Saturday, July 28, 2012

Speaking Flesh

This week Sarah Bessy asked, "What's saving your life today?", and I admit to being stumped by the question.  I am saved, it seems, and then I am saved...

Salvation is a big thing, of course, don't we all know it.  Clouds ripping open, glory streaming, grown men thrown to their knees, head in hands.  Rusty nails are cast through skin, thorns pressed into it.  Crosses are dragged up steep pathways and gravestones are rolled, scraping the hard earth, from their resting place.

I am saved, yes, always saved.  I have been cast to my knees, drunk the wine-as-blood, tasted the wafer-as-flesh. 

But sometimes, even when I've come home with bits of the Eucharist stuck in my teeth, communion fresh on my tongue, I've come home tired and inside out and upside down.  Sometimes I've prayed my lips dry and come up still gasping for air, still looking for peace, still begging for salvation.

These are those days for me.  I am thirsting for salvation, and being asked what saves me only serves to bring to light that I was already asking what's saving my life today.  Because I am looking at the sky and waiting for answers and praying for peace. And I am coming out of it feeling about as transmogrified as a prince turned frog.

It's supposed to be a big thing, salvation. And while I'm waiting on the sky to split open, I'm saved again and again and again by the beautiful minutiae.  The smell of my baby boy, sweet and salty and dirty, a visceral smell of life and earth and youth.  The weight of him on my legs: it holds me down, holds me together.  His body is, like Pinocchio turned real boy, a miraculous bundle of life that's not supposed to work but that defiantly runs and climbs, crouches and stretches long in anticipation.  His every move, every breath, is an elixir that I drink in with gratitude, praising the maker of the genetic code his life shatters.  He tells me no! and I think yes!, remembering how many years I prayed that his mouth would produce speech.  He pushes out of my arms, and I long for the baby who fit between my elbow and my wrist, while simultaneously marveling at the grace with which he climbs from my lap to the floor.

I am saved listening to my oldest son sing, that boyhood soprano that reaches for notes, skims them and misses them, but soars nonetheless.  I am saved by his sudden bursts of affection, his breathtaking mind. 

I am saved by the sight of my dog on our morning run, her steadfast countenance that asks for nothing beyond take me with you and go faster, let's go faster.  Her leaping, twisting joy at the sight of my running shoes, the way she touches my thigh with her nose when we're really going, really in a grove and making good time.  

And I am saved by a cup of coffee on a long morning.  Saved by the feel of my husband's leg draped over mine.  By his voice, I am saved by his voice every time I hear it.

There have been days I have been saved by the spray of juice that erupts from an orange when you peel it, when I have felt baptized in its scent and grateful for its sacrifice.  More times than I can count, I have been saved by playing the same song over and over, singing along with it and crying every time I got to the bridge.  Since childhood, music has saved me and continues to save me. 

I am saved, yes, and then I am saved.  Every day, somehow, I am saved again, just when I start believing there is no reprieve from the fears and doubts and fatigue of day-to-day.  The clouds do not part, but still salvation comes in and purrs against my calf.  And I wonder, if salvation is supposed to be such a big thing, why did it have to come down wrapped in flesh?

If we are supposed to be such ethereal beings, why are we saved again and again by the touch of a lover's hand, by the scent of a baby's neck?  Why does music go through us like a shotgun blast? Why do we eat and drink Christ to remember him?  Why does the smell of cinnamon send us hurtling back to our grandmother's house, circa 7 years old, to watch her serve us cinnamon rolls as crisp as if it happened last week?

I don't have the answers, obviously, but I have a theory.  See, I believe He saves us and also He saves us and saves and saves us.  I believe He speaks flesh because we speak flesh.  I believe we are supposed to learn healing from childhood scrapes, supposed to learn joy from watching a 4 year old eating a popsicle.  I believe sacrificial love is your husband giving you the window seat, and you making eggs the way he likes them.  I believe we are made to dance and drink and kiss.  I believe we are saved when we look for salvation, and that all of it echoes salvation with a capital S.

What's saving my life today?  It's so simple and so small and so close to me today.  Today I am saved by the knowledge that, after seven years of working opposite shifts from my husband, this week marks the first time we will get to actually see each other six days a week.  My heart is a-singing tonight, puffed up on the promise of time with someone who loves me like no one has ever loved me, echoing the words of Brandi Carlile:
How I miss you,
And I just want to kiss you,
And I'm gonna love you till my dying day
I am saved by the promise of a Wednesday night with him, sharing in the joys of a shared household, like cleaning the toilets together and grocery shopping in tandem. And no, it's not capital-S-salvation, but it's saving me and saving me and saving me every day, every hard moment of every day, this promise of reclaimed time.  And I am thrown to my knees by it, head in hands over it, singing praise and crossing my heart and whistling past graveyards.  And while the skies don't open in glory, it feels like a sacred moment hovers over us, and we break bread in newfound reverence, waiting for the bite to become sanctified flesh on our tongues.  "We are saved, yes, and also we are saved," we say, as we hold tight to each other and share in the communion of a goodnight kiss.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Filing It Away

Well here I sit, another day older and closer to death, eating leftovers at my desk on my lunch break. Here I am with a birthday cake hangover, trying to pound out a blog entry because I’m overdue in getting something posted this week. Here I am, unsure of what to say because I am wondering lately where this blog is going. It seems blogs are, like music, highly genre specific, and yet all I want to do is prattle on about whatever topic floats into view for me that day.

I keep thinking I should write a follow up to the last post on loving my body for what it is and not what I think it should be because people have responded to that message more emphatically, more gratefully than perhaps anything I have ever written. And it is a message that is near and dear to me, one that I have talked about before and will talk about again.

But that’s not where my mind is today. Today, I’m sort of straddling dual mindsets, a Pinterest induced organization mania mixed with a quiet and kind of melancholy nostalgia. So, prattling it will be today, and perhaps next time I will organize a tidy series on body image like a proper blogger would do.

Monday was my birthday, though I have been celebrating since Friday since I have darn near perfected the art of stretching my birthday out for a full week. This year for my birthday, I told Sam that I wanted a sturdy, old file cabinet. It’s a bizarre birthday request, I know, but part of what I wanted was to have a project to throw myself into over the weekend. I found a used file cabinet online, and Sam picked it up for me on Friday.

It is one of those sturdy beasts from 30 years ago. I promptly dragged it into the garage and started removing the hardware and sanding down the gunmetal gray paint. Saturday morning had us at the home improvement store picking out a crisp white paint to give the metal hull of the thing a facelift. Saturday afternoon, I combed through my online inspirations to pick out the perfect design to add, and Saturday night after the boys went to bed, I was back in the garage, paintbrush in hand, to put on the finishing touches.

I love having a project to complete. For some reason, painting is a kind of therapy for me. I always seem to pick the hot months to start these projects, and I have come to love the ritual of bending over a canvas or kneeling in front of a piece of furniture, arms sticky, shirt sweat-glued to my back. It’s like hot yoga meets meditation meets a visit to the shrink for me. By the time I’m done, I’m sore and sweaty and exhausted, but with a sense of release and accomplishment.

Sam says I’m sick. He can’t imagine how anyone could enjoy sitting out in a hot garage in July, breathing paint fumes and getting sawdust stuck to my shiny, paint-splattered legs. And to do it all for the sake of revamping a file cabinet just so I can have the pleasure of organizing stacks of papers into neat little folders? He's starting to wonder if the OCD has finally taken over what was left of my sanity.

Whether it means I'm disturbed or not, I spent the evening of my birthday sitting in front of my lovely, new (to me) file cabinet, cheerfully labeling manilla folders and sliding them in the drawers.  A mindless show on the television, the kids each eating a slice of my birthday cake, and mounds of paperwork either put in its proper place or culled and in a heap on the floor beside me: I was one happy girl.  At least, I was until I got to what I have been calling The Lincoln Pile.

I was warned about a lot of things that parenthood would bring to my life.  I was warned about the pregnancy aches and pains, the fear of SIDS, the difficulty of nursing, the sleepless nights, the death of your social life, the terror of the twos and the teen years.  But not one person mentioned that my children would generate an absurd amount of paperwork, paperwork sent home from school, from the doctor, from church.  Every time I pick up one of my kids, I am handed a stack of papers.  Sure, some of it is the "look, mom, I made this!" kind of thing, but so much of it is this really important, you-would-read-and-do-this-if-you-were-a-good-parent paperwork stuff that is almost impossible to throw away with a clean conscience.

It's beyond ridiculous with our "typical" kid, but it's absolutely staggering the amount of paperwork generated by raising a special needs child.  In the last few years, I've gotten more adept at screening the paperwork that comes in and sending unnecessary stuff straight to the recycle bin, but for the first year or so of Lincoln's life, I couldn't throw anything away.

Hence, The Lincoln Pile, the monster that has been lurking in the back of a cabinet for several years.  On Monday, I brought it out into the light.  It took several trips, but eventually I gathered it all on the living room floor and went through it all, piece by piece.  Who knew that thirty different groups produced an information packet on Down syndrome?  Or that friends and family would send me articles and calendars featuring people with DS?

Going through booklets and pamphlets and notebooks and handouts, I could feel on these old pieces of paper the sadness and fear that prompted me to keep them all, bundled and stacked and hidden just in case.  Just in case it turned out to be like the paperwork predicted.  Just in case his eyes ended up being faulty, or his heart.  Just in case it turned out to be more than ordinary folks like us could bear.

Yes, it was fear that made me hold on to it all, and it was also fear that made me throw it all into an unseen corner to wait, hulking and menacing, poised and ready to be needed some day.  What if he fails me? What if I fail him?  Either way, one day, we might need a 300 page binder of resources, so I better hang on to it just in case.  I better keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

While I sorted through those old memories and old fears, Lincoln sat on the couch, eating chocolate cake and calling me every few minutes: Ma! Watch! Ma!

He calls me Ma usually, though occasionally he will break out the more formal Maw-Ma.  "Maw-Ma, I need meelk."  He still uses the signs he learned, so he will come in to the kitchen to show me the sign for milk, raising his eyebrows and signing it very slowly as if I have comprehension problems.  I'm sure he's used to that, the slow, emphatic statement designed to capture Lincoln's attention.

On Monday, he was insistent that he needed one more piece of cake.  He would walk up to me, smack my arm, and say, "Ma! Need cay!'  "No," I would tell him, "you only get one piece of cake."  And yet, two minutes later, he would be back begging for cake again, pointing desperately to the birthday cake on the counter.

And the whole time, I was busy sorting through the paperwork that felt so limiting, so terrifying in our first year as his parents.  I was throwing out the baby sign language manual someone printed out for us because clearly his words are dominant now over his signs.  I was throwing away the receipts for doctors visits we thought would be earth-shattering but turned out to be just preventative and perfunctory.  Every time I would get too bogged down in density of the paperwork, Linc would appear and just be a sweet, insistent toddler. By the end of the night, I felt like I'd shed an old skin.  Paperwork that had threatened me for four years was tamed, and the casualties of my battle with The Lincoln Pile were scattered around me.

And as I slid the drawer shut, filing away the remnants of the old fears, it was time take Lincoln to bed.  I sang him a song that my father used to sing to me, one that was very hard to sing to Linc in his first few months but has become a favorite of ours since then:

You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me, can't you see
You're everything that I hoped for
Everything that I dreamed
And you are so beautiful to me

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Letter to my Body

This post is a love letter to my body written in conjunction with the She Loves Magazine synchroblog.  It is perhaps the most honest and terrifying thing I have ever written.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

Dear body,

They all make big promises, don't they?  Telling you that you're never alone, swearing to be there in your hour of need.  Some even say they will have and hold you all the days of your life.  And they mean it, I know.  And they try, they do.

But you and I know that isn't the whole truth because when the contractions hit, when you are laid out on a labor bed, having a reckoning with the pain old as woman herself, no one can help you then, no one can reach you or save you or climb inside that skin with you and share your burden.  When the darkness descends - sickness, sadness, fear - I remember that I am alone with you, body, inside of you, sharing this life, this set of experiences that is distinctly and uniquely ours.  No one else can ever know the reckonings we've faced, dear body.

But somehow I've forgotten, body, that you are my home, my freedom, my comfort and protector.  When I am sad, you release tears.  When I am happy, you burble out waves of laughter.  When I am scared, you pound the muscles in my heart, igniting a fight-or-flight response, raising the hairs on my arms in awareness of danger and giving flight to my feet to carry me away from the threat.

Without being asked, without recognition or praise, you spend everyday tirelessly squeezing blood through my veins, air through my lungs, food through my intestines.  Because of you, body, the unseeable, unknowable firing of synapses, the miraculous biology of thought, becomes words, sentences, stories told effortlessly through your lips.  Because of you, I can eat, drink, walk, dance, kiss, sing, cry, scream, hug, leap.

So why is it that lately all I can see is that because of you, I stumble?  How can I look at my arms and,  instead of thinking those are the arms that lift my sweet boys, only manage to think I really shouldn't wear sleeveless shirts in pictures?  When I put my morning medicine in you, body, I curse you for not getting it all right, for not knowing how to regulate yourself like you're supposed to, for being broken.  I call you useless, and I blame you, and I try to ignore you.

This is not a new problem, body, as you well know.  I hated you in my youth, when you blossomed too early, when you were too fleshy and plodding while everyone else was wiry and lithe around me.  I blamed you because I could never catch my breath when I tried to run, because no matter how much I starved you, you refused to shrink, because I believed you were the reason I felt alone.

I hated you even when others should have been to blame, when people hurt you.  I hated you for being a victim, for being chosen for violence. I hated you because you survived terrible things and left me to come up with the words and the thoughts to try and make sense of the senseless acts done to you.  Done to us.  I hated you because even now, decades later, I am ashamed to tell people what we went through back then.

I hated you four years ago for giving my baby boy an extra set of chromosomes.  I blamed you, and I hated you for producing a faulty egg, for giving my son a body that others would laugh at, for giving him a mouth that would always talk funny, for giving him muscles they told us would always be too flaccid, eyes that would be cloudy, heart that would need to be cut open and repaired.  Even when his body was a miraculous thing, a beautiful, healthy thing that defied the odds, though I praised the Good Lord for his body, I kept on blaming mine.

And I hated you this spring, when you couldn't support my third baby, when you couldn't keep it alive, when you silently held on to it and let me weave elaborate dreams about its life for weeks after its tiny heart stopped beating.  I hated you even when you were ready to release it, when we went back into the solitude of that pain of expulsion, that reckoning.  I hated the way you turned my dreams of another beautiful child into a bloody, humiliating mess.  I thought, three months ago, that you had finally committed a crime I could not forgive, body.

I didn't know how we would continue to coexist after that last betrayal, old friend.  But I should have seen it then, as I should have seen all along.  You are a miraculous, resilient, beautiful thing, body of mine.  Though I was in mourning in those moments, they were nonetheless powerful, humbling moments, moments when my body succumbed to ancient instincts and stood at the precipice of birth and death all at once.   I knew suddenly, as I have known it secretly all along, that the wisdom programmed into these cells works with such blessed complexity, such unfathomable intuition.

When I need to cry, saltwater spills down my cheeks.  When I need to eat, acid bites at the walls of my stomach.  When I carry a child, my uterine walls expand.  When I am cut, platelets bind together at the sight of the wound.

There is a seemingly endless series of intricate tasks performed, unnoticed and unappreciated, by this body that I have childishly decided to regard as some kind of vending machine.  I want you to be beautiful in the style that is currently accepted so that it can garner me praise.  I want you to be effective and tireless so I can abuse you and recover seamlessly.  I want you to be reliable and hassle-free, running like a dependable foreign car on cheap American gas.

And while I am moaning about the unfairness of living in a less than perfect body, you just keep filling my lungs with air,  just keep surging blood into my petulant heart, just kept regulating my temperature and my blood sugar and my heart rate.  While I am busy wishing you skinnier and faster and better, you are absorbing vitamins and flushing toxins.  You ignore my whims and simply continue on with your herculean feats, day in and day out.

You hold the children you grew inside your womb, the children you produced milk to feed.  You join together in love with my husband.  You taste the food we share over dinner.  You hear the music I play.  You speak the words I think, type the ideas I spin into stories.  You move my feet when I want to walk, clasp my fingers when I need to grab something. 

The joy I feel is felt through you, in you.  Because of you.  When I feel less alone, it is because you have opened up your arms to accept an embrace.  When I marvel at the bodies of my children, it is because you have used your eyes to take them in, your hands to measure their growth, your hips to carry their weight. And yet I have spent my life reducing you to some awkward prison that keeps me from what I think I'm supposed to have in life. 

Not anymore, body.  Not now that I've seen what you are, what you have done for me.  I will remember now, when I start to think of you as a product to be managed, that yours is an ancient wisdom, an endless series of freedoms bought by your tireless service.  You are a beautiful thing, body of mine, not because you look like the folks in 2012 believe you should look, but because you give me life and breath.  Because you have given my sons life and breath.  And because, when everyone else proves they cannot carry me through, your strong shoulders never fail.

In thanks,

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Working Girl

Being overwhelmed can be almost reassuring sometimes.  No looking forward, no looking back.  There's hardly time for digesting the moment you're in; it's just managing one wave after another of things to be done that come in, smacking your desk and your inbox with a rhythmic certainty.

I guess what I'm trying to say is the new job's going well.  I'm a bit overwhelmed, but I always did like a challenge.

It's funny, I used to dream of going to a big, shiny building everyday wearing a suit and heels.  I didn't give too much thought to what I'd be doing when I made it through the door, but I sure did have that image in my head.

These days, I find myself indeed walking into a big, shiny building in heels (the suit didn't materialize, though I'm not mourning its presence). I take the elevator up to the 8th floor, get some coffee, turn on my computer, and there the similarity ends.  Whatever Ally McBeal daydream I had has become nothing more than an image I used to carry around in my head about what I thought I was supposed to become.

For years, I tied on an apron and served crab to grumpy tourists.  I came home bitching and moaning about my terrible managers, rubbing my feet, and reeking of seafood that I could no longer smell on my clothes.  One day, I would tell myself back then, one day I would have a real job.  I would have business cards and my own office.  I wouldn't have to wear a uniform, and I would buy myself a closet full of suits and shiny shoes.  I would do something more important with my life than peddling fish and chips to suburbanites.

Little did I know that I would actually do it someday, only to discover it's not much like I envisioned. 

When I was refilling some guy's tea glass, it made sense that my mind would wander.  It felt natural that my thoughts and my heart were somewhere else.  I figured that would change once I was fully engaged, once I had a career that challenged me.  Little did I know that nothing that happens during a day of my challenging career would ever seem as pressing as the fear, running like a program in the background of my mind all day, that the fever that kept Lincoln up half of the night was indicative of another ear infection, or worse, another round of strep throat.

Little did I know, back when I told myself that one day I would be so much better than all the crappy managers I'd worked for, that managing people well is a strange tightrope walk of support and attention and correction that must be administered in a ratio so precise that no one ever gets it exactly right.  Little did I know that managing people would mean knowing them well enough to motivate them but keeping enough distance to reprimand them if necessary.  That doing it right would mean not getting to be in charge but having to be in charge, that it would mean putting my ego aside entirely and thinking about the good of the organization.

Seems that no matter how many days in a row I strap on a pair of fancy shoes and pull open a pair of shiny doors, I am still seeing it all through the eyes of that long time waitress who expected everything to be much simpler when she finally untied the apron and put on her business suit.  In many ways, slinging crab was more difficult, more exhausting, more stressful.  I figured if all I had to do all day was sit in a chair and clack along on a keyboard, I would come home downright refreshed.  After the chaos of the restaurant business, it seemed a placid little office gig would feel like a day at the spa.

Instead, I come home worn down by the slow friction of bureaucracy.  I have an aching back from sitting slightly out of alignment instead of those aching feet from pounding a restaurant floor.  I still come home tired and frayed and frazzled, worrying that there's not enough left of me for my kids and my husband.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This week, I am learning a new job.  Despite my overworked and less than cheerful tone, I'm actually quite excited about the job.  But the thing is, every day I learn more and more that the purpose in my life has never and will never come from my job or my title or my paycheck.  The things that make my life worthwhile, that make me feel important, are far more simple: laying in bed with Sam and the boys on a Saturday morning, sharing a hammock with Lincoln, coloring with Nico.  I did nothing all day today, nothing but be with my kids, read with them, swing with them, watch movies with them, and yet I will go to bed tonight feeling I have accomplished more than a week's worth of mountain-moving effort in the shiny building I go to downtown every Monday through Friday.

No matter what job I start or end, no matter what degrees I earn or what letters come after my name, the real work of my life will always be the time and energy and love I invested in my family.  If I were to face a performance evaluation on that, if my income were dependent on my performance as a wife and mother, I can't help but wonder where I would fall on the spectrum, what my grade would be on that.

It's hard work, this most important role of mine, this motherhood thing.  I'm starting to realize that it's a job that will never end, and I don't mean the laundry or the cooking or the dishes.  I mean the remembering of priorities, the saving enough energy to be there for them at the end of the day, the worrying about them even when I'm off in a meeting or trying to get a report finished in time.  This week I didn't manage the balance well.  I went AWOL from my family a bit, but the remarkable thing about this job of motherhood is that there are no end dates, no deadlines, no merit reviews.  It is just a new chance every day to love people with everything you have.  Sure is good to be a working girl.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Who I Was, & Will Be, & Everything In Between

I can’t believe it’s only been a week since we got home from vacation. This week felt a bit endless, despite the mid-week holiday. I had two final days at my old job and two days at the new job. I am, as most people who know me are well aware, a bit of a control freak, which means that I hate the upheaval of moving someplace new and unfamiliar, hate the uncertainty of going in to work every day not knowing what the heck I'm doing. I'm excited about the new job, but I admit I wish I could fast forward the next few months until I have my feet under me a little better.

Even the after work hours have been taken over by the post-vacation backlash of trying to catch up on everything you didn't get done before you left on top of everything that accrued while you were off splashing in the surf.  The real world seems to wait for you, ready to pounce, the way Hobbes would wait for Calvin after school.

Last night, I had a dream that we were all still back at the beach house, and when I woke up, I laid there thinking how long ago it seems already.  I grabbed my phone and looked through the pictures again while Sam snored cheerfully beside me.  I have too many pictures of my own children and not nearly enough of everyone else, I decided.

I've been thinking all week about how we would stay up late and talk after the kids were in bed and the dishes done.  We never moved to the couches, just stayed perched at the high dining room table and pulled out all the old stories from childhood we always unearth when we're together.  In many ways, it's the same thing we've done every time we've gotten together as adults, and yet somehow this year, it felt different.  It felt more honest, less forced.

We're all thirty-somethings now, my brothers and I, which means we've now had just as many years of adulthood as years of childhood (at least that we can remember).  We all married pretty young, and our spouses have been part of the family for 13 to 15 years at this point.  Until this year, when we got together, we seemed to live in the nostalgia of our shared childhood.  But this year, we couldn't avoid the fact that we've lived as many separate adult years as we did shared childhood years.  Before, when we got together, we didn't really talk about our lives now.  We talked about our lives back then, the piece that bound us together, the memories we shared.  This year, though, we talked freely about the identities we have outside of that childhood.

I remember one night looking around at my brothers and thinking about the incredible grace inherent in loving a sibling.  Every idiotic thing you've ever done has been witnessed by these people.  They lived through my obsessive Amy Grant phase, my puffy, permed hair phase, my singing into a hairbrush phase (still in this one, for the record). They watched my teenage confusion-slash-meltdown-slash-awakening.  They watched a fiance dump me and send me running home heartbroken, dropping my college education and falling into a black clothes phase that had my mom worrying that I was one of those goth kids.

And there's more, of course, more that doesn't suit the publicity of the internet.  More that we've all experienced, lived through, done to each other.  We've seen each other's true selves just as clearly as our parents have seen them.  But, though parents are programmed to keep loving their children through mistake after mistake, siblings can all too easily be cast off, relegated to that brother or sister who was beyond reach, beyond rescue, beyond reason.

How thankful I am that, though I don't see them often, my brothers and I have always kept faith in each other.  We don't agree on much, we don't have shared adult lives as we all live halfway across the country from each other, and we don't talk on the phone like we should.  But when we're together, there is an uncomplicated current of love between us.  In many ways, they are the most simple and straightforward relationships of my life.  I love you and support you and celebrate your success.  Period.

I've been listening to this Brandi Carlile song, "That Wasn't Me."  In it, she says: 
"To be wrong all along and admit it
Is not amazing grace,
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you've changed."

I think this song is about going to the brink and making it back again, about facing your family after hitting bottom and promising that you are more than the mistakes you've made.  I think it's about looking your siblings in the eye and knowing they will see you not as the broken creature at its lowest point but as the child they remember and the adult you have become and every moment in between.

And I think, to the limit humans are able to show it to each other, that is exactly what it looks like to experience amazing grace.  It is not a sweeping under the rug; it is a person looking at you with all your lifetime of faults and choosing to love you anyway.  It has none of the fireworks of romantic love, none of the thrilling novelty of parental love.  A functional, supportive sibling relationship is a completely boring series of events built on choosing forgiveness, faith, and love over ego, convenience, and personal gratification.

To my brothers, I can only say that I love you both.  You are both incredible men whose strength humbles me.  I have loved watching you grow into husbands and fathers.  And I can't wait for the next time we can stay up late and dredge up each other's most embarrassing moments.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Onward to the Beach

Hello interweb.  I've been on a bit of a hiatus this week.  I just got home from a week in Florida with my family, and I'm still settling into the feeling of home, the familiar, well-worn texture of the life we've created.  Sheets that my skin remembers, cabinets whose contents I know without looking, clothes hung in their rightful spots instead of rolled up small as can be in a suitcase on someone else's floor.

As glad as this reluctant traveler is to be home, I already miss it.  I miss the family in a way that's so strong and so fresh that I am quite certain I'm not ready to be pithy about it.  And I miss the beach, the sand and salty air.  Though we managed to arrange our holiday in perfect conjunction with Hurricane Debby, we were still beach babies whenever possible.  Through gloom and rain, we watched the sky for any moment of calm, any flash of sun, any break in the clouds.  And when the weather cleared, we were united in purpose.  Onward to the beach.

We carried our bags across the sand, flung open folding beach chairs, and slipped off our sandals to feel the sand in our toes.  The boys know the sunscreen ritual by now, and both would stand side by side, waiting to be coated, with their arms out like two lower case t's while I marveled how small their backs and arms were, measuring the width of my hands against their shoulders and rib cages.

And then we made our way to the place where ocean touches land, that playful, flirtatious boundary, always changing, always chasing you and retreating again.  We let it claim our feet first, bracing for the cold of the California coast and laughing at its unexpected warmth.  I tell you, watching your children experience the ocean is both unspeakably novel and reassuringly age-old. You become a child again watching them, remembering your first memories of the beach.

Lincoln liked to run along the water's edge.  He would step into the surf, then retreat and let it chase him up the beach, screaming with anticipation for the moment it would catch him.  I shadowed him, knowing at any moment he might call, "Ma! Halp may," and I would be there to grab his hand and save him from the surf.

Nico was braver.  He wanted to go out the place where waves lifted you up and tried to pull you under.  He wanted to stand in chest high water knowing the waves would knock him off his feet.  Sam loved to take him out in the "deep" water and let him spread his little proverbial wings.  I would shadow Lincoln, walking up and down the beach along the water's edge, and watch Sam and Nico bob out in there in the waves.  Turning my gaze wider, I would see my brothers and my father out in even deeper water, riding waves in and trudging right back out to the action.

All along the length of the beach, all that was in my view, I saw the same story played out.  Sun seekers sprawled out behind me on the sand or hid beneath umbrellas with books in their hands.  Those closer to the action gave their feet or calves or knees to the water.  The adventurous sort plunged in waist or shoulder high and fought the waves as if in great battle.  And yet, in truth, we were all just clinging to the shore, barely making a dent in even the visible expanse of water.  Like ants by a pool of spilled juice, we mucked about at the edges, lapping up what we could and yet ill-suited for the real expanse of the stuff.

And yet, ill-suited though we are for its unforgiving might, humans have always been captivated by the ocean.  We flock there year after year on holiday and crowd coastlines around the world with real estate envied by the unfortunate land-locked folks.  We who can barely stand in waist deep water and manage the blows the ocean has for us, yes, those same people, are compelled to stand at the edge of the world and watch, listen, wade, swim.  I thought, as I watched the compulsion play out this week, that we must crave feeling small.  We must need to be reminded that we are but ants to the vastness of the ocean.

Who can cling to petty worries when the mighty sea gets hold of you?  Who can stay immersed in the transient fears of the moment when being baptized by the waves flung at you by something so much larger than your insignificant life? And so we flock to the sea, begging to be reminded that our worries are in vain, that our focus is too narrow.  We line up like ants along the shoreline, drinking in our smallness.

The reminder of our smallness is, somehow, healing.  I came home healed, my wounds cauterized by salt water and abrasive sand. Friday morning I watched the sun rise over the ocean.  Just a speck in a sea of specks to that sun hanging inches above the surface of the water, no bigger to it than the grains of sand in my toes. My focus was, I see now, too narrow.  My view has been widened, and now even my old comfy home looks different.

I understand now why people bring home shells.  They believe it may be a talisman to ward off the old way of thinking.  They believe the shells will remind them that we all flock to the sea for a dose of the same medicine, a sense of how small we all are, how insignificant our petty woes really are in the scheme of things.

I brought home a respectable sunburn, a slew of pictures I haven't had time to look at, and a song of gratitude.  For the reminder that my worries are fleeting, for two beautiful boys to share the ocean with, and for a life that means more in context than it does under a microscope.  For all of that and more, I am grateful for my week at the beach.