reminds me that it can exist all together, this tension between summer innocence and weathered winter. That in the short plan of a month everything can shift around us, even while the same calendar page stays tacked to the wall.
Reminding me as we run barefoot through green grass to pick pumpkins that the only constant is change.
This sign sits in our front yard. Since it’s covered from view by a line of trees, I rarely glimpse it from the house. But whenever the boys want to walk down to the creek, I notice it while we wander at the edge of the road.
The yellow steel diamond that screams this unmistakable truth in all caps:
And it reminds me again.
That everything certain ends.
Everything that seems sure and steady, ends.
Everything that spread out before our eyes, smooth and rolling, stretching on beyond our view – it eventually ends. Sending our wheels spinning and skidding as we scramble to reorient and remember how to travel this part of the journey.
But so, too, the road that was twisting and turning, ends.
Everything that was hard and unrelenting, packed down like pavement rolled by strong machines – it ends, too.
And there can be something comforting in the crunch of dirt and rumbling gravel we will meet ahead. A road that leads to an unknown adventure or draws us back to nature.
Back to the ground of our being.
. . .
Sometimes I wonder what it meant when Jesus said I am the Way.
Did he mean he is The Way: the one and only road; the strong, solid, shining, and certain street; the gleaming golden highway leading off into the sun?
Or did he mean that he is the way, the winding and wandering path, the trail that seems to shrink in the overgrown woods, the dusty trace of footsteps that trudged before our own?
Or did he simply mean that there Is the way, that light falls on our feet when we follow, that there is always something next if we keep going?
Sometimes we fool ourselves that we know what path we are on. We’ve chosen this career, this spouse, this address. And so our days are going to unfold accordingly, neatly tipping in a row like dominos we lined up with a careful eye.
But if the only constant is change, as the wise try to tell us, then the fact that pavement ends is the only sure truth. Today is a blink, this season is a phase. Tomorrow may be rockier or smoother, but it will not be exactly like now.
Maybe Christ meant that all of this is the Way – that he is both the level ground and the rumbling gravel, the reliable street and the meandering road. Maybe he is there when we glide easily, assuming we’re in control, and when we spin out helplessly, remembering we never were.
. . .
The kids slap the bottom of the sign, grinning at its metallic twang. They run to the brush to find sticks to see how wood will sound when it clangs against steel. When does the world stop seeming so simple and wonderful, like one great science experiment waiting for our discovery?
This is the Way, too. Wonder. Listening. Joy.
I take one small hand in each of my own and we start to walk back up the hill towards the house, our shadows lengthening like giants in late afternoon sun. Suddenly they do not look so small, to my right and my left; they seem to stand at my same height, all three of us together with the sun warm on our backs.
This pavement, too, will end. But around the corner where I still cannot see, there will be some unseen wonder ahead.
That is the promise of way.
It’s time to switch him to 1%.
The doctor’s words echo in my ear as I stand in the cold rush of the open fridge door, shaking the half-empty carton of whole milk. It is the last one we will buy.
. . .
We’re down to six diapers in each load, twice a week. Barely worth washing, but we remind ourselves we can’t complain about a child who trains himself before two.
Stacks of diapers now sit unused on the top shelf of his closet, crammed next to tubs of tiny onesies and plastic bottles.
Every time I pull open the door to stash another neglected toy or outgrown outfit, I try not to wonder when – if – we’ll pull them out again.
What matters is this one is growing.
. . .
May I sit on your lap, please? He toddles over with a grin and I cannot resist a full sentence. So I scoop him up and he smiles while I write.
Seconds later he shoves off in search of something more exciting.
He’s always leaving.
. . .
My husband hauls the changing table down from upstairs. It sits awkward and out of place in the front hallway.
“Should we give it away?” he asks as the kids run around us, shrieking at some game they’ve invented. “We still have the other one.”
“Not now,” I shake my head. “I know it makes no sense, but will you just stick it in the basement? I can’t get rid of it yet.”
Now it stares at me every time I slip by the furnace room, empty and alone.
. . .
Nostalgia fills thick August air as the leaves start to yellow and the school buses zip back through the neighborhood, practicing their routes.
I wonder why I am not sad at all about the prospect of preschool starting again, why all the Facebook photos of first days don’t tug at my heartstrings like they usually do. Is it because our oldest is used to school now, that he’s excited to go back, that summer camp’s thrill proved the tears at drop off are now behind us?
No, I realize quietly one afternoon. I am not sad about his back-to-school because I am already sad about his brother’s farewell to babyhood.
My heart is too full.
Of course I know part of this is the loss, the sadness that there is not another baby on the way, to take his place on the changing table, in the high chair, in the clothes that continue to shrink on his lengthening limbs.
But my tug at his turning two started much earlier, when I realized how his own babyhood was whizzing past me. I feel the flow of time’s current quicker with this second child, and I don’t know what comes next.
Maybe my sadness at his turning two – still such a wee small number! why such worry? – comes at my having to release him into this inbetweenness.
Where there is no quick hug and wave at school drop-off, but we still have to learn to say goodbye each day. Where there is no neat curriculum for how the next year will unfold, but he still needs to learn leaps and bounds before my eyes. Where we will both have to muddle through uncertainty and growth and letting go.
Maybe the only spiritual practice is learning to let go. Of our false sense of control, of our preconceived notions of how the world should work, of the fear that change will change us.
All around me is proof. He is no longer a baby.
But God, this is hard to let go.
. . .
Today is the last day of one, the slender straight line of one.
Tomorrow will bring two’s curve and sharp base, the race towards presents and cake and becoming something – someone – bigger.
Today I hold him close and let him go. Hold him close and let him go.
All I can do is keep practicing.
“That moment at the dorm is implied at the kindergarten door, at the gates of summer camp, at every ritual of parting and independence. But it comes as surprising as a thief, taking what you value most…The experience is natural and common. And still planets are thrown off their axes.”
Michael Gerson, Washington Post: “Saying goodbye to my child, the youngster“
I remember standing in the window of our new bedroom, staring out across lush green trees to glimpse the sparkling lake across the street. The clouds were cream and billowy in the sweet blue sky, and I caught my breath to think I could wake up to such loveliness every morning.
And then I remembered.
That a friend was going into labor that same morning to deliver a baby who would not live through the day.
I pressed my forehead against the glass and tried to hold together the tension of a world where such a perfect clear morning would welcome such pain. It has been ever thus, that life and death dance hand in hand, but we do our best to ignore it, lest our brains explode at the overload of our own mortality.
We do not want to lift the veil.
. . .
One week I’m stocking up on Saltines and Gatorade for the nausea already rising in my belly.
The next week I trudge slowly up the Walgreens aisle, hospital bracelet still circled round my wrist, and set the unwanted supplies silently on the counter. The cheerful clerk rings up the transaction without seeing the robotic stare in my eyes.
“Have a wonderful night!” she wishes me on my way. A bitter laugh catches in my throat as I move towards the door that automatically slides open in front of me.
It has been one of the worst days of my life.
I join him at the restaurant counter, still waiting for our take-out twenty minutes later, standing with my same empty zombie stance, what to do with these helpless limbs that cannot save what hurts us most. Any other evening such a long wait would have annoyed us, rolled eyes and whispered sarcasm. But tonight we barely know to care.
I look around at the strangers ordering their pasta, zipping paper off their straws, texting while they wait for friends to park the car – and I envy them their normalcy, their ordinary day, how they can stand on two feet without feeling like they need a wall to hold them up and how nothing – no one – has died inside them today. I long with every cell in my body to flip the calendar forward or back to a time when I could cruise through suburban shopping centers wondering where we should eat dinner and not wondering how the world dares to continue while death stands so close, breathing down our necks though we barely notice.
. . .
What do you write when the words run out? Or rather, when the words you never wanted to share were the same ones that brought warm meals and sweet flowers to your doorstep, that filled your phone and flooded your inbox, that spilled forth long-distance love and shared stories you never knew, that sparked so much sympathy from strangers-turned-friends?
Maybe you trust your own words, dig through the thousands you spill each day to find the ones that really matter – I wonder how we go on. But I know that we go on. And you remember to trust the truer words, the scripture and the poetry and the promises that we place upon our hearts so that, as the rabbi’s story goes, when our hearts finally break open the words fall inside.
And you look out the same window where you prayed that friend through her worst day and you spy your babies running barefoot through the lush grass below and you catch the lump in your throat wondering whether you want too much by wanting more, wishing everything could have been complete with only two but knowing that your soul keeps singing a stubborn soft psalm for something more.
And you go about your day – the Target and the Walgreens and the email and the laundry – and every time you remember the emptiness inside, you wish you could leap up and tug back down that gossamer veil, grab it with both hands and nail it to the floor so that illusion and innocence could float easy around you once again.
But you know once the veil has lifted nothing can ever be the same. You understand why revelation and apocalypse draw from this same dread, this shimmering veil that draws back to show how close death dances to our living, the thin separation that never falls the same once parted.
No matter how much you want to yank yesterday back into your hands.
. . .
There will come a day when I don’t think about it immediately upon waking, while I blink to reorient myself with the dawn. When the words I should be pregnant or we lost a baby don’t stream through my head while I wash breakfast dishes. There will be school runs and work meetings and yard work and weekend projects, and the world will settle back into the boring where we can function unthinking.
The morning after that day, the unthinking day, I will feel both sad and grateful. Weepy that the grieving is moving on and thankful that things are becoming everyday again. I will hug the boys tighter and they will squirm away with smiles and we will keep plodding on with the holy ordinary of living.
But somewhere the veil will be lifting for someone I love. It has been ever thus, that life and death dance hand in hand. And maybe the only true and faithful way to go on is to go through – not to deny one ounce of emotion but to promise to feel it all, to honor how this has changed me, will continue to change me, will never be a smoothed healing but a small scarring that shapes who I am and what I become.
Maybe this is how the veil becomes not a heavy shroud but a soft scarf, a warm protection against the bite of wind, a swath of beauty in a world too ugly, a burst of color in a bland of grey.
Maybe this is how we carry loss with us. Close to the skin, and brave enough for others to see.