The Real, True Dulcie Campbell

It is believed that Plato and his Greek peers at times referred to God as “the really real.”

A few days ago Sophie brought back a picture book from the school library.  It was called The Real, True Dulcie Campbell.  On the cover a young girl in a red, gingham dress stood atop two large barrels of hay.  She clutched a thick, story book to her chest with one hand and a gardening pitchfork in the other.

The book opens: “One Saturday afternoon, when Dulcie Campbell was doing her chores, it occurred to her that a terrible mistake had been made on the day she was born…” Our main character finds herself amidst pig slop and chicken feathers, shoveling straw into a dilapidated chicken coop.  She belongs to a mother who wears “worn-out old bunny slippers” and a father who sports “scratchy whiskers” on his face and cow poop on his boots.  She’s got a brother who  “steals her underpants” and a dog “who sniffs people in embarrassing places.”

The chicken coop and the cow poop and the annoying brother are just a little too much for Dulcie.  So she reads.  She reads to escape.  She reads about princesses in silken gowns and royal thrones.    She figures she must have been switched at birth, right? The real, true Dulcie Campbell doesn’t belong in this mess!  So one day she declares to her family,  one fist poised high to the sky in a gesture of triumph– “I must go now to live the life I was born for!

I’m Dulcie.  Searching for the real me.  Convinced she’s to be found in some castle– perhaps with some prestigious post-graduate degree and a published novel under her belt.      In a home with coordinated vintage decor instead of honey-oak trim and 90s striped wall-paper. I imagine kids who bathe nightly and go to bed after one tuck-in.  I’m Dulcie- and I’m not getting my story from books, I’m getting my story from news feeds and advertisements and constant comparisons.

I’m Dulcie when I’m convinced I must go elsewhere to find my life.  When I search for myself anywhere but here.

But here’s the thing.  Dulcie marches off in her gingham dress and slouched knee socks clutching her book full of fantasies.  She finds herself in a barn-turned-castle and reads and reads.  And she becomes that princess.  And she discovers princesses are put through some crazy shit.  Sometimes they are forced by wicked queens to wear rags and sleep in ashes.  One was poisoned.  Another was locked in a tower.  And as Dulcie lives her fantasy, the barn-turned-castle begins to fill with terrible trolls and ogres– witches and wicked fairies.

But then, an epiphany.

Dulcie stares at all that evil, all that wickedness and says “Hey, wait a minute!”  A pause.  “If I’m not a princess, and I truly am not, then you guys aren’t real either.”  And the barn is a barn again.  Sure- it’s not a palace.  It’s milk pails and rolls of baling wire– it’s syrup stains and dirty socks, daily lesson plans and stacks of crudely written, to-be-graded papers. It’s reality.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

When I see my world for what it is– not for what I fear or hope it could be– it is true, I’m not a princess.  But the reality is that I’m here.  And when I see myself for what I am, I am able to see the monsters for what they are.  And they are milk pails. And dirty socks.  And crudely written papers.  Sometimes the monster is even narcissism or racism or fanaticism.  Or death.  But in the face of the real me, those villains are less villainous.  They are real– yes.  But being grounded in the realness of me has put them in their proper place.

And now– to conclude our story- something beautiful happens.

Dulcie is in the castle-turned-back-to-barn.  Far away, a voice was calling. ‘Dul-cee!  Dulcie Campbell!’  And faster than the West Wind, Dulcie ran out out to the barnyard.  She flew toward the sound of her real, true name.

I want to run to the sound of my real, true name.  I want to leave behind the fantasy of comparison, of earning self-worth, of proving myself to an audience who doesn’t matter. I want to fly toward my real self– faster than the west wind.  I want to return to reality, return to myself.  Because The Really Real is calling my name.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear your name?  Let’s run.

Quotations from The Real, True Dulcie Campbell by Cynthia DeFelice

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Jacob looks at Mae. “She looks older,” he says.  She lies on her back, legs bouncing unintentionally toward the ceiling.  Sharp, happy little coos.  Soft, baby breaths.

Open. Close.


A few days ago Jacob and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. He made pink pancakes shaped like hearts. He was sleepwalking and smelly, his hair in two large, unkempt, Wolverine-like waves.  After pancakes we watched our wedding video.  I saw my 22 year old self– all giggles, bouncing-shoulders, and smiles.  My posture was better then, and so was my tan.  Jacob’s tuxedo jacket hung over him like a blanket.  When Ellie noticed how he had ditched it later on at the reception she asked him, “Where’s your cape?”  Everyone was sweating in that chapel.  Everyone.

We did a lot of: “Wow!  Cousin _______ was only 5 then!  That’s younger than Sophie is now!” And “In another 10 years, Cohen will be 17!”  We watched as Grandpa Bud and Grandpa Joe and Katie took their turns walking down the aisle.  And we missed them.  Once again we marveled at the passing of time.  How a decade can pass by in the time it takes to open and close our eyes.

The day after our anniversary– yesterday– we went to the 100th birthday party for my aunt’s father.  I watched from afar (feeding babies again) as people formed a semi-circle around Mr. Anderson to sing him Happy Birthday.  Their voices were gentle in the large backyard, eventually soft as they found my ears.  They celebrated his life, and he looked at them and he cried.  And I am not sure, but he might have been thinking, “I blinked.  I blinked and here I am.”  And there he was, fully alive in his tears, fully grown into the beauty that is the world.

Open. Close.

Today Jacob got a chance to talk with his own grandparents.  He dropped them off at their house and they talked about Katie, about what life was like before and what it’s like now.  Grandpa Jake took his cane, pointed it fiercely at his granddaughter’s picture, and said in a voice both wavering and strong, “I look at that every day,” and with a pause, “And I talk to her.”  Then he shuffled into the next room.

Everyone concludes it all goes by in a blink.  And the especially wise don’t even say this anymore, perhaps worried that the cliche will steal the sacredness from truth.  I trust this when I hear it.  So I’ve tried something recently.  I take a look at what is around me– Jacob’s back as he lies in bed, Sophie squinting in her smudged glasses, Ellie methodically chewing a grape.  I close my eyes.  I open them.  Slowly- like how an artful cinematographer films someone who is regaining consciousness. I open them and close them, and they are still here.  The people I love.  I blink and something that can only be grace lets me see them even after I re-open my eyes.

Tomorrow morning we will probably look in the mirror.  Or at the sky.  Or in the eyes of a stranger.  Things that were once only coming will now finally be and will one day be no more.  May we see these things.

Open. Close.


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The Crazy

Bedtime– Family room–Sunset.

I’m feeding Everett– he swallows and slurps, his breath loud and content.  Ellie is screaming.  Cohen has taken her white shell necklace, and now he’s lying on the floor refusing to get up, refusing to change into his pjs, and refusing to give back the shells.  Sophie is trying to hold a conversation with Papa Gary on the phone, telling him how her favorite part of art class was making water lilies like Claude Monet and how she’s excited for her Moline birthday party.  She can’t really hear him over all the screams.

The call ends. Ellie has transferred into the land of the inconsolable, and getting upstairs is difficult (understatement) when Everett is eating and Mae prefers to be held as well.  Jacob sucks it up and tells Ellie to grab his neck and to not let go.  He will carry her up the stairs, piggy-back style, with Mae still in his arms.  She grips his neck and her feet dangle.

I finish feeding Everett and find the havoc that is our upstairs.  Ellie is still sobbing, her mouth stretched open so wide her bottom teeth are visible, crying that her nose is runny and she had to stop the boogers with her dress.  Sophie stares at me, head-tilted and twirling her hair, oblivious to her sister, and asks me, “What are you most excited for mama?  To decorate for my birthday or for me to go to art camp?”  Cohen has taken all of his sheets off his bed in order to curl up on his floor.  I convince myself that my decision to not brush teeth tonight is acceptable and does not make us savages.

I deposit Everett in his crib so he can listen to Jacob sing to Mae, and I return to Ellie, who refuses to wear my initial offer of a princess nightgown and reluctantly accepts a hello kitty top instead.  She requests the pacifier we have been trying to give up for months now (but who can deny that wide, crying mouth?) and makes her way into our bed to fall asleep.  I sing her “busy day” and Sophie stands next to us, clutching my neck in the middle of prayers and whispering to me, “What are you more excited for?  Cheerleading practice or art camp tomorrow?”  I answer her and pray some more and lead her to her room.  “Put on some pajamas,” I say, leaving her to stare at her dresser which is somehow still standing even though all six drawers are hanging completely out, waterfalls of underwear and swimsuits, skirts and pants and mismatched socks.  Another baby has started crying, and I pass Jacob in the hallway.  He kisses me hard and his breath smells of coffee and he makes me look him in the eye when he says “The crazy is good.”

I find Cohen still in his clothes. “You’ve got to change into your pjs,” I tell him, “You crawled all over the dirty gymnastics floor in those clothes.”  So he takes off his clothes and collapses naked onto the floor. He’s lying on a bunch of star wars figurines and I tell him he’s the opposite of the princess-and-the-pea.  “Seriously, you want to sleep on top of all those toys?  You can’t feel them??”  And he giggles and says no and finally puts on his underwear himself.  I start to leave his room and he says “Sing to me.”  “Daddy already sang,” I tell him.  “Sing me busy day,” he instructs again, ignoring my response.  So I start to sing about ninja camp and the rain storm and eating macaroni and cheese for dinner.  I start to leave and he says, “Now sing me ‘Love is Deep’ and ‘Amazing Grace’.  So I continue to sing.  I start Amazing Grace in a rush, like I’m stuck in fast forward, but then I’m somehow listening more than I’m singing and I slow down because it seems silly to sing a song about such sweetness when you are in a rush. Soph finds me, clings to my waist and starts to head-butt me in the back, and the moment is over.

I finally take Soph back to her room.  She climbs into her bunk, still in her ketchup-stained shirt from dinner. I tell myself to be okay with this, too.  We will bathe these barbarians tomorrow (Right?).  I pass up a giant stack of books and she requests a few more.  I leave her room, forgetting to sing and give kisses– but decide not to go back in, because she seems okay with that.

Now I’m back in our bedroom, Ellie already totally passed out while I type.  Jacob has finished the last verse of his makeshift lullaby, and all are asleep.

For some reason or another, or perhaps no reason at all, it seems like this year has been rough on people– way more rough than the first-world problems of tonight.  Death and depression, anxiety and sickness, boredom and busyness– sometimes strangely all at once.  I’m not sure why.  Kiss yourself in the mirror with your coffee-breath and whisper it: The Crazy Is Good.  Then hum Amazing Grace until someone head-butts you.

It sure beats not singing it at all.

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Shells and sand

Our last morning of our vacation: we emptied the remaining food from the fridge and stuffed dirty clothes into overladen suitcases.  I gathered up toothpaste and toothbrushes, the girls’ toy ponies, the babies’ receiving blankets.  I watched Cohen ever-so-carefully dump the shells he had collected into a ziplock bag for safe-keeping.  I grabbed a baby and held Ellie’s hand and followed the line of people that was my family down the stairs to where our cars were parked in the driveway.  It was only us and my parents who remained at the beach-house which had held over 20 people for the last week and a half.

The house had been a base for numerous pool games, ping pong matches, and gin rummy tournaments.  The kids would change from their clothes to their swimsuits and back again, moving back and forth from from the ocean, to the sand, to the pool like the waves in which they were splashing.  They ate too much ice cream and too many Cheetos and were giddy to be allowed to drink apple juice with every meal.  I managed to get out one morning to walk along the shore with Everett, his head buried in my chest, a blue sun-hat perched on his head and covering his eyes.  Our family triumphed in an escape room, spun out our tires at a go-kart track, and attempted to keep the kids from not going crazy on a harbor boat tour with chips and hotdogs.  Mostly, I fed babies.  But when the babies ate, I watched my dad laugh with his brothers, shouting out dad-jokes and clapping their hands, chortling with the simple truth that there was no where to be but here–eating ice cream and playing pool– with each other.

Now- the last morning of our trip– nearly everyone had left to return home and its responsibilities: some to Boston, to Virginia, to Maryland– most back to Illinois.  After carrying several suitcases down from our now empty house, in addition to several of the items that failed to fit into suitcases, I watched my dad take a Trader Joes bag to the side of the driveway.  He was by himself, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t know I was watching him as he scooped up some sand to take home, letting it fall through his open palms to the bottom.  He folded up the bag and carefully placed it in the trunk of his car, sliding the excess sand from his hands to indicate the task was complete.  I remembered Cohen and how he packed his shells.

Cohen cried as the last bags were put into the trunk.  “I don’t want to go home,” he hiccuped, letting the tears run down his cheeks. I felt that way too, so I cried with him.  Annie Dillard found vacation weekends with her family so Beautiful it hurt her to watch them start, because she knew that with the beginning would come the end.  Which is silly, but also true.

Now I find myself in the midst of my “tired-thirties”. It seems nearly impossible to find a place in the car for the sand and the shells– let alone savor them. But while I’m here in this middle part of life, there lies just beyond my reach and recollection, a carefree past and wizened future.  And these seemingly opposing forces blur together, not so opposed after all.

Old men will still eat ice cream like kids, and I’ll feel the sand in my hands again.

“When you enter this life, I pray you depart, with a wrinkled face, and a brand new heart.”-U2


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Little and Big

Everett & Mae (or Crush and Maisy as we have taken to calling them) arrived in the world on April 14th, 2016– at the same minute.  Their arrival was anticipated (and delayed) for weeks, if not months.  Contractions all through March, a scheduled induction on the 13th which was pushed to the 14th.  A call in the middle of the night on the 13th saying they needed to push us back yet again (which we ignored).  A decision to have a C-section that was yet again delayed because the operating room was occupied in a birthing unit already operating at full capacity.  About an hour before their arrival, my doctor, a strikingly beautiful and unflappable Indian woman, asked me: “Do you believe in destiny?”  Numb from the waist down and foggy from my epidural, I didn’t know how to answer her. (But really- how can you?)  Before either Jacob or I could find words, she continued “Back in India people believed in destiny.  They would try to schedule their babies to be born at exact times for something like astrological fortune.  But their plans always seemed to be pushed back.  You remind me of them today.”

Destiny did hide in little pockets of the arrival of Everett and Mae– in between the puking and pain killers, the scrubs and the surgery– for some reason (dare I say it?) they both demanded to be born at the exact same minute– 8:55 pm.  It was as if they knew after all that waiting– after the delays and the false contractions and reschedulings– they both knew the best time to arrive was then.  Their near-simultaneous arrival not only surprised the doctors and nurses, but the hospital’s computer system as well– babies had to have a different  birth-minute in order to be entered separately into the system.  But not Everett and Mae- they needed to arrive at 8:55.  It was their destiny.

It’s hard to think about things like destiny when you change approximately 27.2 diapers a day and assign 47.7 time outs and pick up countless bits of paper off the ground because your children are fascinated by making things like tickets to fake movie theaters (eldest) and rose petals (first middle) and making circles (second middle.)  It’s hard to think about destiny when the pacifier falls out at 2:56, and then 2:58, and then 3:02 am from baby #1 and must be replaced when baby #2 hangs precariously from your left arm.  It’s hard to think about the Big Things when the little things continually barrage you– the smelly sheets and the cluttered mudroom and the mac n’ cheese that is getting carried away by the family of ants that has inhabited your kitchen.

But then you go finally get out for a walk and your head is swimming with all those little things and you barely have space to pray “Let me focus on what matters.  Let me say yes to the things that matter and no to everything else.”

And you realize the little things actually ARE or at the very least CAN BE the Big Things in disguise.  Things like Destiny, and Grace, and Love.

Little things like Cohen describing the recipes he wants to make, describing with detail upon detail about the “berry twirls” he learned about on Noodle & Doodle.  His voice still soft and gravelly from his tonsillectomy.  And how I hope he will talk to me like this even when he is older.  The brave way he takes his medicine and is concerned about all the homework he is missing and diligently starts the 10 page packet of word-searches he received (Yep, it’s the end of the school year.)  How his smile is like a beginner’s game of Tetris and how he’s growing like a weed out of his size 7 pants (which you can only hide at the top of his closet when he’s not looking, because he would wear them until he was 30 if we let him)

Little things like Sophie coloring at the table, writing the only words she knows over and over again– words like “I love mom and dad” and math problems she has memorized like “4 + 5 = 9”.  How she draws pictures of roses and tulips and enacts dramas with her ponies.  How– out of all the books at Barnes & Noble– she requests a chapter book with no pictures and says “Can I please read this in my bed tonight??” (Even though- as noted before– the only words she knows are words like Love and Mom and Dad.)  But I guess sometimes those are the only words she needs.

Little things like Ellie saying “poon” instead of “spoon” and “kunk” instead of “skunk” and how she enjoys reading the “crapbooks” instead of “scrapbooks” (Because, as my speech-pathologist friends would say– she hasn’t mastered her “s- clusters” yet.)  How on our date to Starbucks (excuse me– Tarbucks–) she bounces up and down on her knees and eats the top of her blueberry muffin by smashing it in her mouth like a Neanderthal.  How she passes gas and giggles and then gets distracted by a squirrel outside.  How we notice a stunning rainbow as we drive home and pull over and get out of the car so we can see it.  “Let’s take a picture!” I tell her, reaching in my pocket before I remember I left my phone at home.  “Aww darn.  That’s okay,” I tell her, “We can take one with our minds.”  I see her curls and her stained green dress and the round cheeks on the profile of her face.  Her hazel eyes match the greenish gray of the sky.  And then we look at the rainbow and say “click.”

People have recently often asked us “How’s it going?” (the ‘now with 5 kids’ is implied) and I don’t really know how to answer.  The simplest response might be, “Well, it is going.”  Because really, it just goes.  And I mean that in a good way.  Life goes– the night becomes the day again until night replaces day.  And I watch it and I get to be part of it– of the tiny things that are actually Big Things when you think about them.  About how this little life might just be my Destiny.

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Rain and tears

We are getting close.

Closer to diapers and midnight feedings.  Closer to swaddles and newborn cries.  We all feel it, and sometimes the anticipation feels like when both a mother and son recognize the first day of college is sooner than they think , or when a father and daughter know her wedding day approaches.  The anticipation rises and rises and the love we don’t know what do new with in the face of such a new beginning oft presents itself as impatience, frustration, and anxious energy that widdles away at already-shortneed  tempers and overstrung nerves.

Today was a day I could feel the anxiousness rising in all of us– in Ellie’s little punches, in Sophie’s refusal to lose in Candyland, in Cohen’s barreling through his sisters’ carefully created puzzles. All of the anxiousness feels kind of like someone holding your throat or squeezing your chest. We don’t need to be anticipating babies to feel it.  It’s the state of being overwhelmed, of thinking thoughts like “My children will never listen” or “This house will never actually be clean” or “I will never feel rested again.”

That’s the kind of day it was.  A day of thinking about the nevers.

But then we sat down and had soup around the table.  We spilled cheese and pretzels and turned on some music.  We talked about how the ice cream social is coming up at Sophie’s preschool, and I mentioned how Ellie would be attending not just as a little sister this time, but as an upcoming student.  Sophie tilted her head slightly and caught my gaze with her deep, brown eyes.  “So next year,” she said thoughtfully, “I won’t get to see Ellie on her first day….” She paused, “Because I’ll already be at Briargate?”  She ended what began as a statement with a question, and there was sadness in her inquiry. She wouldn’t be there.  With the little sister she’s spent every day with for the past three years– singing and puzzle making and coloring and cavorting with through countless imaginary places.  Ellie would experience something big without her, and she was curious and a little sad about such a change.

And I lost it.  The dam that held everything together through the day– the barrier bound with impatience and anxiety broke– and I melted at the goodness of the love that was Sophie caring for Ellie and Ellie emulating Sophie.  “I’m crying cause I’m happy,” I blubbered as all three kids gave me quizzical looks.  “I’m happy, I’m just so happy you have each other.”  Ellie got out of her chair at the opposite end of the table and ran to give me a hug.  Cohen followed suit and Sophie reached across the table to hold my hand.   As I hiccuped to catch a full breath of air amidst my sobs, I felt myself able to truly breathe for the first time all day.  What happened tonight at dinner was more real than all the chaos– all the not listening, the impatience, the messiness.  It all paled in comparison to what was GOOD in that moment.  

After dinner everything looked different.  That’s the only way I can explain it.  There were still unwanted punches thrown during after dinner wrestling, there was still a back up of dishes in the sink and a major unfinished project in the garage.  But my tears at the recognition of goodness kind of made all that stuff look silly.  I had prayed before dinner, “Thank you for the rain that makes everything new,”– and as the wind howled and the lightening flashed,  I realized the ground was not the only thing made new by water.  

In my waiting I had unintentionally created a desert– the arid air convinced me that the mirage of impatience and exhaustion was somehow real.  But water let’s you SEE reality in the desert, let’s you see the mirage for what it is: That the nevers are actually quite temporary and ultimately the LOSERS in the game.  The reality of love trumps the illusion of bitterness every time.   

So we continue to wait– all of us.  But I see the air is heavy with spring now–  I know that life is waiting to be unleashed.

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Moonlight & movement

Jacob has always wanted to hike the Appalacian Trail, and so we decided that when each kid turns 13 he will take them on a hiking trip– “It’ll be their bar mitzvah” he said.  (He’s always wanted to be Jewish.). He told the kids this after we finished watching an episode of The Middle tonight, the crusts of our Lou Malnati’s pizza still on our laps, and an over-tired Ellie already nestled into my chest and fast asleep.  Sophie was immediately excited at the prospect, and Cohen was convinced of its appeal after he was told they could perhaps “catch a Phillies game” after the hike.  Jacob concluded the conversation: “Let’s not just wait for when you turn 13 though,” he said, “let’s enjoy all the Now until then.”  He looked straight at me from across the room, “For Cohen, that’s only 6 years.”  And we shook our heads like we do so often, in disbelief, but believing.

Sophie sensed this nostalgia.  “Wanna look through our photo albums?” she asked. So we did.  We recalled vacations– trips to the beach with sand-filled diapers, unsuccessful “family” bike rides, messy summer-night ice cream cones that covered our car seats with slime.  We noted the milestones– first days of school in polo shirts and dresses, numerous shots balancing kids on pumpkins at Goebberts, the multiple fireworks shows we’ve had to leave early with our hands pressed over frightened toddler-ears.  We tracked birthdays with Aunt Katie– butterfly cupcakes on Sophie’s first, a train cake on Cohen’s 3rd, blue-berry lemon poundcake on Sophie’s 5th.  “You know, Katie’s favorite thing to do was be with you,” Jacob paused to tell the kids.  “That’s a pretty cool thing, to have your life mean something so special to someone else.”  They nodded their heads solemnly.  We found a picture of Pa Pa Pa Norb and Sophie asked, “Wait, did he die?” And Jacob said yes.  The little adult that’s growing in Cohen’s boy body struggled to find the words to ask, “And so- he died– just of old age?”  And we said yes.  “How old was he?” Sophie asked, and we told her “91.”  We turned page after page and noted how the chubby cheeks of toddlers became the stretched, flushed, narrow cheeks of “big kids.”  In short, we saw time pass.

Last night I awoke around 3:30, heaved my giant belly to the side and stared up at a ridiculously brilliant moon.  It was like a spotlight had been flipped on in the sky, larger than any time I could recall before, like some fantastic creation from another world. It hung up there, perfectly still,  framed by the diagonal, barren branches of the birch tree outside of our window, casting a long rectangle of light across our bed.  I stared at it and couldn’t fall back asleep.  I didn’t really think of anything as I sat there wide awake– which is unusual for me in general, but especially unusual as I worry in expectation of the thousand unknowns yet to be revealed in the upcoming weeks with the birth of the twins.  But for some reason the light from the moon made it hard to think, and all I could do was stare.

Which is an adequate posture for life I guess– to  be stunned by the light unfolding before your eyes.  Tonight we will go to sleep and maybe the moon will tell us to stop thinking and just See.  I will see Life’s mess and Life’s brilliance– and not worry and not plan– but instead simply observe– my life becoming a series of photographs, of things that may not have been, but by some trick of Light, somehow Are.

In a few years (6 to be precise) Jacob might even stare at the moon with Cohen during a campout on the Appalacian Trail.  They will See and not think– of their yesterdays and unknown tomorrows, and they will yet again be reminded of the unceasing movement of time.  But this will not worry them, because the light that captures their gaze will be too brilliant.




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As I read over this post after finishing it, I realized that it is nothing more than an account of the ups and downs of a typical afternoon.  The kinds of afternoons we all have and will have tomorrow if we are so lucky.  And there is nothing extraordinary in it at all except for the fact that it is all extraordinary.


Sophie has been complaining she has to go to the bathroom all the time and that her tummy hurts after she goes.  Even this generally simple description of her ailments took about two days of whining and moaning to coax out of her.  She left both school and karate early only to return home to play puzzles and read books as if nothing was wrong.  We took her to the doctor and there are no signs of a bladder, urinary, or yeast infections.  Google said it could be anxiety that causes something like this, which is not very reassuring.  (Google searches are supposed to be reassuring, right?)

So Sophie has been “sick” and I have been very tired and there were decisions to be made like there are always decisions to be made, and that is where the afternoon begins:

A few days ago I walked in from work and I sat down on the couch and I cried.  And Jacob was there and he said, “What’s wrong?  Can you tell me what’s wrong?” like we had been asking Sophie over and over again for the past few days, but I couldn’t really tell him anything except that I was tired.  And I was sore.  But mostly tired.  And there was just this general, heavy feeling that the tonights and tomorrows looked like they were just going to be more tiredness and soreness.  More of me saying “Maybe later…” to the kids’ constant requests to play and “counting to three” some more.

That afternoon I got in the car to drive to a meeting that I discovered was canceled.  I sat in the empty parking lot and contemplated going to the library to work on the paper I had planned to work on at the meeting, but something in me knew I couldn’t handle staring at a computer screen any longer.  I decided I would go home and do one thing with each of the kids– something one-on-one.  I would go home and actually see them.  That was the plan anyway.  My glorious, visionary plan.

It worked at first with Ellie.  We did the Anna and Elsa puzzle (only 3 missing pieces!).  She continued to ask to do puzzles, but that wasn’t in my plan, so I went up to find Cohen sprawled on his floor with his star wars figurines. “Can I play with you?” I asked.  “Nah,” he said, “I like to play this by myself.”  So Ellie and I did another puzzle on his floor (this one missing almost half the pieces).  My back ached as I arched over the puzzle.

I moved on to Sophie’s room and asked if I could play something with her. She quickly found a book and things were looking up!  I could feel her head on my shoulder and Ellie’s warm arm around the back of my neck.  I read with expression.  I didn’t skip pages! But after we finished the book, Sophie started swinging around her pink, sparkly poodle purse.  She swung and she swung and she accidentally hit me in the face. “Ow!” I cried, immediately wrenching the purse out of her hands.  I had warned her (hadn’t I?) and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had this serendipitous opportunity to come back home and be purposeful with my suddenly free afternoon– I was trying to be present for crying out loud– but that poodle whacking me in the face was just too much. I scared Soph with the gusto with which I ripped it out of her hands and I saw her lips tremble.  I was tired.  We’re all tired.  And I was one sparkly-poodle-whip away from crumbling under the weight of it all.

I didn’t know what else to do so I went into my room to lie down.  I don’t think I even got a chance to pray “Help” before Ellie was next to me with an I Spy book. So we looked at the book together; her chubby finger pointed to Thomas the Train and his tickets and his helicopter friend, and my heartbeat started to slow a bit. (Heartbeats will do that, eventually.)  I rolled over on my side and smelled her hair and kissed her cheek.  I felt the babies kick as we combed over the pages together, scouring the scenes for roosters and trains and cows.  Later on that night the kids wrestled with one another; they flung each other around in circles, squished one another in giant noogies with their healthy arms and legs, shouted triumphant, obstinate cries from their formidable, strong lungs.  Shortly after, the girls piled into bed with me and Cohen nestled in a cove of blankets in a fort in our closet he has dubbed “HQ”.  As I read my own book, the girls drifted to sleep beside me, Sophie’s hand on my stomach, her own pulse echoing against the new pulses of Everett and Mae.  

I closed my own eyes and breathed in the atmosphere through my nose– the sheets and the toddler breath and the about-to-snow-air from outside.  I felt my tiredness– nudged up against my joy and my pain and my gratitude and my vulnerability– and the Tiredness told me I was alive, and it wouldn’t always trump the other parts of me forever.  Energy, like light and sound and sadness, comes in waves.

Cohen continued reading from his nest in the closet, his voice testing out new tricky words like absent-minded and bicoastal, and I felt myself drift to sleep.

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How do you talk about everything?

It’s hard to figure out what to say.  

There’s been a lot to experience the fast few weeks.  Tiny new lives kick and spin and tumble inside me, small new lungs practice breathing and little hearts learn how to beat,  all while other hearts have slowed and stopped and breath that once was is no more.  Beginnings and endings, alphas and omegas, all brushed up side by side, smooshed up against one another like pre-schoolers fighting in line for a turn on the slide.  Support and love and care comingle with despair and pain.  The stuff of love swirls around with the utter emptiness of loss.    Opposites reveal how they’re not so opposite at all.  It’s Life– these past few weeks, it’s everything.

So how do you talk about everything?

Here is where I will start.

My sister-in-law Katie passed away unexpectedly a week ago.  Katie had a genetic disorder called prader-willi syndrome, which meant she was hungry all of the time because her brain did not tell her how to be full.  There was an ache in Katie– more tangible than the aches that are found in all of us, because her ache could be measured by looking at her brain and testing her blood.  But Katie taught me you can be free in spite of the ache.

Katie taught me that we can choose freedom in spite of the things that seek to imprison us.  Paradoxically, she was “forced” to practice choosing freedom again and again– and these minute by minute decisions– the decisions to play, to swim, to smile, to create, to laugh– instead of being overcome by hunger– had her living eternally from the start.  If we want to be alive– (and if we desire to be eternal, let us indeed figure out what it means to be alive)– we must figure out what Katie figured out– that we determine the reality of our circumstances.  That no suffering– even real, physical suffering– the kind that shows up in partially deleted chromosomes and muscle biopsies– can take away our freedom to love, to connect, and to cry when we hold something Good– like warm, amply-flavored coffee, or tickets to the Zac Brown Band, or our new little nieces or nephews.

Katie’s life taught me that we can pray to live eternally, or we can pray we live eternally now.  And how the second prayer is a far more important one.

Indeed, the question is not how to live forever, but how to live.  Because forever is too long if you don’t know how to be alive in the first place.  And Katie chose Life in spite of the ache, in spite of the hunger. And she reminds us how we can, too.

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Goodness and karate

Tonight I read about how Jesus told some people listening to him on a hillside to “let their lights shine” so “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  I remember several years ago, I thought this kind of contradicted instructions he would give a few paragraphs later, instructions about how we should “pray in secret” and not “babble on like the pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words.”  Ought we to pray and serve in the public eye, or ought we to pray and serve behind closed doors?  

What does it really mean to let your light shine?

I don’t know the answer exactly, but I know I’ve witnessed people who are “letting their lights shine”–people who are maybe even the center of attention– but when I’m watching them,   I’m not really thinking about them at all.  A pianist, a writer, a painter, an encourager.  A chef, a humanitarian, a nurse, a waitress, a cashier.  They captivate me, but in my captivation I’m neither jealous of what they possess nor am I ready to bow down to them– instead, I’m connected to both wonder and gratitude.  I think things like, “Really, really?  This talent— this song, this kindness, this hospitality– this is part of the world I find myself in?  This is something that shares the small reality I take up in this moment?  Really?  Who engineered all this Goodness?  What master electrician wired up all this Light?”
When I see one person who lets her light shine, I am reminded of how there are SO MANY GOOD PEOPLE.  Everywhere.  And they are not good to just be good, but– for me at least– they are beacons pointing the whole story toward some ultimate Goodness.  For a long time now I’ve had this vision in my head of multiple spotlights in a darkened room coming together to produce a single all encompassing and illuminating Light.  An illustration of some beacons I saw tonight:

 Tonight Cohen and Sophie started karate.  We were late because we went to the wrong address, and Sophie was (to put it mildly) reticent to join her class when she noticed it had already begun.  And how can I describe all the little lights that shone for her this afternoon?  All the beacons?  All the GOOD PEOPLE?  A little girl wrapped her arms around her.  One little seven year old said “I used to be afraid just like you, but now I love it!”  A jovial dad reassured me “she’ll get out there in no time.”  Another little girl gently held her hand and led her out to join the class. And they weren’t saying and doing these things because they know they are “the things you should say” or because they wanted points on their own moral scoreboard or because they wanted me to notice them.  These were just people on a cold, January Monday who were being good, and their goodness made me think about Goodness, about where the whole Story is heading.

I know it’s probably naive and silly to juxtapose big important things like goodness and love and light with things like beginner karate class.  But then again, if we can’t see the light where we are– on this humdrum January Monday–how can we even attempt bring it anywhere else– especially into the darkness?  Perhaps the starting point in facing all of the scary stuff– the terror, the ignorance, the racism, the death– is to see the thousands upon thousands of little lights illuminating my path on any given day.  To notice all tender arms that will embrace little Soph, all the people who will say “Me too.  But it’s okay.  You’ll be just fine.”

I don’t know if there’s anything to this- to the belief that seeing the light is the first necessary step in bringing the light– but I do know that at the very least, I’m better for seeing it.  So keep shining.  I can see the Story better because of you.

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