My patience yesterday was a loose button on an old coat at the end of a long winter. How’s that for melodrama?
Jonah was home sick, but not all that sick. Sick enough for an ear-check at the doctor (mild infection—probably caused by my trying to get him to blow all the snot out of his sinuses, which he did with such force that I immediately regretted my directive to “blow harder”). Sick enough that he slept in until 7:30 (very irregular) and only wanted to go back to sleep after I woke him. Sick to the degree of 99.7. Sick enough that a promise of healing (Pedialyte) popsicles was made.
But not sick enough that he slowed down much. Not sick enough that he didn’t complain mightily when I told him his iPad time was up. Not sick enough that he and Gabriel couldn’t get into it over who was going to wear which mask (Darth Vader or General Grievous) or who was going to be the bad guy and who was going to be the good guy as they chased each other in circles around the house (every game begun usually ends as a thinly veiled version of Coyote and Roadrunner). By noon I was certain that I would take J to dance at 5:30; a physical respite for all.
Next day I was looking forward to a long morning in front of my computer working at Starbucks. A recovery of sorts. But our friend/G’s babysitter had an unexpected change of plans and was only able to stay a few hours instead of the customary five. I was trying to process this as I pushed Jonah out the door so that I could drop him at school before zooming over to a doctor’s appointment for myself. I was tense, trying to hold back my angry tears.
Vexed. There’s a word for you. When my silent expectations aren’t met, I pretty much embody the meaning of the word—from vexare, to “shake or disturb.” As I drove to the doctor I wondered what my blood pressure would be. I carry my vexation in my shoulders and my neck. My breathing goes shallow. I get tunnel vision. Thank God for my car and NPR. It’s hard to stay mad when listening to a story about a strip of highway that’s closed every night for a week in spring so that car wheels won’t flatten the salamanders and spring peepers migrating to their vernal pool for an underwater sex orgy.
And this small, strange turn in my day made it possible to apprehend—as I sat on the examination table waiting for the doctor and reading a memoir about grief—this passage about time and the way it breaks us open. The first half is from Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, worked into the context of Emily Rapp’s Still Point of the Turning World:
“It’s the middle of the night, but time keeps going on, and it also goes round and around, like the sun and the moon on the tall clock in the parlour. Soon it will be daybreak. Soon the day will break. I can’t stop it from breaking in the same way it always does, and then from lying there broken; always the same day, which comes around again like clockwork. It begins with the day before the day before, and then the day before, and then it’s the day itself…The breaking day.” Time, time, time: our enemy, and the only friend we have. We need it, long for it, fear it, loathe it, dream about it, try to extend it and shrink it.
Coming to peace with “nonaction,” I realized, felt impossible. I was used to doing and moving. Now I was waiting and thinking. Writing. Crawling up over the edge of each breaking day, broken but ready for action. Aching with fear and also brimming with a bright, swollen fearlessness. Fueled by a new ambition: to be still, to consider, to examine. It was against my nature, but my nature was changing. I was living an oddly liturgical life: examining grief with thought, word and, occasionally, a hell of a lot of movement.
We all, to some extent, are broken up like this every day, though our grief may not be as fathomless as Ms. Rapp’s (whose infant son was diagnosed with Tay Sachs). There is always some fear, but also some hope, because most of us do manage to get out of bed most days. As I consider my Lenten journey (or lack thereof) this year, my hope is significantly augmented by this one sentence: “It was against my nature, but my nature was changing.” Though I haven’t been able, haven’t chosen, to make it to as many Lenten services as I’d like, there is still a liturgy to my days—especially if I pay attention, if I accept what’s given rather than fight against it. I only inflict pain on myself and others when I do.
I like to think it possible–that “bright, swollen fearlessness”—a meditative attention amidst “a hell of a lot of movement” (that’s pretty much the definition of life with Gabriel and Jonah). And there’s some things that just can’t be prevented. Like G’s fall from half a flight of stairs (an incarnation of bright, swollen fearlessness). It’s his best shiner yet, and, true to form, he was ready to run ten minutes after he crashed. Jonah’s just inordinately proud of his big hat hair.