the gospel of the pillow
the day had been long, had been wretched, had been draining in that way that day after day of worry can make it.
the task at hand, at least according to the books, was getting the little one into bed. the clock said so. the dark said so. only the little one seemed to dissent. he seemed wide awake for a few innings of baseball.
so it was me, the one who slid onto the sheets, curled in a ball, and lay there, eyes closed. just breathing. feeling the rise and the fall of my chest. hearing my heart. my heart that all day had felt like it was trudging a mountain. or cracking in half.
that’s when the boy who struggles with pencils spoke: “are you hurt? are you worried? are you tired?
“you need to sleep,” he said, touching my hair.
“grownups,” he told me matter-of-factly, “are more important than kids.
“you want your grownup to stay alive to keep you safe.”
he started to put his hands to the back of my nightgown. he made little circles where the angel wings might have started to sprout, back when God was deciding if we’d be the species with wings or without.
he was the putter-to-bed, this long achy night. it was my little one, with his hands and his words, who woke me up from my over-drained stupor. i didn’t move, didn’t flinch, but i tell you my spine tingled. had i not wanted to scare him i would have sat wholly up. his words pierced through to my heart.
i whispered them back, as if a refrain. “you want your grownup to stay alive to keep you safe.”
i realized that was his prayer. mine too. dear God, i whispered so no one could hear, give me strength. the sort of strength i’d needed before. the strength to get up a mountain. to look out from the top.
just earlier that very same evening, i’d been in a church listening to a very wise soul. a woman who’d once struggled with polio. she said, and she meant it, “you can survive anything. you have to decide to survive.”
i decided then and there that my weary old bones had nowhere to go, except to lie by the side of my lastborn. i let his hand circles and his words wash over me, fill me, soothe my twittering heart.
i asked him then about grownups, about why he thought they might be more important than kids (a point i would argue, if not in inquisitive mode).
“they make your food,” was his very first thought, one that came without pause. “they check it out at the store. and they make it, the farmers do.
“they’re good for the environment, the garbage people are,” he continued.
“they stop people from doing mean things,” was the last of his litany.
i lay there absorbing the gospel according to the one whose head shared the pillow. i lay there thinking how God speaks to us, some hours, in the voice of a 6-year-old boy.
i lay there feeling the tenderness, feeling the power of his wisdom. i marveled long and hard at the miracle of how the teacher speaks to the student at the hour of absolute need.
i marveled at the clairvoyancy of a child. how a child sees through the thick of a heart, through the tangle. how a child, as if a surgeon who works with micro-sized scalpels, can incise right to the core of the matter. can feed in the words that the heart needs to hear. can wake up even the sleepy.
i thought, as i reached out and stroked his soft curls, no, my sweet, the grownup is the one who desperately deeply needs the eyes and the voice of the child.
at my house last night, it was the child who was keeping the grownup so very safe.
there are many voices of God all around us, if only we listen. have you been struck lately by one voice that rises above all of the others? that comes out of the din, speaks straight to your heart, points the way toward the light? are you, like me, amazed at how often that voice is the voice of a child?