He and I stare down at the freshly laid gravestone, edged by spring-green grass. "When people come into our office for this," he trails off, shielding his eyes from the morning sunshine, his weathered face suddenly young in disbelief. "It's the absolute worst when this happens," he shakes his head, unable to speak the words "baby" or "dead" in the same sentence. I nod. I can say anything; I have already baffled him with my sunny cheer, interrupting his silent, solitary task by jumping out of a minivan full of (living) children to ask if this was my daughters' gravestone he was laying. When you start having a Strange Conversation with a Stranger, you can say anything and it is marvelously freeing. (It wasn't theirs; there is another baby buried next to them now; she lived two months; my mind calculates the math every time; dates are codes in this terrible club.) "It's not like Grandma who got 80, 90 years, lived a full life," he continues, waving a heavy hand toward his … [Read more...] about hearts of flesh & hearts of stone
Here is today's first reading. The promise of the new Jerusalem, part of the prophecy of Isaiah. Here is today's Gospel. The healing of the royal official's son, the second sign in the Gospel of John. And here is my whole heart, caught between the two. The same Scripture passage from Isaiah was read at our daughters' funeral. (Among the handful of sentences in the English language that I wish I never had to write, that might top the list. That possessive pronoun and plural apostrophe still wreck me.) And yet, they were the best words for the worst day. The promise that one day there will be no more weeping, no more crying, no more babies who live but a few days. Sign me up. Let me hope. Pull me out of the pit. Lift me toward the light with the hope that one day no more parents will have their dreams crushed to dust. But wait: there is more. There is always the rub. Today's Gospel, too. Two sides of hope held in tension: the promise and the fulfillment. That … [Read more...] about I wanted the miracle. We got the revelation.
He laughs now, this rolling plump of a babe. Chortles like a chuckling gentleman when I tickle under his chin. The laughter is intoxicating; we are all addicted. His doting brothers swarm the changing table for a chance to coax out another. In the instant when his round eyes brighten and his soft mouth opens to laugh, I am swept inside. Everything becomes this moment: joy that totalizes. As soon as the moment evaporates, I come back to present and realize: Once upon a time I did not believe I would feel the pure shine of happiness again. What grace of a second chance. What gift from grief. The still-joys. . . . The world is a wasteland, again and always. If you only trust the headlines and the handwringers. Meanwhile most of us go on, quietly doing the unnoticed work that underpins everything. Emails and deadlines. Laundry and dishes. Building and mending. Helping and forgiving. My mother used to tell me that every generation was convinced it was the … [Read more...] about come, the still-joys
With laughter from the party still ringing in my ears, I headed toward the coat rack, hoping to grab my jacket and slip quietly away into the early evening cool to make it home before dark. But just as I reached the door, he turned and caught my eye. We smiled. Who can resist the chance to greet a beloved teacher? I leaned in for a hug over my awkward pregnant belly, the obvious conversation starter. "How are you?" he asked, listening in the genuine way I always admired in the classroom. "I'm good," I answered. (Knowing this is always what people want to hear.) "Really grateful. Just a few more months." I waited for his next question, anticipating the follow-up "And everything's normal this time? Baby's healthy?" or the requisite "Do you know what you're having? Is it a boy or a girl?" When you've been pregnant this many times, you know the routine. And when everyone who asks for an update leaps to answer their own question - "How are you, good? You seem great!" - … [Read more...] about the best question anyone could have asked