Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hosanna and Hallelujah



Nico keeps accidentally calling it Black Friday, and though we've explained the difference between Black Friday and Good Friday, I can't help but agree with him a little bit.  It must have seemed black that day.  I doubt that any who attended the "festivities" on the original Good Friday would have called that day good.  To us, now, the outcome is good, but that doesn't erase the fact that it would have been a terrible day to live through. 

That's how it is when you're living in the story, not knowing what is waiting on the next page, not being able to see the end of the chapter, much less make out the words on the last page.  That's how it is being human, with our infuriating tunnel vision and our complete inability to see the future, with our desperate attempts to look at things with perspective despite being mostly glued down to the surface of a planet and into lives that tend to completely fill our vision.

For me, Good Friday has felt like a dark day since we got our Very Bad News on Good Friday two years ago.  Funny how quickly a day that should be about so much more than my own sadness can get co-opted into something entirely about me and what I want.  I don't mean to imply that my grief and my remembrance don't have a place in my personal story, just that if I could somehow see past them, past the closeness of this hurt and out into the promise underwriting the day on which my heart was broken, then perhaps I would in some way be lifted from the merciless gravity that can grind us deeper and deeper into the proverbial dirt of this life.

When I was younger, the church we attended put on a big Easter pageant every year.  The actor who played Jesus grew his hair out long and, shirtless and painted with blood, he carried a big wooden cross up the center aisle of the church.  It was silly theatrics, really, and I was always a little embarrassed for him.  Until the part where they nailed him to the cross, when the lights when out and all the music stopped and big men in Roman soldier costumes hammered loudly at the giant nails.  Though it was all so clearly fake, though I knew the man playing Jesus would be standing on a little platform and just holding on to the "nails" when they hoisted the cross up into its base and hit him with a single white spotlight, I still got a chill every time the lights went out and the sound of hammering echoed through the sanctuary.

Our little family is light on the liturgical traditions that mark this season for many people.  We don't get painted with ashes.  We don't give up things for Lent and are thus not salivating to eat or drink or have that thing we've sacrificed for 40 days. We don't get to watch an overdone Easter pageant like the ones I was in growing up.  Heck, I didn't even know hot cross buns were an Easter thing until Pioneer Woman made them.

The ramifications of the Easter holiday are talked about year round in our house, the sacrifice and the forgiveness and the hope that come from that day, but truth be told our traditions this time of year have more to do with fluffy bunnies and creme filled eggs than sacred rituals of faith.  In fact, I seem to forget how important a day Easter is for me until it arrives every year.  After I've dressed everyone in their pre-approved Easter outfits (complementary colors but not matchy-matchy because of course that's better for the pictures), after we've cleaned up the trail of plastic grass that has spilled out of baskets from little fingers completing the "did I get everything?" search down to the bottom, after we've eaten too much for breakfast and scrambled to load into the car and squeezed into our seats at church, after all that, a quiet finally comes over me.  And I understand, again as if for the first time.

I spend too many hours of every day struggling against the fact this place is broken.  I try to understand why people hurt each other, why catastrophes happen, why I am made to want things that are not good for me, even when I know they aren't good for me.  I watch Good Friday approach and think to myself, "Oh not again, I hate this day," forgetting that I can't see the end of the chapter any more than the people who lived through the original Good Friday could, forgetting that I can't really get perspective on what my loss means, or if it even means anything at all beyond being a symptom of living here in the dirt.  I hate that we are a world derailed, an often angry and dangerous and altogether floundering place.  I see the darkness in this life, and sometimes it can fill my vision.

But, on Easter, I can almost see past it.  I stand and sing songs that explain why that Friday was good, though it seemed anything but, and inside me a quiet space opens up, a little glimpse of glories promised.  I can almost hear the pounding of the hammer on those fake nails lodged in that prop wooden cross from years ago, and I get a chill thinking about the real thing.  For a moment, all the theological debates and all the culture wars and all the tunnel vision fall away, and I am reminded why I believe, why I still cling so hard to a sometimes shaky faith.  For a while, for just a little while, I get a look through the dust of this place and into things eternal, and a quiet kind of light takes up residence in me. 

Together we sing words like Hosanna and Hallelujah, and they come out without irony, a faithful chorus, perhaps all seeing past ourselves in unison.  And I come home to eat a big ham dinner, talking to my kids about what we learned, trying to explain supernatural concepts in words that don't fall flat, thinking of how eternity took root in me for a while and hoping it will for them, too, someday.  I come home buoyed and lit up and clear-headed, praying that glow doesn't go out before I can get the potatoes out of the oven, holding on to heaven even as I slip my Sunday shoes off and bury my toes in the grass, feeling the warm spring dirt under my feet.  Still tied to the earth, but somehow not as firmly, still singing Hosanna and Hallelujah under my breath.


Image Credit, used under Creative Commons License

Friday, April 11, 2014

Between the Words

Someone taught him to Eskimo kiss and now, though he can't pronounce the name of what he wants to do, he will pull our faces close, shaking his nose back and forth, trusting that we can understand the movement.  Lincoln is six, rushing through his kindergarten year, yet still making as many unrecognizable sounds as identifiable words.  For so many things, he can communicate well with a combination of the words he does know, a few fragments of sign language, a range of facial expressions, and a slew of animated gestures.  What he can't say, he shows, and most people who spend time with Lincoln would be quick to say you pretty much always know what Linc wants.

For years, I have bemoaned Lincoln's delayed ability to speak.  I have imagined his head full of ideas that he can't share.  I have kept this internal list, though I would have denied doing so if you'd asked, of all the things he can't communicate, ideas more delicate and complex than "Linc wants Batman," or "more milk please."  I have bristled against the waiting, impatient at the gradual progress, always anxious for the day when we would get to hear Lincoln wax poetic about whatever will eventually make Lincoln wax poetic.

Perhaps this is all heightened at the moment because I am acutely aware of the how slow the days seem lately. The winter hung on for so long this year that it began to feel like time had not passed at all, and we were all still stuck in the bleakness of January.  My slow expansion seems almost unnoticeable, until one day we are all struck by the sudden roundness of me.  I cannot help but feel, in the long in between moments, that I am stuck in the endless limbo of waiting, waiting, waiting for something that will not come any faster, no matter how much I will it to be so.

And while I wait for this baby (ever so impatiently), I forget how every day that brings me closer to meeting her takes me one more day away from when the other two were babies themselves.  Their slow expansion seems unnoticeable, too, until one day their pants have shrunk two inches and they come home having learned, somewhere from someone, how to give Eskimo kisses.

We are, all of us, just learning how to communicate these changes.  There is so much that remains unsaid, perhaps remains unspeakable.  When I cluck at the new holes in the knees of Nico's jeans, pulling down at the hems and willing his winter clothes to last through to shorts and t-shirt weather, he simply cannot hear the subtext that is so clear in my head.  It is a cry of look at you grow! and you're so tall! mixed with why must you always grow away from me? and how am I ever going to let you go?  It's a bittersweet experience, a joy and ache in one, and I know it so keenly without being able to explain it to him.  Because how can I tell him that I want to see him do everything, watch him in every stage of his life and know who and what he will become, and that I still want to hold him down and squeeze him tight and refuse to let him grow one more centimeter? How can I say there is part of me that wants every day to go back to the day he was born and hold him for the first time, that I will never love him more than that moment and also that every day I love him more than the day before?

And how can he tell me he wants me to leave him alone and let him make his own decisions, but also that he wants me to hold him and comfort and protect him forever?  That he wants to be big, and he wants to be small, and the ache for both is too confusing to put into words?

So we say it by pantomime, by pushing each other away and pulling each other close, trusting each other to know just what it is we need, though we can't enunciate the impulse.  Even Nico, our you-can't-believe-how-many-words-I-can-get-out-in-a-minute talker of child, even he says as much without words as he says with that expanding vocabulary of his.  And I try to read it with the braille of touch, probing at the truths that don't come out easily with fingers that brush at the hair on his forehead and settle on the defiant tension in his eight year old shoulders.  All the words he doesn't know he needs to say can be read sometimes in the dispensation of those shoulders.

We try to teach our children to name everything: name their colors, letters, numbers, and all the animals at first, then to name their feelings and their fears and their hopes.  It's funny that we forget to mention how much they will never be able to say with words, even people like Nico and like me for whom words come easily.  It's funny we pretend there are hurts than can be healed with anything other than touch, that we ignore how loud a silence can be, that we offer them language as a tool as if it fits all locks, when we all know it doesn't.

I think one of things that has surprised me most about parenthood is how tactile an endeavor it is.  I never imagined how much could be said through the work of my hands, that cooling a fevered brow or kissing a scraped knee would speak more than all the soft words of comfort ever would.  I never realized that I wouldn't ever feel really home until I had touched each of my loves, that coming in the door and calling hello and setting down my keys were all just things I would need to do to be ready for the real homecoming of their embrace.  I don't know who taught Lincoln to give Eskimo kisses, but I know it speaks to me a rich and complicated web of emotions that are probably better left unsaid anyway.  And one day, his speech will have taken off so much that we may not even remember the long wait for his words, but even then, so much of what we say will be done in pantomime.  Some things just can't be said; they must be shown.  So we might as well become fluent in that language now, taking a cue from Linc and pulling each other close to say everything that comes between the words.