Love’s Mystery Deeper Than Memory
Bundled against the freezing weather, I pushed the stroller down the sidewalk. Baby napping inside, coffee in hand, a book balanced on the bar, and the big kids off on a bike ride with Jeff. This little routine had become a beloved ritual in the chaos and isolation of quarantine. But today was different.
The panic and adrenaline of the last eight months was wearing off, and fatigue was setting in. After a couple loops of our familiar path and re-reading the same paragraph five times without absorbing the words, I decided to sit. I breathed the icy air deep into my lungs and let the wind freeze the familiar tears already pricking my eyes.
As I sat in the snow-quieted late afternoon, I stared at my son’s long eyelashes resting heavily on his chubby baby cheeks and felt the familiar fear that had weighed heaviest on my heart since my terminal diagnosis a month after the world shut down.
What if he doesn’t remember how much I love him. Every inch and ounce of his being.
What if the disease that grew silently in me alongside him takes me before he can remember the way my face lights up at the sight of him. The sound of my voice assuring him of my love and closeness.
Clumsily wiping my tears, I turn to the other ritual I’ve created. I lean into the stroller and whisper to him that his life is one of the miracles of my own. That I love him deeply. Desperately. Infinitely. That I hope and pray he will recognize in himself the image of God I see so perfectly etched into every inch of him.
And because he won’t remember this day, I write it down. Praying my words will find him when he needs them. That they will stir a knowledge deep within him that he is beloved, unique, and necessary. A knowledge that is more than memory.
As a writer and avid daydreamer, I often wonder what the narrative of our family life will become. When our children recall the early chapters of their lives, what will they carry with them as a foundation for their own.
For many years, I imagined it would be tales of far-flung cities. Flying through the night to a new adventure. The wonder of soaring cathedrals and tiny chapels. Art galleries and outdoor markets. Six of us squished into tiny beds laughing at the intimate knowledge of who is the most constant fidgeter and sneakiest blanket thief.
As I sat on the snow-covered bench that day with images of the life we had built racing through my mind, I realized that I didn’t care whether they remembered every dot on the map.
Like my whispered words to my sleeping baby, I hope that the life we are creating will give them a knowledge much deeper than memory.
I hope in their delightfully jumbled, dreamlike memories of childhood they will find an unshakable understanding of who God is, of who they are, and of their place in the world.
I hope the days we spend in nature without hurry or agenda will teach them the song creation sings. A symphony that no amount of dissonance can undo. That every intricate detail will awaken their senses and point them to the Creator who made all things out of love. Who longs to bring all of creation, including us, to the fullness and dignity for which we were made.
I hope our time in art galleries, churches, and public spaces marveling at the beauty created by others will remind them that we were made for beauty. That the creative genius flowing through their work and their lives is an image of the Creator himself.
I hope our commitment to reading stories that settle deep into our souls and kindle our imaginations reminds them that they are part of an ancient story that permeates every atom of creation.
I hope our faithful retelling of salvation history as each year unfolds in its familiar seasons stirs in them the confidence that they are part of this story and necessary to its unfolding.
I hope our choice to love and sacrifice and serve each other every day, in small moments and life-altering decisions, assures them that they are worthy of sacrifice. That they are not loved out of duty or expectation, but simply as they are.
I hope they see the same inestimable dignity and worth in each person who comes into their life. A living image of God deserving of love without thought to cost or convenience. That they realize through their lives and vocations they can join Christ in his work of healing the deep brokenness of our world and each other.
Most urgently, I want them to know that in all my years of seeing God in the intricate details of nature, in the joy of family and friends, and in stories that captured my soul, I saw him most intimately in them.
In Molly’s bold march to the deafening waterfall that others were hesitant to approach. Straight to its pounding fury where she stood, hands on her hips and face raised in solidarity with its power, spray soaking every delighted inch of her. The perfect embodiment of being who God created her to be.
Watching her race down the beach with the rush of the wind and the pull of the waves straight into my arms. Without words or explanation, our souls meeting in ecstatic joy as we allowed the enormity of creation to overwhelm us.
In Emma’s soft eyes that beamed up at me in the silence of the canyon as the sun set in dazzling beauty and stars poured into the night sky. Knowing that these moments of quiet beauty restore and heal us both. Our hearts joined in a willingness to sit in stillness, seeking and savoring moments of grace.
Catching her as she bounded into my lap to show me the exact embrace we will share when we are old and reunited in heaven. Assuring me that finding me there will be her first priority.
In Callan’s joy that cannot be contained. That bursts forth to pour excitement and mischief on everyone around. Little hands that dig in dirt and sand and snow and then wrap me in a full body hug, begging me to share in his feast of delight.
His unexpected gentleness as he keeps faithful watch during my treatments. Undeterred by my sickness, whispering sweet assurances of only one more day until I can read to him again.
In Pippin’s “Mommy, I love you” uttered a thousand times a day in a voice reserved especially for me. Little hands that cradle my face and hold me close as he drifts to sleep.
His constant demands of my attention and affection assuring me that my fear of dying before he knows me will not be our story.
In the confidence that no matter how this part of my story ends, their precious souls and the family we are building will remain the greatest miracles of my life. My most intimate encounter with the sacred beauty that penetrates beyond memory and draws me ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love.
Rachael Stowe is a Catholic wife and mother of four. She is a lover of beauty, story, and simple living and has traveled the world with her family, often with a baby and backpack attached. After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2020, Rachael felt called to write about seeing the face of God in the midst of a devastating illness. She writes especially for her young children, and shares some of her writing on her blog www.whatifweflyblog.com.