I wrote this last year….
We say we can't imagine it but, in truth, we can. And we do. From the first moment we hold them in our arms, and even before, we must contend with the fact that they aren't ours, that they are loan to us from God. We rail against the truth that they will leave us.
We do our best and pray for the best. We hope that when they leave, it will be at the right times and in the right ways. That there will be in their departures as much to celebrate as to grieve - first steps, first days, first dates. Graduations and weddings and families of their own.
We do our best and fear the worst. With each letting go, we worry that we haven't done enough to prepare them, we begrudgingly make peace with having less and less control. On our best days we give our worst fears over to God. On our worst days we freefall into an all-consuming despair.
Always, we keep going.
We drop them off at daycare, at birthday parties, at grandma's house, at baseball practice, at school and we say, ""Bye, have a good day (or a good practice or a good time). I love you." We find and re-find our rhythm with this monumental task called parenthood. We settle into life, believing we more or less know what to expect.
And every once in a while, a brutal reminder that our expectations mean exactly nothing.
* * * * *
I don't watch the news, but on days like Friday I can't get enough of it. I ignored the voice that told me to stop and gave in to the voice that said I need to know, have to know, must know everything. I stopped short of watching the videos. With all there was to be horrified about, the cameras in those kids' faces was too, too much for me.
I said to a co-worker, "I can't imagine..." and as the words came out of my mouth I realized they weren't true. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, my imagination is in fine working order and occasionally my mom fears get the best of me. What I really meant was, "I can't imagine how I would survive, how those parents and teachers and kids will survive this." That much is true. I can't imagine...
When I decided earlier in the week to go to a meditation class Friday night, I had no idea how much I'd need it. Often, the only possible antidote for being in the world is being quiet, and on days like Friday having people who want to be quiet with you is a miracle. I closed my eyes, my restless mind desperately seeking a place to land. And the words were right there:
Be still and know that I am God.
I am God. Be still and know.
Inhale, be still and know. Exhale, I am God.
Inhale, be still. Exhale, know.
Be. And know.
On the way to my car after class, I looked up. The sky was clear, the stars were brilliant against the blackest night sky and for a brief moment...I knew.
* * * * *
Christmas is coming. Advent is here.
In Anne Lamott's status update from Saturday, she quotes her friend Tom Weston: “Advent is not for the naïve. Because in spite of the dark and cold, we see light—you look up, or you make light, with candles, trees. And you give light. Beauty helps, in art and nature and faces. Friends help. Solidarity helps. If you ask me, when people return phone calls, it’s about as good as it gets. And who knows beyond that.”
Who knows? We do what we can to make way for the knowing: look up, light a candle, stare at a tree, seek beauty, call a friend, hug a kid, stick together. And beyond the knowing, there's mystery and faith, trust and belief. And those are good, too.
As I write this, I'm sitting in the cafe at a Barnes & Noble far from home while Ian's at baseball practice. The place is packed. I had expected the store to be busy with shoppers, but the middle school jazz band and choir is a surprise. They've been noisily setting up, tuning instruments, testing mikes, being kids for the last 45 minutes, and now the choir is singing. They had a somewhat rough start, sweet voices trying to find the right notes. And then from nowhere came a stunningly gorgeous rendition of "Carol of the Bells."
My attention shifts from the screen to the choir to the crowd. Toddlers are dancing, babies are squealing, busy shoppers are stopped in their tracks, parents are smiling and watching from behind various recording devices. And somehow it's all just perfect and beautiful. There's Christmas cheer...and something more. People are more patient with each other, and especially with their kids. There's kindness and there are smiles that manage to hold equal parts joy and hope and sadness, because we all know what happened yesterday. And even though it didn't happen to us, in a way, it did. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so...there's a palpable feeling that because we're all here together at this time in this place, for whatever random combination of reasons, we belong to and matter to one another.
So this is Advent.
...Whom should I turn to, if not the one whose darkness is darker than night, the only one who keeps vigil with no candle, and is not afraid -- the deep one, whose being I trust, for it breaks through the earth into trees, and rises, when I bow my head, faint as a fragrance from the soil.
Rilke's Book of Hours, II, 3