In the last few weeks, the why question has come up every day. It really is a foolish question. Honestly, outside of a scientific topic there is rarely a good answer for “Why?” If I could say why a vibrant, kind, friend succumbed to multiple myeloma last week, don’t I also need to know why the shell of a nasty ancient relative remains alive in a nursing home? This is complicated, and our hearts yearn for simple answers that we can wrap in tidy packages, secure with twine, and pack away, so that we can go on with our daily tasks without interruption.
I know there are many parents out there, struggling mightily–some with why they were the lucky ones, others with why they weren’t, and more with a loss of innocence and safety that they and their children once felt. Once you allow the truth to get past your close-to-home-filter, beyond the most recent tragedy, you see that overwhelming numbers of children’s lives are stopped far too early, one by one, by stray bullets in inner cities, accidents in the home, disease, and wars that are happening right this minute.
Why one and not another? Why not me or mine? Those questions breed fear, guilt and anxiety. While they appear to offer ‘closure’ and explanations that would allow people to move on, in reality, they help no one. They deceive us into searches where there are no answers.
There is a piece of this struggle that I enjoy, and it is admittedly dark. The sadness that sits heavy in the chest and stomach is a message to pause and take it all in, not try to run away or put on blinders. It provides contrast to the happy and sweet that is all we are supposed to want out of life, but that would really leave us empty if it were the whole picture.
This discomfort will be there whether you welcome it in or bolt your door and pile the furniture against it. It will be there whether you acknowledge it and feel the sensations you body has to offer, or you numb yourself and turn off all experience, good and bad. It will stay whether you are quiet and still or manufacture constant busy-ness.
What are we afraid of? That the world is not safe? It has never been. That we or our loved ones may die prematurely? No guarantees there. That we cannot protect our children from harm? It’s, sadly, a fact better learned sooner than later in the parenting journey. We can only do our best, in a very imperfect world.
Perhaps instead we should fear dying without fully embracing what we have been given, wasting precious time that seems to move more quickly with each passing year. Time spent running from things and hiding, barricading the door, that could have been used to plant a garden, hold hands, or bask in the awesome intensity of it all.
Instead of living in the illusion that we are all powerful, and demanding of ourselves a control over the universe that we do not have, we can let the waves crash in, without judgment–some unbearably sad, horrible or frightening, and some unbelievably joyful, pleasurable and silly. We can see that it all swings like a pendulum, from one place to another, unless we choose to grab onto something with all our might to try to stop the motion (which never ends well). Always always moving and changing, even though our minds try to trick us into thinking each moment potentially bears the stamp of forever.
When the bad things happen, instead of hiding, stiffening up and resisting, we can be there, open, empathic, and attentive, which is perhaps the most powerful thing we have to offer. No matter how hard we try to prevent them, no matter how good we are as people and parents, no matter how clever and well meaning and conscientious, they will happen. For those of us and our children who survive them, the question is how. Will we become stronger, more resilient, more grateful, more loving; or more fearful and insulated?
To ride the waves you must be centered and present, give in to the power that you cannot control. To that end, in this new year, I challenge you to welcome yourself without reservations or qualifiers. Instead of guilt, resolutions and self criticism, strengthen your core. Relax into what you have learned, revel in where you are at, and what you have to offer this wondrous and messed up world. Then, take a deep breath and jump into the waves.
The time will come when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you.
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.