“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
I’m only mildly anxious that my teenager is heading out to The Dark Knight. Colorado is 2,000 miles away and security is heightened–everywhere. Even as far away as Morocco, Facebook friends are talking about it.
Some say they’ll keep their kids home from the theaters. Others say that gun laws must be tightened. Warner Brothers cancelled their red carpet Paris Premier.
I get to wondering about Christian Bale. How do all those working on the film feel? Their efforts marred; their celebration stolen.
My heart goes out to the community of Aurora (a place I lived as a kid) and to all those whose loved ones were hurt, terrorized or stolen.
The newspaper explains that scenes of public mayhem are the hallmark of Superhero movies which begs the classic question: Does art reflect reality or does reality reflect art?
Ever since the first Colorado massacre in 1999, I began to examine violence in my own life. I gave up shoot’em up films, and redirected violent play among my boys–explaining that we didn’t have toy guns, not because they were “bad,” but because make-believe had become real.
Tragedies such as these are complex beasts. There are gun issues and mental health issues and all kinds of responsibilities to explore. The Director of “The Dark Knight Rises” expressed sorrow on behalf of the cast and crew for such a “senseless tragedy.”
But is it truly senseless? Aren’t we beginning to “sense” a larger pattern? Or will we continue to call these acts of violence random?
Kelly Salasin, July 2012
For more writing on guns, violence & culture, click the links below:
(On election day, I can’t help but think back to our 2008 canvassing in neighboring New Hampshire.)
A tall vibrant man in a flannel shirt held back his dog, but only slightly, asking if we were Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons. When the four of us answered “No”(on both accounts) from behind car doors, he told us we could approach his house, a neatly built log cabin with a long view of distant Vermont hillsides.
He softened a bit at the sight of Lloyd, 13, and Aidan, 8, dressed in Obama “Change” t-shirts (the ones they bought in Unity) before telling us that someone had already been to his house–twice that week–from the campaign.
We apologized for the intrusion, explaining that we weren’t meant to be duplicating efforts, but he countered that the others–a young couple and two college students–had said the exact same thing.
More apologies followed after which he stated, “I’m a lifetime Republican–40 years,” and then he added: “Until this election.”
There was a collective exhale.
Thirteen-year old Lloyd jumped into action with his clipboard, asking the man if he’d be voting for the NH democratic candidate for Senate. The reply? A firm, “NO.”
When he told us that he was voting for Obama however, we all smiled. He shared how nervous he was about the election and asked us if we thought Obama stood a chance.
“Watching the television is making me crazy,” he said.
We commiserated with him. We didn’t have tv.
“You could call your friends or email them,” we suggested, “Especially if they live in Pennsylvania or Ohio.”
“That won’t help,” he explained. “They’re all like I used to be… making six figures. They just don’t get it.”
8 year old Aidan offered him some campaign materials which he politely refused before we said our goodbyes (on “almost” friendly terms.) Just as he stepped back onto his porch, he turned and asked if anyone needed to use the bathroom.
There was a pause, and then a “YES, Please!” from me; my bladder had been full since the first road of houses where we began this afternoon.
He then invited everyone in to see the house which delighted my husband who had once dreamed of building his own log cabin.
The man’s unsuspecting wife was in the kitchen emptying groceries when four strangers poured in through her mudroom. “Just some Jehovah Witnesses,” I joked before slipping into her bathroom. I let her husband explain.
She winced when he offered to take Casey and the boys upstairs. “The bed isn’t made,” she said, but he headed onward, engaged in a conversation with my husband who had appreciatively noticed his collection of antique pistols.
By the time I was out of the bathroom, she was giving the kids handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and he was pouring everyone lemon-aid.
“It’s so great you’re doing this, especially with your boys,” his wife offered, almost guiltily. “My own sons are grown, but I called them and reminded them to vote. My oldest works on Wall Street,” she added.
We continued to chat, while her husband invited Casey downstairs to see his WWII machine gun. The boys quickly followed behind.
“His brother gave them to him,” she explained, as we went on to discuss how far we both had to travel for groceries and how much we liked the Obama website.
When the men returned, we said our goodbyes, refusing even kinder offers for lunch, and they walked us to the door and watched and waved as we pulled down the road. “Good luck,” they called after us.
The next stop was a horse farm across the road. A man in coveralls grumbled that it was his cidering day so we offered to make it quick as we watched him drop apples into the grinder. He politely but firmly refused and his young daughter stared as we drove away up the dirt road.
The split level a quarter mile down was the next house on our list and we were almost turned away there too. It was a nice day for early November and as we pulled into the driveway, the owner was strapping a kayak to his Subaru. We hadn’t stepped out of the car before he complained that he had already been visited that week, twice. We apologized once again and explained that we didn’t know why they’d send us to the same places. This was our first time canvassing.
Checking the democratic polling sheet, we asked if we had his name correct, only to discover that it was his son’s name that was listed. “This household was divided up until a month ago,” he explained with angst. We’ve always voted Republican. Then he added, “My son’s out at sea.”
“Oh,” we replied cautiously, figuring we were heading into tender territory with a son in the military.
“Not in the service,” he said, reading our faces. “He’s out on a ‘Semester at Sea.'” He pointed to his baseball cap that said, “SEA,” and then told us all about his son and how he had gotten interested in Marine Biology after a childhood visit to Sea World and how he had combined Psychology with that major to work with dolphins. My other son’s in college too. “We’re all voting for Obama now,” he told us.
“What changed?” we asked.
He spoke of McCain’s age and Obama’s ability to relate to the people, of Sarah Palin and of the economy. “My friends and I all owned businesses during the Clinton years and we did really well for ourselves, really well. None of us are doing that well now.”
We shared that we had heard a similar shift from a neighbor up the road.
“Who, Stan?” he asked, taken aback. We didn’t recall the name and didn’t feel right saying. “The guy with the shooting range?” he pressed. My sons’ heads bobbed before we could stop them.
“My own boys used to go up to his place and shoot,” he said, shaking his head. “Wow, Stan’s voting for Obama, who would have thought!”
He turned back toward his car with a sheepish grin, before saying, “You know, one of the last things that kept me from voting Democratic was that I didn’t want to loose my guns.”
“Did something change?” we said.
“Oh, yeah,” he answered. “Biden said that no one is taking away his Glocks. ”
He went on to reiterate that he wanted a President that could relate to the world and to our day to day lives. He said that Americans needed a wake up call. He thought we all needed to reconnect with what makes this country great.
One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer. I hope you find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome. Read a post, share a comment/connection!
(this piece was written following the appearance of candidates Obama and Clinton in Unity, NH)
~for the children
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Dear Community of ALL,
Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a political rally in Unity, New Hampshire. I use the word “privilege” because I could afford the time, the energy and the gas it took to devote an entire day to this journey. I also had the privilege of the company of my two young sons, Aidan 7 and Lloyd 12. It was their enthusiasm that fueled this endeavor for me.
Despite being born in the sixties, I grew up with little inclination to participate politically. As a young adult I found politics disconnecting and depressing. When I moved to Vermont at age 30 that changed.
Suddenly things were on a small enough scale that I could manage the attention and faith it took to begin to get involved. Vermont’s Town Meetings were my springboard. Political humans like Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords were accessible and worthy.
I still wasn’t hardwired to fully engage in the political process, but I began to hope for my own sons. They attended town meetings with me, ate a chicken supper beside Bernie, and participated in walking with his senate campaign down Main Street in the 4th of July parade.
Lloyd and Aidan showed more interest in politics in their short lives than I had in my entire life. In fact, much of their sand play with peers at South Pond was politically based.
When I went to tell my boys that Obama and Hillary were going to be in New Hampshire–less than 2 hours away–they gave an enthusiastic, “Let’s go!” That was all I needed to take the next step to get the tickets and pack us up for my first national campaign event.
I don’t have the poltical savvy to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been inspired by Senators Clinton and Obama, and I never will. My mind just doesn’t operate that way. I am much more interested in the internal politics of our own hearts and spirits than I am driven by what happens on the outside with others.
That said, I do want to be part of the change. Like Gandhi, I want to “be the change” that I want to see in the world… rather than just complain that it doesn’t exist. And though I have never been politically minded, I have always had a passion for history, and a deep fascination and regard for the spirit of this country–for our Declaration of Independence and the freedom we created in it.
9/11 was for meand for many others the spiritual “bottom” of my political experience. It left me wanting to disown this country once and for all; and it also caused me to realize just how much I loved this big bully. I grew up, politically speaking, around 9/11. I began to realize that my participation or lack of it played a part; and that for whatever reason, I was tied up in this country–in its identity and actions.
On the drive to Charlemont, New Hampshire where we boarded shuttles to Unity, I explained to my older son–and to myself–what a “leader” was all about.
“It’s like one of those amazing teachers you hear about,” I said, “like that guy in Los Angles that took that poorly performing class and made them math wizards. Those kids were disconnected, self-absorbed, criminal, disenfranchised–and rightly so…
“And it wasn’t as much about the teacher’s greatness–but that inside each of those students was greatness and he helped them find it,” I continued. “He lead them to it. He created a place of belonging for them. He believed in them. He inspired them to their own strengths and greatness. That’s what this country needs in a President.”
I looked over to see that my son’s nose was back in his graphic novel. But once at the rally, under the bright afternoon sun, surrounded by trees and fields, Hillary and Obama echoed my voice–albeit in their political speech writing ways.
She said that it wasn’t about one person, that it was about the change we wanted to create.
He said that his hope lies in the faces of all of us, in our basic decency and caring.
For me–seeing them together like that–two leaders–male and female–black and white–I felt complete.
I don’t know if these two beautiful people have the answers, but I do know that the answers lie inside of us–inside each of us. I discover that every time I work with someone in my role as a life coach.
My hope, and the reason why I bought my very first bumper sticker (that says “HOPE”), is that these two people can lead us to our own inspiration to change.
It pains me and I know it pains each of you that we live in a world where children are hungry. It brings me to tears that I don’t know what to do about it. It anguishes me that great suffering is happening on “my watch” while I eat my organic cereal and type on my laptop to you.
“NOT ON MY WATCH!” I want to scream, but I don’t know where to direct my voice and my energy and my passion.
So many of you have that clarity. I see you act on behalf of others in so many ways.
Social and political activism have never had the clarity for me. But I am a writer and a thinker and connector; and that is what I have to offer to make the change.
We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to be good at everything…”You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ” (Thank you dear Mary Oliver for planting that seed.)
That’s why there’s so many of us, to make it easier. Our talents and interests and gifts blend like circles on a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Let’s get stitching so that we can cover this world with a blanket of warmth, and food, and protection, and safety.
I know I am idealistic. That’s how I came. And I know that many of you know much more about the process because you’ve actually been participating for a lot longer.But maybe there’s a place for me to inspire you with my innocence and heartfelt conviction.
I know our leaders are imperfect, but is that where we want to focus our attention? How would this country and its ideals ever been born if we had focused on the imperfections of our forefathers!?
And I know this country isn’t perfect either. There’s history books filled with our sins against humanity.
But there’s also a light, and that’s what I want to follow and help grow.
I see the light of hope in my children. They each wanted an Obama t-shirt that showed his face in red, white and blue with the word, CHANGE, below it. My oldest wondered why I didn’t buy the “CHANGE” bumper sticker. I explained that I couldn’t put one man’s face on my car–but I could put the word “HOPE” out about him–appreciating that my sons’ would be the change.
That morning, ahead of the rally, the three of us stood under a hot sun in a parking lot at a race track in New Hampshire–waiting for the school bus that would take us to UNITY–to the playground of an elementary school–where the groundskeeper in suspenders was crowned “honorary mayor” for the day, and introduced not one–but two candidates, that I had respected for President.
Behind us in that shuttle line of hundreds, stood two elderly women, who looking around them at all the young people, said with pride, “This is our future.”
On the return bus ride to the racetrack after the rally, I looked at all the folks around me– in front of me and behind me–and I thought, This is my country: the elderly man with Parkinson’s beside me, the college students laughing in front of me, and the family, behind me.”
I’m not writing to tell you to believe in Obama or even that I do; but I believe in us, and I know that we need a leader to bring the change that we need in this world—not cheaper groceries or gas prices for us–but provision for all and stewardship for the blessing of this earth.
At the end of this long day, the boys and I raced home to the pond. I wished Hillary and Barack could join us. I’m sure they needed the swim more than we did, and I would have liked to see them out of their suits enjoying the gift of Vermont.
But alas, they have a different dharma…
No doubt, they’re off on a plane to do more of what they did in Unity–more speeches, more politics. God bless them.
I find myself praying for Obama and his family, that they would be safe from the dangers of this world so that our country might be led by a man who I saw to be “good.”
Obama stood, not more than 6 heads in front of me, and I took him in–not his words or his plan–but his spirit. That’s what I went to see.
I had to wake my boys before 7 in order for us to be there on that field when Clinton and Obama stepped out of the newspapers and into the world. Now that it’s summer, Aidan is the hardest to wake. But when I said to his shut eyes, “Aidan, today is the day we go see Hillary and Obama,” he jumped out of bed like it was Christmas.
By noon, under that hot sun, in a crowd of thousands, he broke down in tears, begging to find any way to get back home. Lloyd and I created a little world under a beach towel for him and he found his strength to go on.
Though they were only 15 feet ahead of us, Aidan could only see Hillary and Obama when I lifted him up on my shoulders. He spent most of the time on the ground, half the size of those around him–but he said that he was glad he came.
And when we got to the pond, he told his cousin all about the rally with pride. And to my surprise, my older son’s classmates were enthralled that we had gone to the rally and ran to find him to see these photos he took and to hear about it.
My popularity index as a parent immediately rose, having plummeted the week before when I was not among those many Marlborians who made sure their kids found a television to watch the night-long Celtics win. “You put us all to shame” said a father about the journey I made with my boys.
“They were our community representatives,” a mother clarified.
I have great hope that this beautiful man of color and character might be our country’s representative.
My husband tells me that both Michelle and Barack Obama made the maximum individual contribution to Hillary’s indebted campaign the other night, and that Barack has asked his supporters to donate what they can to offset her great debt.
Today, I’ll make my first ever direct financial contribution to a political campaign at a national level to both Hillary and Obama. I like the feeling of supporting his campaign and supporting Hillary with hers that has ended. I like the spirit of it.
That’s what drew me to Unity, New Hampshire yesterday morning–the spirit of it.
And did you know that the school groundskeeper that introduced Hillary and Barack, was a Republican?
United we stand, divided we fall. My greatest hope is that we can co-create a world and a country that we are proud to call our home–and that when our time comes to leave this place, we can say that on “our watch” unity and beauty prevailed.
Do I believe a political leader can provide the change we want to see in the world?
But I hold great hope that we can co-create it with his leadership.
Help us to be the always hopeful Gardeners of the spirit Who know that without darkness Nothing comes to birth As without light Nothing flowers.
I remember the morning that the Christmas “train” took my son on the journey from innate graciousness to maniacal greed to absolute dissolution. He was three.
Since becoming parents, neither my husband or I got much sleep on Christmas Eve with the anticipation of our son’s joy. That first Christmas, he was only a few months old… so it wasn’t exactly what we’d been waiting for.
His second Christmas was much more satisfying–though fleeting. After unwrapping a handful of presents, our one year old simply refused to look at any more. He shook his head “No,” to each pushy request from his parents, finally exiting the room to make his point– teaching us about “too much.”
By his third Christmas, however, our two-year old had fully joined the culture of gluttony. He never left the room once until everything was opened, upon which he said very matter of factly, “I want Santa bring more.”
The turning point, from graciousness to greed, came at our son’s fourth Christmas. Like a train wreck, we watched it unfold right before our eyes. The morning started out sweet enough, as he played with each “present.” But soon his pace began to quicken, and he began ripping apart paper without even looking to see from whom the gift came; and then he began opening one after another without taking notice of what was he received.
Ironically, we had once begged our son to keep opening gifts, while now, we scolded him to slow down. But he couldn’t stop himself. He just kept plowing through the present(s) until there was nothing left– at which point he collapsed into tears, completely unsatisfied with his bounty of gifts.
“We” had created a monster!
After that year, we encouraged the relatives to send less– and since that was mostly a hopeless cause– we bought much less ourselves, even re-gifting things from year to year. That same Santa Moose showed up each Christmas along with holiday themed books, films and toys.
By 5 years old, our son had so many things that there was no need to buy more once our second son came along. So we kept re-gifting–wrapping up forgotten treasures each Christmas. Eventually, what was found under the tree was much more of what was needed~ new bed pillows, a ski coat, a sled to replace the broken one. The few toys that our sons did receive were treasured more and more. Last year’s gift of digital cameras were played with for days on end.
Each year, we reigned Christmas in just a bit more–even cutting back on feasting and celebrations to create the space needed for the feelings we treasured most~ magic and grace and generosity.
But it’s still a slippery slope–for me. I begin each holiday gently just as my son began that Christmas morning that transformed him from gracious to greedy. As the weeks progress, I begin to need “more” and anxiety grips my stomach with both desire and fear. Will I have enough? How will I pay for it? Am I missing out on the experience of abundance by not buying?
Soon the addictive aspect of consumerism kicks in and I reach the maniacal turning point of just wanting to shop and spend, spend, spend.
That’s where I found myself last night— coming out of the beverage store with a costly bottle of Baileys Irish Creme. I don’t even drink it anymore, but it was the holidays, and I used to love it, and everyone was buying fancy liquors, and it was the season, and I wanted to be fully part of it–even though I had just bemoaned that that I had just spent most of my budget for the month on fancy foods for the holidays.
Upon rising after three hours of sleep to sun streaming through crystallized trees in a tinsel-like forest, the late night trip to the Emergency Room seemed like a dream.
When our eight-year old woke just after midnight with a throbbing headache followed by vomiting, we were scared. He had fallen at the ice skating rink that afternoon and whacked his head hard. I checked his pupils, tracked his eyes and asked him questions. It was probably just the stomach flu–which didn’t seem fair either.
Handing him over to his father, I grabbed a flashlight in search of the computer to see what the Internet could tell us. As a last resort, I would wake our family doctor. The phone line was dead… again.
If it hadn’t already, this three-day weekend now seemed solidly stacked against us. We’d been without power since Thursday and our water supplies for washing and flushing were spent. Through each moonlit night, I imagined the welcome sound of appliances clicking back on. My husband and I were “ready” the moment it happened. We’d run to flush the toilets, start the dishwasher–at least the rinse cycle– and refill the water jug and tub. With trees still falling, we couldn’t count on the power to last.
But this was all a fantasy. No electric truck had been to our road or any of the back roads of southern Vermont where the storm hit the hardest. “It would be a week,” they told us. But they couldn’t mean that.
When I returned to our bed, I took my son from my husband to try and make some sense out of this predicament. Watching him hold his head and writhe, made it hard to think. “Maybe you should run next door to the neighbor’s for their cell phone,” I suggested so that we could call a doctor.
“We won’t get reception,” my husband countered.
“What about driving into town for a phone?” I retorted.
Reluctantly, I resigned myself to waking the rest of the family to make the twenty-minute drive to the nearest hospital. It was 1:11 am when we pulled off of our road and onto Route 9–dodging trees and power lines along the way. My husband sat in the back holding a trashcan under Aidan’s mouth while we marveled at the palace of ice that surrounded us.
The admitting nurse at in the ER was from our town and we commiserated about the condition of our roads while the boys watched ice hockey in the empty waiting room. A half an hour later, a doctor examined Aidan before calling in the technician from her own deep sleep and tree strewn road.
At 2:30 am, she asked me to lie down on the special “bed” first– in front of a space ship like donut hole that would scan my son’s brain.
“I’ll use the lowest dose I can,” she assured me, giving me something new to worry about. Together we draped Aidan with heavy “pink frosting”– his favorite– to protect his body from the radiation– and then we left him alone with the machine as it carried his tiny, trusting body into itself and hummed, enjoying this late night snack. Aidan looked delicately angelic and I forced myself to smile at him through the glass window.
“Stay perfectly still, Aidan,” the technician reminded him. I watched her for any signs of concern or relief as she monitored the images on the screens. “Any history of cancer or brain surgery?” she asked, “No,” I gulped, as I tried to discern what the cloudy shapes appearing on the computer might mean.
In an attempt to shift this experience from medical to educational, I casually asked if we could get a picture of his brain for school the next day. Aidan joined us in the computer room and we watched as it sent the scans to a radiologist in some country where there was one awake. “See the two sides of the brain, Mom?” Aidan pointed. “I learned about that at school.”
Before wheeling him back to the ER, the technician offered Aidan a stuffed teddy bear and some snowman stickers which made him very happy and gave me an eerie “children’s hospital” feeling. “I’ll stay until the results come back,” she offered kindly, alerting me even more.
We rejoined my husband and teenage son in the curtained examining space–and settled in to wait. To pass the time, I suggested we resume the family game of “Christmas Carol Charades” that we had invented on our first night without power.
During these evenings without power, we found ourselves turning to bygone pastimes like this, from music making to singing to simple games. Once the sun would set, both boys would gravitate to the candle-lit warmth of our bed where I would read the next chapter of Three Cups of Tea before sending them off to their own rooms.
The doctor reappeared just after my husband guessed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. With a smile, he pronounced that Aidan’s scan looked, “Great!”
With a collective exhale, we left the hospital a little after three, but not before we all enjoyed the convenience of a restroom with running water and flushing toilets. To savor the good news, we took the long way home through the hushed town of Brattleboro, taking in the lights before we arrived at our road where the only glimmer was that of the bright full moon reflecting in each prism of ice. My husband reloaded the woodstove and we were all tucked back in bed before four.
Upon waking with the sun a few hours later to the sound of icicles crashing to the frosted forest floor, Aidan immediately launched into recollections of the evening. He pulled out his snowman stickers and hugged his new, snow-colored bear. ” I like going to the hospital!” he said, a little too enthusiastically.
“You know you can get a job there someday,” I offered in the hope of channeling his pleasure.
My husband headed out to the pond for the morning ritual of chopping through the ice tofill a trashcan with water so that we could flush our toilets another day.
It was a Sunday, so I ordered us all into “house blessing” mode despite the chaos that surrounded us. Lloyd swept the floors and Aidan emptied the trashcans. I cleaned the toilets and the sinks with the new waters. Afterward, we all gathered to decorate the tree as Christmas carols finished off the last precious minutes of the computer’s battery.
In our somewhat contentious family meeting this morning, Lloyd compared me to a character from Greek mythology who ate all of his 8 children because he found out that one of them planned to kill him. This in response to the fact that his inconsistent completion of household responsibilities resulted in my installation of time constraints.
Only a few cards arrive for my husband’s birthday, but our kitchen window is full. Cards line the sill, and others hang from the wooden mullions that lend our Vermont farmhouse that window-pane look.
Moons and lambs and jumping cows continue to trickle in–and do look out of place beside the ones poking fun of Casey’s age. But it’s the cards I’ve added most recently that make the window overflow and contradict itself.
I feel the same way. Flooded with an unmanageable coupling of joy and sorrow–torn in two by the juxtaposition of events–birth and death accomplished within weeks of each other.
In June, we were given two months. My mother–two to live. Me–two before delivery. The two of us, three hundred miles apart, agonizingly separated by the coming of child who would be such a blessing through this time.
As each week passed, I lay on my bed in the mountains, looking out to the trees, searching the leaves for my mother’s face–serene or contorted–while my belly ripened.
It seemed as if my mother and I were engaged in a parallel dance–one spinning toward death, the other toward life–both facing an ending and a beginning–crossing a threshold of no return.
Sometimes rather than moving together, I sensed a collision course, fearing my delivery would bring on her own.
In early August, just after midnight, a week before expected, my contractions began, sharpening before dawn, lending an acute awareness of my mother’s suffering, and of how, in many ways, we were sharing a similar path–one of struggle and surrender–surrounded by loved ones there to midwife our passage.
The next morning, just before noon, I gave birth to a baby boy in our home in in the Green Mountains while my mother lay near the sea in a hospital bed by the bay window where her workout equipment stood just a season earlier.
She couldn’t walk or even sit up, but she was there to answer the phone when I called with the news.
“Hi Mom, it’s Kel…”
I remember the air outside. The hush of the midwife beside me. The feeling of the phone cradled against my ear.
My mother would probably never meet her grandson, but I was so grateful for her voice just then.
It’s funny how life gets dished out sometimes–with heaps of sorrow or heaps of joy–or heaps of both at once. I can’t fully grasp the connection between her leaving and his coming, but I’ve learned so much being present to them at the same time.
My mother took her last breath on my husband’s birthday–a month later than expected–surrounded by her eight children, including my nursing babe, who cried out just before her passing.
I’d never felt so much bliss. The depth of sorrow seemed to make the expression of the love excruciatingly palpable–as if they were meant to be felt together.
This truth revealed itself in the quiet hours at my mother’s side just before she died, with the baby on my breast, or on her lap, napping.
Ever watch a baby sleep? It’s a profoundly meditative experience–deeply soothing and compelling.
What strikes me most is how at one moment a baby’s face will light up with a smile, and in the next, his lips will quiver, his brow wrinkle, and he’ll let out a whimper that pierces your heart.
I love those sleepy smiles, but I’ve always worked to chase those cries away.
But now it occurs to me–Maybe they belong together. Maybe the baby, in these early moments, is preparing for the joy and loss his life will hold.
On the morning of my mother’s leaving, the world seemed to echo this truth. The sun shone bright, a bay breeze blew through the window over her bed, and her young granddaughters took a seat beside her body, lovingly touching her face, casually discussing their own deaths “someday,” while outside, her grandsons jumped on the trampoline.
I hadn’t known that so much fullness could be felt inside such a vacancy.
As Autumn replaces Summer, I hold this fullness close. On those days when I can’t handle a fussy baby, or the cold and darkness growing inside me, I remember my labor and my mother’s passing, and I find strength in this coupling.
One by one, I remove cards from the window. My mother has been gone three weeks now, and Aidan is two months old. His face has begun to reflect back that which he has received: countless hours of love and wonder and devotion.
In the end, it was the same with my mother.
All that she gave to us was reflected back upon her.
(Other versions of this piece were published in The Cracker Barrel in 2000 & in Chicken Soup to Inspire a Women’s Soul in 2004)