Until the Chirping of the Crickets Goes Silent

8/25/17


While I was putting our life into cardboard boxes for the second time this summer, while the big kids were spending a week with their grandparents at their great-grandparents’ farm, while the baby became a toddler before my eyes in the Texas sun, my husband was in New Mexico at a symposium kicking off his first of three (mostly online) years in The Living School, through the Center for Action and Contemplation.

You might say the timing was imperfect, but he had signed up for this half a year ago and there was no way I was letting him back out now. And besides, it ended up being fine- if you consider it fine that he got home from the airport with barely enough time to stretch his legs before hopping in the driver’s seat of a fully loaded Penske truck and driving halfway across the country to start work the next day. It’s fine.

But we did it- we’re here in Iowa again, all five of us, staying at a little country rectory until we close on our house at the end of the month. On the first night, after moving in suitcases and unfolding cots, after filling tiny bellies with pizza and after tucking them in with desperate prayers that we haven’t screwed them up for life, Eric and I finally, finally sat down on the couch together. And he told me something that Father Richard Rohr said at their closing session, something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

“All of life is about learning how to die.”

It all seems so critically important, the details of this life and the living of it. But really, we’re all walking toward death; we’re all walking toward a moment of sheer Nothingness and then the great Unknown to come. Death is about forgiveness- both finally offering it and finally receiving it. It’s about making peace with disappointment and futility. It’s about realizing the incredible moments for what they were, and how extravagantly loved by Someone you were to be given them at all. Death is about finally letting go: Of expectations, of control, even of hopes. Death is about submitting to the smallness of us against the bigness of the Eternal. A dignified death is about belief.

All of life is about learning how to die.

I thought I knew something of dying, of the cross: Namely, when I was bowled over by the reality of a special needs motherhood I had pictured only in romantic dreams. And it was death to one layer of myself, make no mistake- but my error was in thinking the dying was done, when really it had only just begun. For I’m still young on this earth, and every trip around the sun is one more lesson in letting go.

I’m learning new things about how to die here in the middle of a nondescript Iowa cornfield, here where the fog coats the horizon in mystery with the morning and pink clouds whisper goodnight at dusk. Crickets chirp both outside and inside the house, and the reminder of their companionship is a comfort. We are all in this together, creatures great and small, our lives a lesson in relinquishment.

Our days are simple and peaceful here at the rectory- joyful, even, as I soak up these final tastes of summer with the boys before schedules become more full and commitments more demanding. I’ve shed a few tears and I ache to be in a permanent home, but mostly I’m really and truly happy- which unnerves me a bit, aware as I am of my tendency to numb any difficult emotion. But it makes sense that a sympathetic God would invite me on a slow journey of self-examination rather than put a pregnant mother of three through a grueling emotional exploration.

There is time for me to delve the depths, I think. There is time yet to die.

Today I will walk through corn stalks and help scabby-kneed boys climb trees, learning to live and learning to die and taking it all one day at a time, until the chirping of the crickets goes silent.

Little

8/8/17



I tried to think of some way

to let my face become yours.

“Could I whisper in your ear

a dream I’ve had? You’re the only one

I’ve told this to.”

You tilt your head, laughing,

as if, “I know the trick you’re hatching,

but go ahead.”

I am an image you stitch with gold thread

on a tapestry, the least figure,

a playful addition.

But nothing you work on is dull.

I am part of the beauty.

(Rumi)



Do you know what it is to watch a dream die?

I bet you do. Maybe your dream was a career, or maybe a mission. Maybe your dream was a marriage that never happened, or one that dissolved. Maybe your dream was a person. Maybe it was a baby- maybe it was baby after baby after baby. I bet it was a good dream, yours. I bet it was so beautiful.

//

I’ve been running from my thoughts for two weeks, ever since we made the decision. People ask how I feel and I can’t drum up an answer. I don’t know, I don’t have time to think about it, there is so much to be done. I run, I busy myself, but tonight the house is empty. There is nowhere to run.

I sit next to the high chair while the toddler plays with his food. It’s so silent. He babbles and grunts of course but he makes no demands of me. I’m not used to it. His brothers are gone, his daddy, our housemate. Just Taavi and me and the sloshing of pureed carrots. Swish, swish, swish.

I fold at the waist and I cry, cry, cry.

//

We’re in the shower and I watch the orange mush swirl off his body, down the drain. The dirt from our feet leaves gray puddles everywhere: Not a sign of our commitment to solidarity with the poor, not a sign of being in the garden tending the earth, just leftovers from layers of filth in a house that never wanted us. Just a sign of poverty unto nothing.

He stands under my legs like a baby elephant, and my heart lurches with affection. He’s fat and slippery, like the day he was born, and the dirt on the shower floor twirls and mixes with the water and I’m back there again, holding that beautiful, beautiful baby. Taavi, I had whispered to him, dearly loved.

Tiny rivers drip down my swollen belly and plop onto his head, the fourth brother already finding a way to taunt his kakak. Kakak means older sibling in Indonesian, and by the time we had left the little Javanese girls in our alley were using it in reference to me. But that was years ago now. A lifetime, it seems- and well, three lifetimes it was. I was not yet a mother then, when that first dream died in the mountains of Southeast Asia.

You are little, He had told me. Be content to be little.

But I wasn’t.

//

The hot water feels like therapy, and I pray a thanks for the miracle it’s lasted this long while the washer simultaneously hums with the cloth diapers. He starts to whine and I start to smell it. Brown feces on the tile and his face a mild panic, but I’m not done here yet. I swipe the toilet paper and half-heartedly clean it up and into the commode but we don’t get out. He goes back to playing with tin measuring cups and I go back to trying to make sense of today’s onslaught of emotion. It’s disgusting and I know it and maybe you’re judging me but living with other people’s shit is just part of my days right now. Maybe years in the future I’ll think it’s weird too, I don’t know.

I married Eric because I could envision us accomplishing my dreams, together. I didn’t choose marriage because I wanted to lay down my life for him and our children every damn day for the rest of my time on earth. I could just see him grafted into the plans I already had. Easy.

The water pelts my head and runs off my nose. Drip, drip, drip.

I knew nothing of love, nor the vocation of marriage and family. I was a narcissistic 23-year-old who thought we’d be “better together”. More effective for the kingdom, you know. We’d be stronger as a team.

But it turns out, marriage and children and years and years of family life together isn’t about strength at all, except for the kind that comes from being crunched to a pulp and remade. The past 11 years have been marked by our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our failure to live up to our own expectations. Marriage and family life has taken every illusion I had about my own greatness, my own usefulness to God, and it has smashed it underfoot.

After Indonesia, I decided that if my calling was going to just be motherhood, I would make it the hardest, most impressive motherhood anyone ever saw. I -  I mean we – would adopt 12 kids, the more severe the special needs the better. We’d be like that family I saw in a YouTube video once.

Turns out, I’m not the woman I thought I was and bless my pathetic heart it only took one tiny little boy to prove it to me. And the second vanity was blown like a dandelion.

//

And now, this. We are leaving the Catholic Worker because trying to make it work was destroying us. We choose health. We choose our family. We choose wisely, and I know it, but it feels like the final nail in the coffin of my ego and I’m having a hell of a time hammering it in.

Don’t make me little, I beg.

Beloved, you are little. You are so marvelously, marvelously little.

There are a million ways to take up your cross and His arms are outstretched and the water falls and I cry, cry, cry.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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