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Category: heartache

the stories we carry close to the heart

coffee cups. stories heart

i was late getting to the old maple table this morning. late, because i was drawn to another kitchen table before i could get to my own. some mornings are like that. some hours are like that.

i was drawn to a table where a mother i love wanted to talk. fueled on fresh-poured coffee, the tears soon enough flowed. the mother to whom i was talking buried her beautiful daughter just 20 months ago. we talked about grief, and the state of the heart after the dying. she talked about her blessing, the blessing of her daughter having had the time to wrestle her demons, and make peace before dying. she talked about another mother’s absence of blessing. a mother whose daughter was knocked dead in the dark of night, at a bitter cold bus stop, when a drunk driver — one who forgot to turn on the headlights of her car when she tumbled out of a tavern and slumped behind the wheel — drove into a tangle of college kids on the snow-piled side of a road, and so the mother of the beautiful girl who died — a “songbird,” my friend called her — never got the chance to have the last conversation you’d have if you knew in your heart this was the last. she worried that the last conversation between the other mother and child might have been more of the sort that mothers and children so often have: “did you remember to make your reservations for spring break?” “don’t forget to check your mailbox, i’m sending the boots you left under your bed.” or, maybe: “oh, sweetie, why don’t you just tell your friends how tired you are, and stay in and catch up on sleep tonight?”

the thing is, if you bumped into my friend in the grocery store, if you watched her tossing bunches of kale into her cart, while tossing rejoinders over her shoulder, witticisms that made anyone in earshot break into giggles (because she is that funny, and most often in high animation), you’d never in a million years guess how much heartache she’s borne. you’d not know that, after four hellish years battling the rarest of cancers, she buried that daughter, and has a son who won’t ever walk, nor utter a word, and whose meals are zipped in a blender and poured in a tube that goes straight to his belly.

my friend is but one of the ones who carries a story, a volume of stories, close to the heart.

she’s not alone. we all have a story. every day, chances are, there is one something weighting us down, bearing against our chest in ways that make it harder to breathe. it’s not always life shattering, but it might be the sort of worry that infuses even your sleep, wakes you up with a start, spares you no break from its drumbeat.

this week, on one particularly extraordinary morning, i found myself amid a circle of women who, one by one, let on that they too carried a story. and that’s what got me to thinking about how many of the myriad souls we bump up against in the course of the day are waging some unspoken battle, the likes of which we’ll never know. never imagine.

and thus, as wise philo of alexandria, the greek-speaking jewish philosopher, instructed: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

there was, first, the woman i’ve known for years, though not too terribly well. i’d once written a newspaper story about the children’s choir she long ago ran with clockwork precision. then, years later, when i wrote about my own mother’s breast-cancer battle, that same woman reached out and wrote how she, too, had been diagnosed the very same week, and knew by heart the battle. when i bumped into her just this week, she was sporting two very black eyes. she’d fallen, she said, changing a light bulb. seems after three bouts with cancer, she’d developed some bizarre syndrome that left her numb from the waist down — and apparently, it hasn’t much slowed her. and it was only in passing that she mentioned something about her son, mentioned for the very first time that he was quadriplegic.

“oh my gosh,” i interjected, “you have a son who is quadriplegic? was it an accident?”

she answered, softly, but hardly a whisper: “failed suicide. he was a freshman in high school. thirty-five years ago.”

i inhaled a very big prayer as i soaked in her words.

and then, just minutes later, after eggs and coffee were served, after i’d turned to my right, continued talking to a lovely woman i’d met three months earlier, this woman mentioned matter-of-factly that her upper chest was sore, and she’d be heading home to ice it. i asked if she’d pulled a muscle. “no,” she said, “i was diagnosed with breast cancer just before christmas. i had a double mastectomy four weeks ago.” and all morning, i’d only been thinking how elegant a figure she cut, with her sleek gold-buttoned black suit, her streaked-blonde bob, and her eloquent animated conversation.

we never know the stories carried close to the heart.

we never know when we’re sitting next to a woman who, day in and day out, worries about a son who can’t move a muscle. and who got there from the depths of unspeakable pain.

we don’t know that from the time we last spoke to someone till the moment we’ve once again bumped into that someone, she’s suffered the full-throttle blow of life turned on its spine: being told she has cancer, weighing the options and outcomes, and being wheeled off to surgery that will forever alter her God-given life-bearing body.

when you’re listening, when you keep your ear to the heart, these stories come and come swiftly. the calls from the doctor. the unexpected email. the squawk from the bedside radio, first thing in the morning. the reminder, over and over and over: these hours are precious, are holy. live as if each moment matters. because, the truth is, it does. and walk in radiant grace because we’ve really no clue who in our path is shattered, and broken, and deeply in need of the life-giving love with which we might bathe their wounds. or embolden their march into battle.

oh, goodness. it was either write about what really stirred me this week, or count up the 50 ways to really, truly tell someone you love them (in light of tomorrow’s feast of love, valentine’s day). seems i went with the truly stirring. forgive the darkness. the point is the light: the instruction to hold each hour, each encounter, each blessed someone, up to the radiance. life will come without pause, without bumpers to soften the blow. the instrument of healing, of love, is ours and ours alone: we can choose to tend with tender loving care. we can choose to be ever aware of who among us might bear more than we can imagine. we can lighten their load, and pray to God the favor’s returned when the load that needs bearing is ours. 

how are you stirred by philo’s instruction: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”? or, alternately, might you tell a bit about the unwitting saints who’ve lightened your load at the very moment when it all seemed unbearable?

love letters lost

love letters lost hands

sifting through the cyber-ashes, gathering up a flake or two of text, pausing long enough to read, to remember, to let the tears fill and fall. feeling the full-throttle pang of if-that’s-what’s-left-how-very-much-was-lost?

i’ve found the snippet dated april 10, 2009, on the eve of a baby’s birth, in which i wrote to the expectant mama and papa: “i am certain that we have entered into holy time….” a beautiful baby girl was born deep in the middle-night four days later. the email marked the beginning of the hardening rhythms of that labor and delivery.

i’ve been scribbling life’s every twist and turn, long as i can remember. i mark time with typed-out missives. short or long or in-between, doesn’t matter. all that matters is that, for me, it’s putting life to paper, etching time with written record.

i’ve found the one i sent hours after delivering our firstborn to his leafy college, in which i wrote: “poor teddy sobbed silently, melted in tears.” august 29, 2011. i’d sent that one off to my mama, who wanted to know how the parting went.

and there’s the one, three months later, when that firstborn came home for the very first time, and at the dawn of that first morning while he slept, back in the bed above where i was typing, i wrote to my brother: “i suddenly feel whole for the first time in three months….”

i even found the email, carefully tucked away in my meticulously organized treasury of emails — a virtual apothecary chest of drawers within drawers, each one labeled and stuffed with cyber-snippets — from november 4, 2008, when one newly-elected barack obama sent out a note letting me (and a few million other cyber-pals) know that we’d just made history and, by the way, he was heading over soon to grant park, a moment in history — a moment in my email trove — that won’t soon be forgotten.

i have been sifting through all week, discovering what was lost and what was saved. i find notes from the mother of a dying child who wrote, “as they say at NASA, failure is not an option.” another to a friend whose husband had just died, and who i tried to fill with comfort in the best way i know — words dispatched from the pulsing place deep inside my heart. yet another to a friend whose unborn baby girl had just died. and another, a note from the intensive care unit where our firstborn lay with a fractured neck bone. and one my little one (nine at the time) wrote to his uncle, “i will love max all my life,” after his uncle’s beloved golden retriever up and died.

it’s birth and death, and all the touch points in between. it’s loss and hearts filled up. it’s history and how i breathe.

i write because words for me are the vessels in which i pour my unharness-able heart. i pay acute attention to nuance and particulars. i make up words to try to stretch the periphery of that place that holds so much. i want the people in my world to know they’re not alone, they’re loved, their murky shadow is pierced by shard of light. there is a hand to squeeze in the darkness, and i offer it in words.

i render communion in banged-out letters on a keyboard.

and when your hard drive fails, and the trusted back-up drive does too, when you fall in the unheard-of 0.5 percent, you lose crucial threads, you lose what matters, you ache and you weep, the tears spilling to the keyboard.

and so it’s been all week, as i sift and sort and flag bits and snippets that piece the long-winding narrative — the story of a love that’s flowed without end for all the years i’ve been typing.

among the many chapters lost: the one of a boy with a broken neck and his triumphant bar mitzvah three weeks later; the story of that boy wending his way through high school and — finally, achingly (for his mother anyway) — heading off to college. i’ve lost all the emails that i sent, at every turn in those early far-from-home days that turned to weeks and months of learning how to be a long-distance mama. i’ve lost the emails i sent to beloved teachers, kindergarten through college. and, to pinpoint yet another now-missing chapter, the emails bandied back and forth between my sweet life mate and moi, as we decided whether to up and leave our house, our life, our humdrum everyday, to move for one short year to cambridge, mass., to go back to college, to dwell beyond our comfort zone.

in the life story of a family, much unfolds over the course of eight years. back when i first started typing on this particular apparatus, one boy had just turned 13, the other was barely five. i was working at a newspaper, longing to work from home. george bush was president. my brother’s first wife had just died. neither my beloved niece nor nephew had yet been imagined. my mother hadn’t been told that she had a tumor growing in her belly.

i recorded it all in the little blasts i type and send nearly every single morning, and through the whole day long.

the nice and very smart geniuses who live in apple-land, they did the best they could. for days and days and hours without end (or so it seemed when our phone calls ticked into sixth straight hour, three days in a row). but the sent emails could not be saved. nor the photo albums, all carefully edited and curated. i got back raw images, some 20,000, and i will sift and sort and delete the blurry ones, as i’d done before, in all those hours now lost. the books i’d made from those images — pictures and text, page after page — all gone.

and so, on this day of hearts and cut-out valentines, when words are scribbled in silly rhymes and riddles, i am left to consider love letters lost. and to hope and pray that the echo of what they meant, and what they tried to hold up to the light, i am left hoping that it lives on where it was birthed — deep inside me, deep inside the soul of a girl who’s been holding tight a pencil all her life, trying again and again to get it on paper, to get it right, this immeasurable, unfathomable force of life, of love, of understanding.

the one that sometimes is spelled out in quiet little emails. ones that arrive with nothing but the ping of a flat black box telling you something from the heart has just landed. please read, and know that you are loved.

forgive me for dwelling one more week on this nasty mess of a cyber-crash. it’s been just awful, the slow dawning realization of chunk after chunk that’s simply gone, vanished, kaput, kerpluey. like so many other losses in life, we console ourselves with the deep down truth that in the end the only thing that can’t be stolen, can’t be crushed, or lost, is the imperceptible and vast catalog of memory, of what’s held in our hearts and souls and minds. 

what love letters do you hold closest to your heart?

the sound of hollowed-out

brother love

when you love someone, when there is a someone in your life who drops in every few months, makes you laugh till you fall off your chair, or plops beside you on your beanbag in the basement, sidles up, takes the whatchamahoojie in his hand, and click-click-clicks right beside you, for hours into the night, as your words weave back and forth, an alchemy of big-brother wisdom and vernacular that wholly escapes your mother, you pretty much come to thinking of that someone as a guy who walks in halo. he’s your own personal savior, patron saint and laugh track.

he’s your big beautiful brother.

and when eight long years fall between your birthdays, when one of you is off gallivanting round leafy college quads, and the other is back home mastering obstacles like combination locks and kickstands and how to juggle soccer balls while holding onto handle bars, what falls between you, the glue that holds you tight, the interstitia of your entwined hearts, it’s pretty much a recipe of two parts magic, one part paying attention, and a good dollop of the long-held family maxim that the two of you are in this world to watch out for each other. because no one will ever do it better.

so, saying goodbye to that big fellow, saying goodbye on the morning when the old family wagon, all spiffed up and tuck-pointed with brand-new spark plugs, brake pads and all the parts that might keep it from going kerpluey on the side of some far-flung highway — somewhere in the godforsaken woods of ohio, new york, or western massachusetts — well, it hollows you from the inside, from way down low to up where the howls come out.

it hurts.

more than anything you’ve ever had to do.

because all summer you’ve been hearing folks joke about how this is the last time your big brother will spend much time hanging around these parts. geez, they’re even bequeathing you his room — bedroom with bath — up at the bend in the stairs. that sure must mean this goodbye is for good. no one scores a sink and shower unless this deal is for keeps. and someone just handed you your big brother’s hand-me-down washcloth, and said, “congrats, you’ve got your own crash pad now.”

so deep in the darkness of the day when the old wagon rolled down the alley, hooked a right, in the direction of the eastern seaboard and that leafy college, you couldn’t help but let the tears fall freely. you couldn’t help the sounds that came from deep down low, where all the sadness dwells.

you couldn’t keep from saying the words your mama will never ever forget, the very definition of love, spelled out in wails and tears:  “he’s the perfect prescription for a tough time.”

he is, indeed.

that big brother, with his kooky mix of tenderheart-slash-rocky-balboa inspirations, and a stable of 96 spot-on accents and impersonations from all around the globe and comedy central’s backstage, he is the perfect prescription.

for plenty of moments in the mixed-up files of a 12-year-old who’s just moved back to a place that looks familiar but in fundamental ways will never be the way it used to be. and who can’t shake the haunting echoes of a place — and people — you came to love and miss each and every day, all banging noisily about your heart.

as you try to find your way, once again.

but there’s one other thing about the sounds your mama heard the other night, a sound she recognized right away, and will not forget: it sounded deep-down hollowed-out, the cry let loose from human hearts standing at the precipice of unfathomable canyons.

canyons that offer two options: find a way to get across, or stand there wailing till the end of time.

it’s a canyon and a sound that she remembers.

she wailed it, night after night, in the long nights after her papa died, when she could not for the life of her figure out how she’d travel forward, find her way through the maze, without her papa’s star light and shoulder to lean on.

indeed, my sweet boy cried out, in that haunting mournful tone that makes the hairs on your neck bristle.  thank God, no one died. but someone left.

and leaving feels awful.

when you’re only 12, and you’ve not had much practice at learning to go forward, to find your way, without the shining light — and secret handshake — of the ones you love the most.

i could have let the picture do the talking here today. says it all, pretty much. a little one whose arms do not want to let go, little one holding tight, and big one giving it one last blast of gusto. we’re doing what we can to keep the little guy afloat. a flotilla of scrambly 7th-graders sure helps. and platters of sparkly cookies, winking out from under glass domes, they help too. this was the year it hit the little guy the hardest. and it’s with his explicit permission, by the way, that i was allowed to try to write this, to put in words a love that shakes me to my core. we’re double-blessed — in the boy department and far beyond. and the little guy will be all right. his heart will grow even wiser as he finds his way, and discovers that miles don’t really get in the way of two hearts that pump to the same beautiful song. 

how have you gotten through your hardest goodbye?

home. amid a host of tugs and pulls and squeaks from far corners.

moving boxes...

dispatch from 60091 (in which, except for invasion of colonies of critters with matchstick-sized legs, i attempt to nest in solitude, with a few elephant-sized distractions…)

i’ve waited 18 months for this. to have unpacked the mountain of moving boxes. to have tiptoed room-to-room, inhaling the musty scent of home. to be tucked up against my old maple table, with the morning sun draped across the slabs. my old chipped coffee mug at the ready, inches from the keyboard.

i’ve waited for the tick and tock of our grandpa’s clock. to hear the morning song of birds, my birds, my flocks, rising up and rolling in from the jungle that is my overgrown garden. i’ve waited and waited.

to be home, and going nowhere.

alas, it hasn’t exactly been a week of lolligagging and tossing back bonbons in a tub of bubbles.

the night before i zipped the last of the home-bound suitcases, back in 02139, i got word — make that, news flash — from my hilarious friend who spent the year here holding down the fort. she’d ducked into the wee bathroom off my writing room (the old garage, long ago turned into maid’s quarters, how apt that i now dwell there…), and there, dozing atop a feather bed of nibbled toilet paper bits, a nice fat chipmunk. only it wasn’t sleeping. it was, um, dead. and had chosen a basket filled with toilet paper rolls to be his final resting place.

she spared me pix of the kerplunked critter, and instead sent me a dramatic close-up of just how adept chipmunks are at making bedclothes out of the tissue paper with a purpose.

i considered myself fair-warned.

which is why, once half across the country, once the cat, the boy, the three fat suitcases and i were greeted at the baggage depot by my fair mama and ferried home, i tiptoed with trepidation into that wee room. i scanned for paw prints, wee paw prints, everywhere a furry thing might scamper. i scanned, too, for the caraway-seed-sized deposits they always leave behind.

i found them.

abundantly.

piled high and thick atop the baby blankets i had so neatly folded and tucked into a basket back in the corner. must have seemed the perfect lullaby land for all the baby chipmunks (and judging from the pile, there was a bumper crop of baby chipmunks). i did not scream. i merely long-jumped from the room, slammed the door, and decided to deal with it in the morning.

long story, short: $500 later, my new best friend joe, the jesus-believing critter control apostle, arrived on the scene, armed with coyote urine, ammonia crystals and wheelbarrows of cement. not a poison to be found, bless his benevolent heart. just some serious deterrents for re-entry to the chipmunks’ underground metropolis, the one they dug in vast array beneath the concrete slab upon which the old garage was built.

that’s the story of the first-floor critters. upstairs, in all the drawers where soaps and cottonballs were stored (note the past tense), another branch of the Rodentia family (the ones with long skinny tails and appetite, apparently, for european scrubs) had made themselves quite at home. why, it was a veritable carnival of critters, all with matchstick legs and the itty-bittiest pit-a-pats the world has ever known. they’d run amok undetected for lord knows how many months. (they don’t exactly blow trumpets announcing their arrival.)

and, oh, they served as such a rousing welcome committee. (i was roused, all right!)

but all that, truly, fades in the narrative arc of this long week.

the heart of the matter is that one long dark night this week i sat alone in my long-awaited bed fielding phone calls from my firstborn who was spending the night in an ER 1,000 miles away, getting IV painkillers pumped into his veins (neck and head pains, all tied back to a broken neck in the eighth grade, when he somersaulted over his handlebars swerving from — get this — a chipmunk who’d dashed across his bike trail).

and that’s only the half of it. my little one, the brave one who boarded a plane to germany a mere 48 hours after whirling in the door, a trip he’d long awaited, a trip for which he’d spent the year studying with his german tutor, he’d gotten sick as a dog on the flight across the atlantic, and 24 hours after de-boarding the plane was still upchucking in his new german bathroom. i was getting emails from the teacher, updating me on just what shade of green he was sporting, hour by hour.

when you are 11, and 4,538 miles from home, and you’ve been tummy-rumbling in volcanic proportions for a good 36 hours, you really truly desperately deeply through-and-through want one of two things: a.) to catch the next plane home, or b.) to have your mama sky-dive from the clouds.

thus, you do what any thinking person would do: you pick up the phone, and dial in your request.

and your mother, on the far side of the globe, hearing the whimper in your voice, imagining just how wretched it must feel to have wretched straight across the ocean, she kicks into high mama gear: she drops to her knees, points eyes heavenward, and unfurls the litanies of prayer reserved for just such moments.

she smacks herself upside the head for letting such a little guy go in the first place. she calls on angels, saints, random trumpet players, anyone and anything who might come charging to the rescue, to barrel up the hill and storm the ramparts.

she tries everything she can humanly think of. she pounds out “this i believe” treatises, reminding the little fellow just how brave he is, and just how valiantly he has conquered a host of uphill battles: the sleepover on wrigley field, the two-week summer camp in the deep dark mosquito-infested woods of michigan, the whole dang city of cambridge, massachusetts. heck, he even weathered a whomping case of scarlet fever and pneumonia when he was just a wee young thing.

the boy can do it.

he is, i often remind him, the egg that wouldn’t take no for an answer. while all the other eggs could not make it out of the roundhouse and chug up the mountain, that little guy was the one egg who made the climb, who was born in a shaft of pure white light at 3:22 one hot august morning, to a mother who defied logic and medical tomes, clocking into the maternity ward at 44 years, eight months and five days old.

on the off-chance that my sweet boy is tucked under the puffy covers in munster, reading these words from glowing screen, i have five words and a comma for you: you can do it, sweetie.

i love you higher than the moon and wider than the oceans. you have angels, saints, mamas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, uncles, aunts and a big brother all pulling for you. we’ll make sure you are pumped up with dramamine for the swift ride home. and we’ll be waiting at the airport with double-time hearts and wide-open arms. we’ll pull you to our thumping hearts, and keep you home all summer. we’ll even ply you with fresh-squeezed lemonade and oatmeal-raisin cookies. we’ll let you stay up late and sleep till lunchtime, if that’s the way you like it. we’ll whip up a welcome home parade, and make you grand marshal and chief potentate. i won’t even make you pluck your dirty socks off the floor. (not for the first hour, anyway….)

you will have triumphed over the latest in your long litany of championship makers. you are some boy, you glorious sweet soul, you who always says, “yes! i want to see the world!”

it’s right before your eyes. take it in, sweetheart. then hurry home. so we can all chase chipmunks hither and yon and all around the garden, one big happy reunited family. home sweet home, at last. oh, sweet lord, at last.

so that’s the news from the homecoming committee. shoulda known that you can’t go away for 10 long months and not expect a bump or grind upon return. 

question of the week: what words of wisdom would you impart to a wee lad far from home, and weathering a whopper case of travel bugs…..

the days when we drop to our knees

days when we drop to our knees

dispatch from everywhere, as there are no geographical boundaries today. we are a world united in pain…

there is so little to say today. words escape what we hold in our hearts. if there is anything left in our hearts, anything other than oozing, breath-taking pain.

we ache today. throb.

throb, as we dare not glance at the screen. throb for the children. throb for the ones who love them. loved them.

lord, God, bless them, the ones who are gone now, the ones who watched, who heard, who lived an unimaginable hell.

lord, God, bless every last everyone torn by this terrible moment in time.

i had no notion that i would be writing these words today. i was riding the T this morning, or was it the brink of afternoon, when the first words shot across my pocket-sized screen. “school shooting in connecticut.” the numbers rose each time a new email dropped. 2, then 18, then 20, then 30.

i have flimsy grasp on the details, because i couldn’t bear to look. couldn’t bear to read a word. but i watched the president brush away tears. and that’s more than enough to begin to grasp.

i’ve spent the week with a brilliant three year old, and her brand-new just-unfolding baby brother, a soul-filling interlude that swept me away from the cares of the world, that kept me enchanted inside the glimmering veil of a world without horrors.

i can barely begin to fathom the five-year-olds in that kindergarten, the children’s garden gone ugly, gone utterly wrong.

on a day like today you abandon whatever it is you thought you needed to do.

you need do nothing but inhale the sacred all around you. you need do nothing but tell the ones you love how fiercely you love them.

and when they come home at the end of the day, or however you reach them, you tell your children in no uncertain words that they are your breath and your life, and you’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe, to shield them. and under your breath, inside your heart, you’ll know that you can’t.

you know that in 20 some bedrooms this morning, mothers or fathers were waking up children. were kissing their heads. were scrubbing their cheeks, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. were putting out breakfast. were trying to get them to hurry along, tie their shoes, change their orange-juice-stained shirt, remember their mittens. dropping them off at the curb. thinking they’d see them again. hear the chatter, again and again, from there in the back, from their car seats. these were children still strapped into car seats.

these were babies. not far from the womb.

the cries and the questions that rise from our hearts, they come without answers…

these are the days when, as much as you possibly can, you erase whatever was on the calendar.

once the cloak of night falls, you gather the ones you love in the tightest circle you can. you kindle lights. you steam up the kitchen windows, with whatever is hot, is delicious, is fumbling toward comfort.

you close your eyes and open your heart in unfiltered prayer.

you pray for this world. you pray for the children, the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters. the ones who are lost now, forever lost.

it’s all we can do.

there are no words. and whatever else we thought mattered, it really doesn’t. not at the end of this very long day.

dear God, bathe us in some shard of light, break through the shadow and fog of despair. deliver us from this evil.

this was not the dispatch i planned to write today, though the one i was going to write would have been called, “the days we don’t tell our children about.” which would have been eerily fitting. sad thing is, the children will know. the horror will seep out in this news-porous world, where headlines can’t be kept from young minds, and tender souls. much happened this week, but it will have to wait for another day. baby milo was born, and i beheld the miracle of watching his mama fall deeply in love all over again. i was there in portland when he arrived, was standing there at the door at just after midnight when my brother and becca waddled out, knowing he was coming. not knowing it would be in less than an hour.

and that’s not the only occasion of this week. the chair turned six on 12.12.12. i marked it by sending a love note to the beautiful boy who first built the chair and the table, who told me i could do it, and left me alone to try. i told him he’d brought me an infinite bundle of the best my life has given me. 

and none of that is what holds our attention as afternoon is shadowed by nightfall. i can’t quite come up with words on a day like today. so i’ll trust, as always, that here at the chair we are joined at heart and in words hurling toward heaven….

how will you hold the ones you love tonight? at our house, it’s shabbat, and the challah awaits. so too the menorah, where tonight all but one candle will burn. 

the courage to come back. one last time.

i went back to my old hospital, children’s memorial in chicago, on a sunny sunday afternoon this past weekend, for what was billed as a “closing ceremony” for families who had had a child die there. the old hospital is coming down soon, and before its nine stories are crumbled to a pile of shattered bricks and twisted rebar, the hospital’s biggest hearts and best minds understood that those families needed a chance to say goodbye to a cornerstone of their life story, no matter how dark the chapter.

it was a story and a moment i had to honor. as a nurse i was there for my beloved troupe of kids, the ones who died on my watch: julie joiner, a girl i loved, a girl who had cancer in her spine, and who, lying flat in her hospital bed, once made me a papier-mache pumpkin head and painted it green. she called me her “irish pumpkin queen.” and did i mention i loved her dearly, still think of her, still remember the gift it was to be her nurse? i was there, too, for joe, and for pebbles, and for jeffery, and for denise, and even for the kids i loved whose names i don’t remember. i was there for their mothers and fathers, who allowed me to care for and to love their children, straight through to their dying breaths.

i was there as a writer, too, because over all these years i have learned that words are the finest instruments i can reach for as i carry on my nurse’s promise: to shed light where there is darkness, to hold up the human spirit, and to aim to heal through whatever form love flows. here is the story i wrote. even though it won’t run through printer’s ink in any newspaper, sharing it here is rich enough for me.

By Barbara Mahany

Most of all, it took courage.

Even before they got there, it took courage to scribble the date and the time and the event — Closing Reception for Bereaved Families — onto the calendar.

It took courage to get on the plane in New York or Arizona, or to climb in the car or the pickup truck in Iowa or Highland Park or Tinley Park, and head back to the corner of Lincoln and Fullerton and Halsted streets in Chicago, where for 130 years, Children’s Memorial Hospital has stood, a brick-and-mortar reminder to everyone who walked or drove by that it is not to be taken for granted that children are full-cheeked, and blessed with mops of hair, and can romp in the sunshine.

To go back there, to go back to the place where you heard your child’s last breath, where you held that child in your arms one last time, or kissed him or her on the forehead, or where you crumpled over their lifeless body, is to open a deep dark vault of pain and emptiness that never goes away.

And so, once there at that unforgotten place, you could see the courage it took just to push the “8” button on the elevator of the parking garage, to get to the rooftop on a sun-soaked Sunday afternoon domed by a blue sky pocked with puffy clouds.

You could see it in the faces of the mothers who looked as if they held back a seawall of grief. You could see it in the way a grown son wrapped his arm tight around his mother’s shoulders as they strolled down Lincoln Avenue and turned in at the parking garage, or the way a father clenched the hand of his wife, and leaned hard against the glass. You could see it as the mother in big dark sunglasses squeezed her grown daughter’s hand so tight her knuckles blanched white.

For the 350 or so mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all from families who had had a child — a newborn, a toddler, or a highschooler — die at Children’s, it took a rare brand of courage to come back, one last time, to whisper yet another goodbye.

This time, though, the goodbye was to the building that, for many, had been etched into their darkest memories — the floorplan all but memorized, the steps from the nurses’ station to the door of the room still known by heart, the view out the window frozen in their mind’s eye. Even the nubby fabric of the seats in the chapel, those are the details of a dying and death that are never forgotten.

“One of our first concerns when we started making plans to move to the new hospital was the bereaved families,” explained Kristin James, director of the hospital’s Heartlight bereavement program, which provides support for at least two years to the families of any child who dies at Children’s. (The name of the program, she says, came from a mother who said her heart “went black” when her child died, and not until she met another bereaved mother did she feel the light again.)

“Children’s represents a time, a moment, a chapter. It’s part of their child’s history,” James, a family therapist, continued. “For some of those children, their whole life was spent here. For some, just a few hours. Either way, this becomes a sacred space. So, for some of our families, closing this building felt like a whole other loss.”

She went on: “Children’s is not contained within walls, it’s not limited to a space. Those children who died here, those memories, they are coming with us to the new hospital. It’s very important for the families to know that we carry those children in our hearts.”

And so, some 2,000 invitations were mailed back in March to each family whose child had died there in the last 12 years. Through word of mouth, even the family of a girl who died in 1932 responded. Every day for weeks, James said, dozens of those families have called, just to retell their story, just to make sure all wasn’t lost.

Because until moving day — Saturday, June 9, when the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago officially opens — the Lincoln Park hospital was still treating children on its medical and surgical floors, in its intensive care units and emergency rooms, the “closing ceremony” was held on the rooftop of the parking garage across the street, looking onto the concrete-and-blue-tile tower, just below the helicopter pad where the sickest and most critically injured children have been airlifted over the decades.

Purple tulips and blue hydrangea, tucked into silver cups, teetered on tabletops in the afternoon’s wind. Chimes clanged. And the elevator doors began to open and close, ferrying the somber families.

“It’s 31 years; it’s never left me, you know,” said Charlene Wexler, whose then-12-year-old son, Jeffery, died of leukemia on Sept. 11, 1981, and who pulled from her purse a clutch of snapshots of the full-cheeked boy who once had a shock of jet black hair. She was shaking, and already dabbing at tears as she filled out the name tag, and wrote the name “Jeffery,” after the word, “Remembering…”

“It’s like I can play everything back,” she said, as she began to pull story after story from her memory. She hadn’t been sure she’d be able to make the trip back to Children’s, she said, but her husband urged her, and her sister and brother-in-law met her there.

“Our tears are our trophies,” said the brother-in-law, Jack Segal, as he wiped one off his cheek.

Not far away, another mother, standing in line for a cup of water, didn’t even try to brush away her tears.

“Why come? I had to come. How could you not come?” said Barbara Pinzur, whose son, Brett, was just five days old when he died in the neonatal intensive care unit, back on May 22, 1994. He had been born with three, not four, chambers in his heart, and just the week before the closing ceremony, Pinzur, of Highland Park, said she opened his baby box. She pulled from her purse the card the NICU nurses had sent after Brett died.

“It’s incredible that the hospital remembered all of us,” Pinzur said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Your child didn’t die for no reason.’ A child dying has to have an impact on somebody — a nurse, or a doctor — to do more, to do better.”

And so, after the reciting of the children’s names, and the tinkling of chimes, and the reading of a poem or two, the mournful bagpipes of the Emerald Society shattered the near silence of the rooftop crowd.

One by one, the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends, dipped itty-bitty wands into vials of bubbles, and exhaled. A cloud of iridescent spheres up and wafted across the rooftop, out over Lincoln Avenue, and toward the place where so many children have died.

At last, a smattering of smiles broke across the sea of somber faces. One of the mothers ran to the rooftop’s concrete half-wall, pulled out a camera and tried to capture one last snapshot. And just as the camera clicked, the bubble exploded and was no longer.

-30-

the photo above was taken on the hospital’s parking garage rooftop, and the magnificent city skyline is the backdrop to a red jewel crabtree that will be planted in a park across from the old hospital’s site. families were invited to fill out a tag with a name or a memory, and hang it from the branches. when the tree is planted, the tags will be buried at its roots, so that the families always have someplace, some sacred place, to come back to. 

all at once

before i was barely awake, before i’d lifted that first cup of wake-up to my thirsty lips, i was reaching for the red-polka-dot binder that has long been my guide through days like today.

after 20 years — that’s 20 passovers and 20 high holidays, 20 purims and 20 briskets with latkes aplenty — i’ve stuffed so many road guides into one fat pocket, that all i need do is flip to the itty-bitty tag marked “jewish holidays” and a whole chorus of voices rises up, whispers, cajoles, reminds, takes the pan from my hand and shows me the right way, her way, of course.

oh, there’s grandma syl in there, and audrey, my adopted jewish mother. there’s jan’s mom with her working-girl’s-guide-to-making-a-seder. and harlene’s mom with her now famous brisket. why, the whole los angeles times test kitchen is stuffed in that slip, weighing in with their rendition of noodle kugel, though not the one i’ll use today.

i’ve got the rabbi’s wife’s gefilte fish, step-by-step on a yellow legal pad, back from the day i spent at her side in her kitchen, sloshing and dunking those fish balls just the way she instructed. and, scribbled on a paper napkin not too many pages later, i’ve got the matzo balls that ina pinkney, one of chicago’s great jewish mamas, insisted, in her much-above-the-din stage whisper, would keep my hubby happy forever. so far, so good.

they are my chorus, my girls, my back-up squad, there for me every time i, irish catholic as the day is long, tiptoe into the kosher kitchen to make like a bubbe.

and today, the climb is a steep one. i’ve got to crank out a kosher-for-passover kugel for 10, one that calls for farfel, 6 cups, doused and swimming in 6 cups hot water. mind you, i’ve never touched a box of farfel, let alone taken it swimming.

but i’ve got to get it all done, signed, sealed, awaiting delivery, by noon.

because today is an all-at-once day of supreme proportion.

in addition to being the first night of passover, it is the somberest day in my book: it’s good friday, and i am biologically wired for silence from noon to three, when the sky will go dark, will rumble, when the whole world — just watch, i always tell my boys — will weep for the long-ago death of jesus there on the cross.

it’s a full plate today, yes indeed, and right through the weekend, as the holiest of days unfold flat atop the retelling of the exodus, the action-filled story of moses leading his people — our people — out of egypt, across the red sea and on into the promised land.

it’s a story whose retelling for more years than i’ve been married has pulled me to the tables of crowds now synonymous with the seder. i’ll be back at the seat at the tables where i’ve sat single, and newly engaged, where i was a new bride, then a pregnant one, and, for all the years after, the mother of one boy then two who were growing up as i now am: weaving their jewish and catholic stories into one unbreakable braid.

but, far back as i can remember, the first night of passover hasn’t fallen on what we call good friday, a name that always prompts my boys to ask, “why is it good if jesus died?”

good question; one, like so many, that’s hard to answer. but when you raise your children jewish and catholic you get used to that; there are many good questions hard to answer, so you get used to thinking aloud.

fact is, i’ll be scrambling all morning, groping my way through this roadmap of a recipe for johanna’s farfel-soaked noodle kugel. it’s a recipe that melts me into a puddle of kosher-for-passover butter because, without even closing my eyes, i can see my little one, his arms still chubby in that baby-fat way, reaching across the table, grabbing for the spoon, because it was perhaps the first exotic thing he ever loved. and, oh, he loved it. and after so many years of watching him love it, spoon it high onto his plate, and gulp it down, i finally managed to get the recipe from johanna. and today i tiptoe into the land of farfel.

it’ll be out of the oven, if all goes as planned, by the time the clock strikes 12.

that’s when i’ll be up in my window seat, with all my holy books spread around me.

already i am achingly missing my usual companion in that sun-soaked window nook: for all of his high-school years, my firstborn joined me, though it never took long for him to slide down under a blanket and doze, while i drank in the stories, retracing the stations of the cross, jesus’ long cruel walk to calvary.

but we were together, he and i in silence, and even though my open wounds of missing him have healed over plenty, even though i can get through a week without hearing even a syllable of his voice, today, in the silence, i will miss him.

i keep saying  — and it’s true — grief is like that. for long unbroken spells of time, you’re just fine, used to someone you love no longer being around, but then, out of the blue — a sound, a smell, a thought — it hits you like an anvil over the head — or is it the heart? — and there you are oozing in the wide-open emptiness that just might swallow you whole.

might be fitting, come to think of it, that on this day of remembering — remembering the exodus, remembering jesus’ last hours, and most of all his last gasp of holy forgiveness — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” — i should spend a solid few hours aching for my faraway firstborn son, as i absorb once again the afternoon of shadows.

and then, well before sundown, i will slide my farfel-soaked kugel off the counter, and carry it back to the passover table whose story i now know by heart.

it’s the way i’ve come to know it on days like this, all-at-once days, guided as ever, by my chorus of cooks stashed there in the polka-dot binder.

here’s all i managed to scribble, on a pink sheet of paper, marked “Johanna’s Kugel”:

6 cups farfel

6 cups water, soak up &…[i am giving you these notes precisely as i scribbled them, thus you can see the holes in my roadmap]

6 eggs — beat 1st, then add

2/3 c. sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar

3-1/2 t. cinnamon

1-1/2 t. salt

9 Tbsp oil

6 apples

lemon juice

mix. bake 350 degrees. 35-40 minutes.

and now, you too, can swim in the land of waterlogged farfel

how will you spend these holy days? 

season of the mournful cry

it gives you goosebumps when, say, you are meandering down the lane, and suddenly through the leafy canopy above, you hear the song of your heart raining down from the heavens.

what i mean is it’s been happening all week, for a string of weeks. i am out attending to the nooks and crannies of my life, my garden, the here-to-there of chores and errands and putting one foot before the other.

i am likely sifting through the shadows of my heart, my ache, my longing, and there it comes, the piercing. the minor key, the dissonance, the trumpet blasts of geese in Vs, far above the trees.

they punctuate the sky, the gray september sky. they punctuate the flight. and with it, my own mournful song.

this is the season of migration, of winged flight, of thousands of miles of flapping wings, and honking siren’s call.

the snow geese, the canadian geese, turn and return, from cold north woods, to far-off warmer climes.

and as they pass on high, they cry out to me. and i in turn return the call–though silent. my mournful song has no melody, and its verse i keep inside. some sorrows, best kept hushed.

i have always, though, found company, found solace, in the geese’s call. it is but one of the dark notes of autumn that draw me in, that take me to a deeper place, the cove of meditation.

and this autumn in particular it is as if my song, my internal cry, is broadcast from the clouds. the geese cry, they call out, and so i listen, i respond. i reply, stopping in my tracks, taking in their celestial signal.

(i wonder if perhaps the cry of the signal goose is why they call it goosebumps. for that is the thing, the spine-tingling, up-and-down-the-arm-tingling, that happens in an instant when that one long note makes its way down, down, spiraling from above to the inner crevice of my heart.)

i hear the lonely goose, and i understand its story. i embrace the mournful cry.

God’s world is at one with me.

and how blessed are we, we who live beneath the arc of flight, to take in the sorrowful song of the V that etches ’cross the sky.

how blessed are we, when, at oddest hours, just beyond the dawn, or in the cloak of nightfall, we hear the trumpet blast rain down.

i am not one to run and hide from shadow, from sadness. i say bring it on, the whole orchestra of heart sound, the light, the bright, and, yes, the dark. i find particular company in the darkness. i find much to explore there.

and this september, as my heart is stretched and pulled, and i redefine the rhythm, the verse of my everyday, i am at one with the crying goose who flaps across my frame of sky.

i turn and crane my neck. i scan in search of all the pitch-black Vs. i hear before i see.

and when at last i catch the flapping geometry, when i match song to sight, i lock my eyes. i follow that acute angle till the dull edge of my horizon.

it is a call to prayer for me, this mystical stirring from beyond the beyond.

and so i send up holy whispers, and so i wrap myself in the sacred folds of their heavensong.

be safe, mournful geese, as you cross the globe. bless your brave determined flight.

i hear you, papa goose, as you and i together sing in minor key, the sound of love trying to find its way.

a short bit of musing on this crisp cool day, when pumpkins tug on the vine, and cinnamon bubbles on my stove. i am haunted in the best way by the cry of the geese. i find such comfort in their mournful melody. who else has heard their flight song? who else is stirred by the power of migration? who else finds full glory in all the colors of the rainbow, the light, the dark, and shadows in between? who else is trying to find the way, this september?

learning long-distance

it is as if someone turned out the lights, left me in a room, and told me to find my way out. only, they littered the path with chairs that were tipped, and piles of clothes, and all sorts of stuff that grabbed at my ankles.

and, before i could grope through the dark, i had to plop myself down in front of a box with dials and knobs and whatchamahoolies and try ever so hard to re-calibrate, to find the fine balance, the delicate line, between that place where the signal’s always been clear, been robust, and the newfound somewhere that i’ve never been before: the place where i mother from afar.

and thank God almighty that this particular gymnastic act–the redefining of my place in the life of my faraway boy–is one that comes with trapeze, the safety net of human understanding and forgiveness, and trying again and again to get it right.

so far, it’s been bumpy. on my end, i mean. i’ve klonked into chairs, tripped over clothes. can’t quite find that fine line where my own brand of embracing meets up with the newfound insistence–his insistence, that is–that the boy live his own life, spread his own wings.

and sometimes it catches me chuckling. (truth be told, sometimes it finds me in tears.)

let’s try a tale from the light-note department (or else i’ll be sniffling again): the other noontime, for instance, on what was for my boy the first day of classes.

as i am wont to do on such an occasion, i felt the magnetic pull of the wide rows of candles, the ones tucked into a cove in any catholic church. the ones guaranteed to yank God by the sleeve, and get his wide-eyed attention. or so i’ve believed forever and ever.

in this case, it was the big downtown cathedral that whispered my name, barely a mile from the place where i type. so i up and departed my typing desk, wandered through the big city, down the leafy side streets, and up through the two-ton doors that harbor the chamber where the cardinal and all of his flocks kneel down to pray.

i looked and looked and could not find the single place in any church that most deeply stirs my soul: the vigil lights, the prayer candles, straight tidy rows of beeswax votives, all queued up beside the offerings box. the place where, with the flick of a match, you strike your intentions and watch the smoke and the prayer rise heavenward.

only there were no candles in the cathedral. none that i could find in any nook or cranny. so i headed to the back where the man in the uniform sat (this is new, a security guard for a gold-washed church). i asked if perhaps they’d done away with old-fashioned vigil lights. he uttered not a word, pointed down the nearby stairs.

in the basement? i thought. in the bowels of the cathedral?

not one to argue, certainly not in a church, i did as instructed (even if the instructions came without words) and down i tiptoed, wary of what i might find there at the bottom.

lo and behold, the shiny stand of candles stood. only they weren’t candles. and there were no matches. this was, after all, the big bad city, and you can’t leave a match unattended. not in the cellar of a church that not long ago suffered a terrible fire.

and so i did what a mama in 2011 would do. i clicked the switch and on popped that battery-operated prayer candle. and, heck, as long as i was going high-tech (and as long as i was alone, down there in the cardinal’s prayer pit), i figured i oughta yank out my blackberry, that squat black box i barely know how to work. i groped till i found the camera icon. then i played along. clicked, and captured the prayer-wafting bulb. long as i was on the high-speed highway, i figured, i might as well send this snapshot off to the boy at the college. and so i did, along with a note that as long as it was tucked in his cellphone, we oughta consider the prayers on active duty.

i laughed as i launched my long-distance prayer light. felt just a wee bit proud of my capacity to bend to circumstances, to adapt. to carry on as i always have. only across area codes, mountain range and ZIP code.

the gulping thing is: the boy was too busy, too deep into college, to let me know that he got it at all. (pretty much, that’s been the case for the whole of the last two weeks. which i’m trying soveryhard to absorb, to roll with, to not let it eat me alive.)

and so i find myself feeling a bit like a schoolgirl, one with a bit of a crush on a boy who’s not paying attention. suddenly, out of the blue, i’m not sure what to say. how often to say it. not inclined to play coy. certainly not with this child i bore, this child i love more than life.

but so downright uncertain. so not wanting to intrude. to ask too much. to bother.

this room that i’m in here, it’s plenty dark. and i find that i’m tripping all over the place.

i am certain, i am, that i’ll find my new rhythm. but right now, right in here, i am learning long-distance. and it is the most uncomfortable patch i’ve known in some time.

it is a truth of life that, as we come round certain bends, we need to re-negotiate even our most heartfelt connections. i had a blurry sense that it might be hard to be so far away from the boy that i love, and i knew his landscape was meant to be one without me. but i hadn’t quite realized there’d be this layer of not knowing how to be, where to be, not wanting to barge in, but not wanting to vanish altogether.

you who’ve been down this road, how did you find your way. you who are along on this journey, do you find it’s a dance for which you’ve got two left feet, as they say? some say it’s as simple as learning how to text. you can send off quick “how you?”s, and get immediate one-word replies. some say it gets better once they come home for a visit and you realize some things never change. but right in here, i feel like i am teetering at the edge of a cliff. and the rumbling in my tummy gives me an ache……

suddenly, one

and thus began a new chapter. one boy stayed behind. one boy climbed in the back seat of the car, buried his head in my lap, and silently sobbed.

off and on for 20 minutes.

till the big basketball rose into the sky.

yes, just off the highway, midway between that college goodbye and the airport that would launch three of us home, there stands what might as well have been a holy mirage in the driest desert: the basketball hall of fame, for cryin’ out loud. a shrine with every michael jordan shoe ever worn by that almighty hoopster. a three-layer cake of hoops and balls and courts and baskets.

if you ever need to salve the broken oozing heart of a young boy who lives to romp the courts, be sure to send your other kid to college just down the lane from the b’ball hall of fame.

indeed, the tears dried, the smile slowly crept across his face, not less than 10 minutes after stepping in the sky-high dome. basketball can do that. so too can video clips of MJ turning every imaginable basketball gymnastic impossibility known to man or gods.

but beyond all the baskets and balls, there was something else that stirred. and right away.

it was sudden, the shift i felt deep down inside, once the four of us, became the three of us. once the car door slammed, and it was just the three of us inside, while the fourth — the blessed fourth — ambled off to inhale his college life.

and ever since, all week, i’ve been washed over — again and again — with the knowing that it’s there, this certain something: it’s as if the little one, the one who could not imagine a world without his brother, it’s as if he got a long deep drink of water, and he is now a sturdy-stemmed flower, basking in the garden of his parents’ pure undivided attentions.

i could almost feel the vacuum seal, the way his heart slid deeper into ours. all week, i’ve watched him move with purpose. he has risen, grown, become the big brother in ways i’d not have guessed. he is taking out the trash, putting plates in sinks. he is 10 minutes early for the school bus. he is sitting down and working hard on homework. he is leading prayers at dinner, holding forth at dinner table conversation.

he’s unfurling right before our eyes.

and we, at last, are undivided. for the first time in this child’s life, he is getting us all to himself. and i have suddenly remembered how it is to be the parent of an only child. we had practice.

for eight long years we were once the parents of just one boy. and early on we figured out how to do that geometry. we did it wholeheartedly, with eye toward making our firstborn’s a family that expanded beyond just our walls. but within our walls we paid deep and pure attention to that child’s heart, his mind, his soul.

rather swiftly this week, i was struck: we might be better parents when we are tending only one. we tend to do it rather intensely, rather purposefully, and this was, after all, the paradigm that we first forged. it’s what we once knew by heart. and maybe it’s never lost.

oh, lord, that’s not to say in any way that we’ve left boy no. 1 stranded on the roadside, there in collegeville.

(of course, he couldn’t have seemed more eager to shake us off, to get to the business of making friends, of immersing himself in college life. he even apologized if it seemed he was in a hurry to say goodbye, “it’s just that i’ve waited my whole life to get here,” he told me, and i wholly understood. and never mind that all week, while friends regale me with tales of kids who text, oh, 100 times a day, we’ve received ONE phone call — and that was “mom, do you know where you put the sewing kit? i just popped a button on my shirt and i need to meet my academic adviser in EIGHT minutes?”)

it’s just that the shift here on the homefront is wholly unexpected, wholly rich, and i can think of no greater calling than to reach deep down inside a little someone’s soul and breathe holy purpose into it.

which is how it feels to once again be tending to a blessed child who has long dwelled on the shadowed edges of his big brother’s size 12 footprint.

so while the realization that the older one is gone sinks down deeper, while each and every dawn the missing him grows more, as i awake and count the days since i’ve seen him, i am at the same time finding my way in the hunger i am here to sate in his little brother.

they say God closes one door and opens a window.

my job as mother to a college boy has barely just begun, and i am certain it will fill whatever crate or carton we must fill, but for now, i am discovering the open window that is my blessed little boy. one who will need his mama at his side for, oh, eight sweet years to come.

we never know, no matter how hard we try to imagine, what’s around the holy bend of this blessing we call life.

and around my bend, i’ve wrapped my arms ‘round a little traveler who’s cuddled up close beside me.

bless us all on this journey….

i know there are other mamas and papas out there finding their way along this unknown path. i know there are mamas and papas who are taking their last child off to college, and as one of those mamas said to me this week: “you think it’s hard taking your first to college, try taking your last.”
i can’t imagine.
but the point of this meander, i suppose, is the wholly unexpected gift of deeper purpose i’ve already discovered in mothering my little one. anyone else ever step into the impossible-to-imagine and discover within something wholly blessed?