Originally published October 2014
This is what happened yesterday.
Yesterday morning I was sitting in my cloffice trying to write words. Every day, from 6 am – 10 am, I try to write words. Then I leave my safe, tiny cloffice and force myself—for the rest of the day—to be part of the scarier real world. This is how I avoid becoming lost forever in my mind world. That is no place to get lost forever. The real world with real people and real animals and other brutiful, terrifying real things is the place to mostly be.
Yesterday when my morning writing time was almost over, I looked at the side of our Facebook page and saw that a reader named Nicole had posted something very special. Nicole’s friend lost her baby boy, Liam, last year. October 3rd—today—is the first of his birthdays that his family will spend without him. Liam’s mama asked her friends to commemorate the day in a couple of special ways. One was a random act of kindness. The other was releasing a red balloon.
I clicked on the link to Liam. I looked at Liam’s gorgeous face and my heart ached for his mama. I immediately remembered Ansley and her precious mom and how she taught us that we need to show up in real, physical ways for those who are grieving. Turning feelings into real, physical, tangible things is important to me. When it comes to compassion, it is easy to get lost in the mind/feelings/ideas world. If I leave it there—if I just “feel sad” for someone and then try to move on, moving on becomes difficult. Sadness without any action is very sticky. I get stuck. And so I often have to take my sadness into the real world and turn that energy into something beautiful. It’s not like this for everyone, I understand, but for me it is. I need my love for others to become real—to be able to see it and touch it and hear it. Otherwise I start losing track of what’s real. I start doubting myself. Do I really love? Do I really hope? Do I really feel sad for others? Do we really all belong to each other? Yes. I know I love and I know I feel and I know we do because I did it and I saw it and I felt it and I heard it.
I have to make invisible things visible so I can keep believing in invisible things.
And so I got in my car and I went to the dollar store to try to turn my sadness into something beautiful for Liam’s mama. And I got home and after doing the beauty I wrote this and posted it.
Dear Liam’s Mom,
My name is Glennon and I’m a mama, too. Your friend, Nicole, posted something on my wall this morning that made me ache. She wrote that you lost your precious Liam last year on October 3. Nicole added that you asked your friends to perform acts of kindness or release red balloons tomorrow to mark this sacred anniversary.
After I read Nicole’s post, I drove to my local dollar store and asked the nice lady behind the counter for “a red balloon for a boy named Liam.” She went into the back and then returned and said, “we don’t have any plain red balloons left. We only have shiny red hearts back there.”
I smiled and that thing happened in my throat—you know when everything swells huge and you can’t talk and you have to swallow hard and then hold your breath for a second? I recovered quickly and said, “Of course. Perfect. I’ll take one. One shiny red heart, please.”
Then I came home and Craig looked at me funny because I was carrying Liam’s shiny red heart. So I told Craig all about your Liam, and I asked him to come outside with me to release Liam’s balloon. We stood together in our front yard and squinted into the light and watched Liam’s balloon float forever through the bright, blue sky. Craig said, “It looks like it’s dancing, doesn’t it?”
Liam’s mom, I don’t know you. But I felt your love for your boy today while I watched that red, shiny heart dance toward the sun. Feeling another mother’s pain and love in your own heart is hard magic, but it’s magic just the same. So I just wanted to say thank you for that magic today, October 2nd. Liam Eve.
Thank you, Liam’s mom. I am so, so sorry. Liam was just beautiful.
And then I went to take a shower because I’m trying to do that more often. And also because the whole thing was very, very emotional and I was trying to push the reset button. And then I came back to the computer. And underneath the post I had written there were a million comments pointing out problems with my offering. People were ANGRY for these reasons:
First of all—balloon releases are, apparently, problematic for the environment. People were upset that not only had I released one—but that my action might encourage others to do the same.
Second of all—Liam’s day was October 3rd, but I had gotten confused and done the release on October 2nd.
I sat stunned at the computer. Then I became immediately furious at everyone. I suddenly HATED everyone who cares about balloons and the environment. I suddenly HATED everyone who always knows what day it is. And I suddenly HATED everyone in the whole entire world who has ever used social media. (Embarrassment is a ship that will take you from Love, Love, Love Island to Hate, Hate, Hate island in one second flat.)
I jumped onto the comment thread and broke my only Momastery rule for myself and I STRAIGHT UP LIED. I typed, “I KNOW what day it is. I did this on October 2nd ON PURPOSE.” Lies, Lies, Lies. When I saw this ridiculousness typed out in black and white, I realized I was out of control. I pictured Jesus covering his sweet face with his hands, peeking through his fingers down at me and uttering, “OH NO, SHE DIDN’T” to the angels.
I gathered all my precious hate tight around my heart and I called Sister and started yelling things to her.
“What if Liam’s mom sees all of this controversy about her day? What if everyone hates me for releasing balloons? Why does everyone want me to be all imperfect and then when I am imperfect they want me to be perfect? How come I never know what day it is??? WHAT THE HELL IS THE THING ABOUT THE BALLOONS????? How am I supposed to know everything? I was trying to do something KIND and I screwed it all up and I can’t do this anymore. I can’t I can’t I can’t. I hate everything and everyone.”
Then I started crying, you guys. Of COURSE. And then I went for a walk and said lots of prayers, which basically just means that in rhythm with my steps I said. “Help, Help, Help me make this crap beautiful” again and again with occasional really, really bad curse words laced in between the helps.
And I heard what I ALWAYS hear when my pride is all scuffed up and my heart is darkening and I’m wanting to SHUT DOWN and retreat and lick my wounds forever. I hear: STAY OPEN. STAY OPEN. STAY OPEN.
You guys, that’s the only way to make a mess beautiful. Stay Open. To everyone and everything. All the time. I’m absolutely convinced of this horrible truth. The good news is that I know this. The bad news is that Staying Open is the hardest thing on Earth.
Thank God We Can Do Hard Things.
So I came home and walked back into my cloffice and sat down at my computer and took a deep breath. And I clicked on one of the anti-balloon links. And there I saw pictures of baby birds and all kinds of animals that had been killed by fallen balloons. My open heart took that in. I got a little squirmy. Squirmy is how you feel when your open heart starts to get a little bigger without your expressed permission.
And I thought: Could this be an AND/BOTH situation? Could I AND the anti-balloon people be acting out of love? Could we both be doing the best we can to heal the world?
Yes, damnit. Of course that’s true. (Additionally- damnit again, for good measure.)
I’m not going to release any more balloons, ever. And I don’t hate you, anti-balloon readers. I love you. I get it. I understand. I didn’t know. We do the best we can and then when we know better we do better. (Dr. Angelou, of course)
Also, sorry about all the lying. Please forgive me. I had no idea what freaking day it was. I don’t have a calendar.
All the magic in the world happens when we undig our heels. We gotta be fluid. We gotta be more fluid. We gotta be willing to be MOVED if we want to feel moved.
Liam, in honor of you and your mama, I stayed open. I learned something new. I made some mistakes but then I tried to make my mess beautiful for you.
Originally published October 2014
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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