I have the distinct remembrance of a scene in a movie or two, where someone is scribbling frantically along a chalkboard, spools of numbers and symbols in their wake, feeling along the board with their other hand, so close to the problem at hand that it’s not until the camera pans back that you can see this huge length of board stretching out behind them, full of mysterious answers.
That’s how my mind feels at the moment.
I’m scribbling in the dark.
We were dealt one blow after another at the beginning of this week. It’s not that any particular part of it was horrifyingly bad. Everyone is okay. Maybe it was the rapid succession of bad news. Maybe it’s just because it was one more thing. But this time…James and I both drowned underneath the weight of it all.
It has been a most difficult week.
I remember laying sprawled in the backyard late on Wednesday, looking up at the stars and constellations through the feathery reaches of the trees, the moon framed in a tangle of branch. All I could think of was the intricate design of the heavens, how the language and the design of the stars is so precise that the Philae comet lander was only off by some twenty two seconds after traveling for nearly ten years to reach its destination. Symbols and equations sprawled across a chalkboard…
I found comfort in the endless stars, not one of them random. The moon pulls the seas, the winds obey. The water falls on the earth.
He is faithful, He is faithful, He is faithful.
Star dust runs through our veins.
Ever so slowly I’ve found my breath returning, the inexorable weight easing.
This liminal space is so very hard.
I watch the return of Commander Scott Kelley’s return from the International Space Station after a year suspended between earth and moon, and somehow, I feel a kinship. Teach me how to space walk, I want to beg. Teach me how to live in the tension of change. Held and yet un-moored. Spinning at 17,000 miles an hour above an earth that heaves. Teach me how you lived through that.
“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”- Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The last few weeks have been full up to the brim. The kids are working hard; I do my best to keep up with all the amazing places their minds take them, but I am a mere mortal.
So very often, my gaze is focused right in front of me- on the kids, on the medical stuff, the house, the cello and ballet lessons- but you’d practically have to be living under a rock to not have your gaze pulled across the Atlantic right now. It’s true of every tragedy- your life goes on, the kids still have to be fed, the world continues to turn- and that doesn’t seem possible, given the sorrow- but turn it does.
My older kids are of an age that they begin to understand the nuances of the wider world around them. We listen to the news via the radio on our errands (NPR and BBC World News are probably the safest for little ears- they are usually quite careful to provide warnings if there will be language or content that is un-suitable or too violent for younger ones.) Now that we are deep into pre-World War 1 History, it is not difficult for them to make connections to the world before them- some of the deep divides we see in the world today had their beginning at the turn of the last century. As a historian, I find it absolutely fascinating just what connections they make, unencumbered of the baggage we adults carry with us. An example: the most often said phrase during discussions? Well, so and so wasn’t being very kind to his/her subjects/neighbors/friends/parents. In the vast sweep of history, they see families. Families who forgot to be kind, who forgot to love, who forgot who they belonged to, who forgot to respect the humanity of another. It reminds me of this discussion we saw between a son and his dad in Paris.
C.S. Lewis said to his god-daughter that
“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
I thought of C.S. Lewis’ admonition about fairytales as my children were watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The quote above is actually from the next film in the series, The Order of the Phoenix, but it’s the quote that came to mind as I watched my kids watching Dumbledore, watching the wizarding world suddenly go from light and laughter and joy to tremendous loss and darkness and uncertainty. All of the wizarding kids are faced with choices- very hard choices, and those choices will play out over the next few books. We as the audience have the luxury of knowing how the story ends, but the characters do not- and, as my children first watch, they, too, are left in the dark.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
I keep thinking of something Andrew Kern said at a recent workshop I attended. He said that in the Odyssey, the muses are known by what they say- remember. The sirens always call you away from your purpose, but the muses will always remind you of first truths, as if to say- remember who you are. Remember where you are going. Remember how to get there. In Harry Potter, Harry’s closest friends will be his Muses throughout his extremely difficult journey. And it is his godfather, Sirius Black, who will say the above line to Harry when Harry becomes terrified that Voldemort is taking over his soul.
So this is what I say to my kids, gently, right out of the wizarding, fairy-tale world- we can remember who we are, and not be scared. We can remember the families- in Syria, throughout the Middle East, all over the world- in Paris, in New York- and right across the street. In remembering Whose we are and to Whom all those families belong to, we can remember and be at peace. We are heading Home. The way is so very dark, so very scary, but we can always, always look towards the Light, and walk each other Home.
I am some what surprised to announce that I finished not one, but two albums this weekend. Not only that, they are two baby books for two babies that are now four and seven, respectively. Ahem. Life hasn’t been crazy, at all. These are both albums from the now defunct Creative Memories line that are specifically made for 4 x 6 photos and are pre-formatted with spaces to write and record and the decorations already provided. I had not been very interested in these in the past, but after this weekend, they definitely have an appeal. I finally told two stories that had been waiting years to be told- total win in my book. I don’t even know if there are any companies that make albums like this now…the whole scrapbooking industry has collapsed since then. (le sigh.) I sat and did most of Josiah’s while watching football on Sunday. (My beloved Broncos won, hurrah!) I might have to find more of these, honestly. As much as I love the artistic side of making unique layouts, sometimes you just want to tell the story without worrying about the details, and these definitely fit the bill.
On a quieter note…
Scrapping Josiah’s birth was hard. Even seven years later. It is only now within the last year or so that I have realized how much trauma we underwent when we lost our baby, how traumatic and scary my pregnancy with Josiah was- so much so that I couldn’t really enjoy the pregnancy for what it was- an uncomplicated, beautiful, lovely pregnancy. I found it very difficult at the time to even be around pregnant women, so fresh the loss of our child was to me, and yet I was pregnant again, Glory to God…but everyone was terrified. My OB, my husband and I…we were all so uncertain. I had people telling me I should abort Josiah because obviously, coming so quickly after such a horrendous loss, there would be so many problems. He hid during many ultrasounds, making diagnoses uncertain…I think that is still what shocks me now. Josiah was born so beautiful and healthy and whole. No medical issues at the time. And had I done what everyone demanded I do…my word…this beautiful lovely soul, our monkey boy, who giggles like a maniac and lights up our whole home with his joyful exuberance, even now, as he suffers….it just. He is a gift from God, truly. He is our miracle child and continues to be so.
It was tremendously healing in ways I didn’t even expect to finally pull these photographs together and tell the story of his first year. I used to think I’d never be able to do it, so painful it was. It feels wonderful to be able to hand these books to their owners now, watch them discover their story.
Advent is this way of holding space for a coming not yet fulfilled. We are called to put on wonder and hope. What comes so simply for children becomes increasingly difficult for us as we grow older. We look out on a very weary, weary world; we have known sorrow; we are acquainted with grief. And somewhere along the way, we forget that the very babe we hope and pray for is the very Emmanuel, the God-with-us, that suffers sorrow unto death for us, who knows deep hurt, deep sorrow, deep pain, far more than we could ever fathom. The lines get crossed somehow. This is what Advent does- what Lent does- (and Advent is often referred to in the Church as ‘little Lent’ with good reason)- it circles round and opens a space of peace where we remember. We connect the dots. We put on joy, peace, hope, and love through grief, remembrance, and sorrow.
I keep thinking of this as I hear the news headlines. There is deep, deep pain right now. Crying out in the streets. So much hurt. So many voices wiser than I are speaking into these issues, but above all, I have felt so deeply in these moments that this is where we were meant to walk. We were and are supposed to be the Advent people, the Easter people, the people who know how to hold space for peace. I’m not sure how this looks all the time. Sometimes, it is giving voice for those who have no voice. Sometimes it is holding silence, because there are no words. It is always prayer, unceasing prayer. Sometimes it is caressing a child’s face, making cookies, and holding peace in our homes when the world outside storms. It is all these things and so much more. Rarely does deep and complex pain have easy answers, and it above all takes time. and space. Can we hold space for peace in a world desperately in need of safe places? What does that look like? These are the thoughts that have been circling my head of late as I watch my children in their wonder at Advent-tide.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
This weekend always feels a little holy and a bit hollowed out at the same time. It’s the knowing and the not knowing. My sweet baby would be four years old now, on the cusp of leaving toddlerhood altogether. It’s the realization that life was never the same. It is the remembrance of how life nearly slipped from my fingers.
And yet, with each of turn of the sun, the day becomes more sweet and less bitter. The raw gaping wound is now soft and white about the edges, time’s stamp. I can breathe now. The waves crash over my feet and not over my head. A peaceful place. Its become my touchstone in the year…my way of turning my eyes to the horizon and heavens…fresh clarity. Sometimes it amazes me how much I’ve forgotten how I nearly died; and yet other days it hits me fresh, gratitude coursing through my veins that I have this moment of laughter with a freshly bathed kiddo on my lap or that beautiful sunset or those flowers on the table. When it first happened everything seemed bathed with technicolor, almost so beautiful and so clear that it hurt to look at it. That feeling fades over time, and yet it doesn’t. The veil slips for a moment and suddenly you are caught breathless by the miracle of life all around you.
It always happens on this weekend. Always I see the mosaic jewel-toned light of day and the twinkle stars of night and I remember. How the Father of all lights bent close and held me. How love lifted me from the water. The skillful hands of my surgeon and friend. The prayers that echo still.
Although the grief never leaves entirely, it is a gentle friend now. Another year given to me, another year to pray, to praise, to love. It is enough. It is more than enough.