I’m sitting in a quiet hotel room on the morning of January 1, 2012.
I wasn’t healthy enough for our annual New Year’s pilgrimage to Ohio, so Craig and I brought the kids and Theo to a hotel one town over. Our plan was to commemorate the changing of the year together, to force some family memories, to celebrate life. We dressed up and ate at a restaurant with real silverware and white table cloths. We posed, because that’s what we do.
We came back to the hotel and danced, danced, danced, because that’s the other thing we do.
We’re on the right track baby, we were born this way.
I was asleep by 9:30, but Craig and the kids watched the ball drop at midnight. 2012. Twenty-twelve. Wow.
I’m feeling quiet and reflective this morning. The kids have been so teeny for the past few New Years that I haven’t had time to soak in the significance of a passing year. But this year’s different. 2011 was a Life Crash Course for me. 2011 decided that I was finally all grown up, so she pulled back the curtain and revealed to me some pretty harsh things about the Way Life Works. Like Dorothy, I came to the 2011 curtain wide eyed and entranced and ready for all my dreams and wishes to be granted. What was revealed was not at all what I expected. But like Dorothy, somehow I still made it home.
A few days ago I read a New Year’s post written by one of my favorite writers, Kelle Hampton. If you’re like me, and you dabble in self pity and ennui daily, I’d bookmark Kelle this year. After I read her posts, I’m re-inspired and invigorated and awake for at least twenty minutes. She’s better than three Red Bulls and a kale smoothie.
Kelle wrote a wonderful list of what she’d learned in 2011 and I found myself nodding, yes, yes, yes along with her inspired words- as I always do. But then I got to one which read: “Family is everything, everything, everything.”
And something forced me to pause and stop reading. Inside that pause I realized that after living through 2011, I don’t think that’s true.
2011 Lesson #1 – Family is not everything.
It can’t be. Because sometimes beloved sons die. And husbands leave. And daughters lose their minds for decades. And beloved babies are broken by broken men behind the wheel. And fathers abuse and mothers neglect and sisters and brothers betray. And friends walk away.
Family cannot be everything, everything, everything. Because if it is, then everything can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Or maybe never offered at all.
If family is everything, everything, everything, then it follows that if my family was taken from me, I would have and be nothing. And because if family is everything, then I would need to parent my kids and love my parents and Sister and husband in a state of constant fear. And fear taints love. Fear makes the lover hyperventilate and the beloved suffocate. Fear makes love a cage.
Down past the terrified, ridiculous part of me that believes something terrible will happen if I acknowledge this- I know that family is not everything. It’s a lot. It’s a whole damn lot. If my family were taken from me, or never given to me in the first place, I would feel shattered. But I would still be something. I would still have something. I would still have the most important part of me, as a matter of fact.
And this is something I’ve learned only this year. At the start of 2011, I definitely would have told you that family is everything.
But a few weeks ago I sat with my friend Anna, who lost her Jack this year. She is suffering through excruciating pain that I’m afraid might just morph and never ease. But listen- when I looked at Anna- I was not looking at a woman with nothing. And it wasn’t just because she has Tim and Margaret left on this side. What I mean is that I was in the presence of a woman who has the entire world in her hands.
Anna is a woman who has power to heal -herself and others. Because Anna has choices. She could curse God and die, and we would all understand. But she doesn’t. She’s alive. Anna’s decision to write, to stay open, to invite us in when she’s most vulnerable, to get out of bed each morning, to keep choosing hope and love and life and to face the horrifically painful truth instead of hiding – her determination that THERE WILL STILL BE JOY, DAMNIT – these choices are healing and awakening her family, friends and readers. A teeny, teeny bit at a time. And since the worst has already happened, Anna is a woman who, at the moment, is loving and living without fear. And that is something.
I know she’d trade all this in a hot second to get her Jack back. But the fact remains that she is still Anna. She is a new Anna. A very, very different Anna. And being with her right now is healing. She makes me less afraid. I just want to be with her all the time. I can’t explain how or why- but being with her right now feels a little bit like being with God. Even with the F-bombs we throw around. (Thank you, God, for curse words. Sometimes they are really all that helps). My friends, Anna has not lost everything. She is still Jack’s and Margaret’s mother and now she’s also mothering multitudes. She had no say in losing her Jack. But she certainly has a say in each moment now. And most days she’s choosing life. THAT is everything. Just mark my words, please. That precious Jack did not die in vain. Anna is going to help heal the world. They are going to do it together, Anna and Jack. One foot on each side.
Last week, I sat at my kitchen table talking to Chase about gratitude.
Chase is my one. It’s never been spoken aloud, but he knows it. He’s the one who believed in me at my worst. He came with great faith – certainty, even – and he grew inside of a broken woman. Then he was born and he saved me, he gave me a vocation and a role to play and a life. He believed in me, so I became me. He made me proud to be Glennon, to be Chase’s mother. Then he started growing and began to take care of me in the way no child should.
It’s okay mommy, it’s okay to yell sometimes- we know you love us. Girls, let’s go downstairs and play so mommy can rest. Mommy- are you thinking about the adoption again? Our family is just perfect mommy, whether the adoption happens or not. Mommy –thank you. Thank you for taking care of us. I know it’s hard to be a mommy. You do such a good job.
Chase knows what I’m thinking. He always knows. He knows what I need. He is a hundred years old. He is gentle and wise and patient, the way I want to be. He is my son, but he’s also my role model and friend.
And yes, I know I’m not supposed to say any of these things aloud and yes, I am sure that this is confusing and a whole lot of pressure for an eight year old, but it is what it is.
Which might be why that day at the kitchen table, Chase looked me in the eye and said,
“Mommy. What would you do if I died?”
And I needed a moment so I said, “What did you say?”
But he didn’t repeat his question, because he knew I’d heard it. Instead he said, “Would you kill yourself, mommy?”
I swallowed hard and said, “No, baby. No. I wouldn’t. I’d probably want to, at first. But I wouldn’t.”
Chase said, “Because you’d still need to take care of daddy and the girls?”
And I said, “Well, yes, but that wouldn’t be the only reason. You dying would be the worst thing I could imagine. It would be my nightmare. But I hope I wouldn’t stop being me. I hope that eventually, I would wake up each morning and choose Life. I hope that I would still choose to love, and still allow God to help me find joy. In a way, I’d still be choosing you- because you are Life and Love and Joy to me. But I’m also sure that I’d spend part of each day dreaming of when I’d see you again.”
And Chase said, “Right. In heaven. Sometimes I wonder if believing in heaven is silly.”
I smiled and said, “I know. Sometime I do, too. But remember that picture you showed me, that picture that tried to put into perspective how teeny tiny our little earth is compared to the humungous universe? I guess I think it’s silly NOT to consider that there might be more out there. I just think there might be. Sometimes I wonder if we’re really just a little speck like Who-Ville on Horton’s flower. I don’t know what it looks like – but I just know there’s more. Because the love I have for you –It’s too big to end. It won’t end no matter what happens. No matter what. I just know that.”
And that was it. Conversation over. Chase smiled. He just smiled. Smiled big.
Chase is my caretaker just as I am his- so maybe he was truly worried about what I would do without him. Or maybe Chase was really thinking: “If you died, what would I do? What could I do? Would I have permission to go on? If you disappeared, would I have lost everything?
And I hope that what I told him was this: I am not your everything, sweetheart . And you are not my everything. I am not sure what everything is, but I know it’s not something that can ever be taken away.
If you are still breathing, you still have your everything, and if you aren’t breathing, then you have everything, too.
On this side, maybe everything is just a long, deep breath and the will to choose life and love- again and again and again. Maybe it’s just the power to do the next best, loving thing.
I don’t know what everything is. But I do know that family, friends, money, health – they are not everything. Because everyone doesn’t have those things.
But everyone does have everything. Everything is inside. Everything walks with you. Nothing can separate you from your everything. Everything never, ever leaves.
More 2011 lessons to come.
Before I forget, let us take a moment to appreciate my new leg warmers.