Yesterday, I was sitting on my bed, wrapped in my “cancer quilt” (a quilt made for me by friends when I fought the disease 10 years ago), complaining to my husband after a challenging day. I was frustrated and feeling old. It started with a couple of small things — having to purchase 2.25 magnification reading glasses (up from 1.25 in just a few months), and while listening to songs on the radio on my drive home, it hit me that the pop singers were my children’s ages. My premature, bone-on-bone, knee arthritis (yikes — that’s what grandmothers talk about) was acting up. There was the usual hectic-ness and busyness of raising kids, getting them here and there, answering the phone, arranging to have a repairman to come to the house. At the moment, I had just come inside after pulling my winter coat, yes, winter coat in April, around me outside tightly as the wind blew. And, it was raining.
Pathetic fallacy is a literary device that attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects in nature. It’s like when Shakespeare’s King Lear wanders, bemoaning, in a storm-blasted terrain, with the tumultuous weather mirroring the pain in his own heart.
At that moment, I felt I was in a Shakespearean play with pathetic fallacy raging all around. The stormy weather reflected what was going on in my heart. I was feeling rained on, washed out, drained, old. Cold. Frustrated, and, sitting on the bed in that moment, awash in my tears, under my cancer quilt, I was sharing it all with my husband.
Yes, I am always this melodramatic. Poor David.
Anyway, the icing on the realizing-time-is-passing-quickly-had-a-bad-day-on-top-of-it cake was that I had just been exchanging texts with one of our young adult children, our fourth child, who graduates from college in just a couple weeks. Both at the moment and anticipatorily I missed him. After graduation he is headed out for a great career opportunity … 2,000 miles away. That makes four chickies out of the nest. Four children grown. And one on deck to boot. My mind flew (like the wind, of course) toward nostalgia.
I used to spend hours trying to inspire and motivate my children. I used to draw pictures, first on the second-hand chalkboard in our schoolroom, then on the whiteboard in our kitchen, of ripples from thrown pebbles in a roughly sketched pond to illustrate a point.
“See? This can be you!” I’d tell my children. “These could be the effects of ‘your’ good deeds, ‘your’ influence on the world! You can’t change everything, but you can change something. We each have something special to do. God has a unique mission for you! Find it! Do it!”
Being the metaphorical geek I am, I’d try to bring home the point in other ways. … Blowing the seeds off of a white, ripe dandelion when the children and I were on a walk, I’d say, “Our family is like this dandelion, but some day you have to go, like these little seeds, and spread out goodness in the world.”
The kids grew older. I told them that as long as they keep their faith and live with integrity and character, their dad and I will support them wherever they go, in any honorable and upright career aspiration and job situation utilizing their talents and interests — electrician, plumber, street worker, dentist, astronaut, politician, lawyer, writer, missionary, artist, financial planner, actor, president. …
My husband and I told our children it is between them and God to figure out their vocation — married, in the religious life, or single, and that we would help them live it well, whatever they choose.
“What is important,” we said, “is that whatever you do, you do with honor and integrity. Be the best you can be and try to set the example.” We told them faith without action is hollow, and that actions speak better than words, that people are always watching so keep good the family name, that our prayers will follow them until our dying breaths, and that not only is it okay that they leave home, they “must.” They must forge out their own adult lives, find their own missions in life, make a difference, and live honorably, for themselves and for God.
Shoot. They took us up on it, and left.
I say this only tongue in cheek. We sincerely meant what we said, and there comes a time when stage setting is over and the curtain must come up. But where there is deep love there will be suffering, and the inverse of the beautiful quilt of life and family is the messy stitching and rumpled heavy batting on the other side, the joy and pain of children growing up and moving out.
It’s not easy raising a family — and even when things turn out right, there are challenges and sacrifices and little sad moments, even amidst deep satisfaction. God entwines and juxtaposes them all together in this fabric of life: Happy/sad. Hard/easy. These are stitched together, complementary colors, side by side, each highlighting the other. They make a beautiful pattern, if we step back to really look, and which I believe we shall see clearly and fully in all its glory one day, when life on this earth is finished.
Yesterday I thought the weather couldn’t get worse and life couldn’t get more complicated. It is snowing today. My “to do” list is twice as long, my eyes are no sharper and my kid is still moving out. But something is different.
I know it’s going to be okay.
I’m completely healthy 10 years after I was diagnosed with cancer. I have a quilt that tells me by its existence that friends care. The quilt is old and torn and faded in places, but it’s a reminder of caring and it keeps me warm. I have a husband who loves me and helps me weather external (and internal) storms. He makes me coffee in the morning before I get out of bed and sometimes brings me chocolate. Even when he can’t fix the weather (inside or out — it’s an act of nature, you know), he sits there patiently when I feel like a demoralized character in a Shakespearean play, hugs me and says, “I get it.” And he does.
In the soft quiet of the evening tonight I heard God say to my heart, “Yes, your children will leave, one by one, into the life I am giving them. They will know joy, like you do, and yes there will be pain, but I will be with them. I promise. I give you the sun and yes, I also give you the rain. It makes the seeds grow. And I give you this life, and this quilt and these friends and this man, who not only lays down his life for you but also just gave you chocolate and a hug…
…You have everything, my daughter. What more do you want?”